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Historian Highlights Early Contributors to Claremont

Sunday, December 28, 2014
Claremont — Colin Sanborn has been poking around the edges and digging deep into Claremont’s past for more than 30 years.

A past president and current member of the Claremont Historical Society, Sanborn, who works at the Fiske Free Library, has written and spoken extensively on the city’s past. His research can focus on a single subject or individual while other times he happens upon something that helps piece together a clearer and more complete picture of Claremont’s past.

In this, the final week of Claremont’s 250th anniversary, Sanborn lent his historical knowledge to this question: Who were the city’s most renowned and influential citizens since its charter was signed Oct. 26, 1764?

Some of the names are familiar, such as Paran Stevens, who donated $10,000, about half the money needed to build Claremont’s first high school in 1868, or William Moody, who made his money in the shoe industry and donated the land on Maple Avenue in the early 1900s for the park that bears his name.

Whether they were born in here, grew up here or lived here briefly, Claremont boasts a connection to important inventors, authors, businessmen, engineers and others.

Sanborn’s list of notable figures includes William Wilgus, who designed and constructed New York’s Grand Central Station. He died in Claremont in 1949 and Wilgus State Park in Weathersfield is named for him.

Dorothy Loudon, a Broadway actress who won a Tony Award, was born in Boston and raised in Claremont and Indianapolis.

And Charles Bush, born in Prussia in 1847, went on to obtain patents for innovative kaleidoscopes that were produced in Claremont and other cities. These were “notable” people whose influence was “further afield” than Claremont as opposed to those who had influence both locally and beyond.

Tyler — First Family 
Of Claremont

Sanborn said in trying to name those with a Claremont connection who had the “most influence” he narrowed the list to just a few.

“When I started thinking about it, I thought there were about three or four who had a lot influence, and I thought the Tyler family had the most influence,” Sanborn said. “Col. Benjamin Tyler (Claremont’s first millwright) and his family had influence here and regionally and on the national stage. I say the Tyler family because of the multigenerational influences that are going with the family.

“My feeling is that it is kind of because of Benjamin Tyler, Claremont becomes as we start to know it today.”

Tyler arrived in Claremont from Connecticut around 1767 and became the resident millwright.

“I don’t think other towns had millwrights living in town,” Sanborn said. “He was the millwright other towns came to if they wanted to build a sawmill or a gristmill.”

Tyler quarried stone on land he bought on Mt. Ascutney and used the stones for the mills he built in towns along the Connecticut River. He built Claremont’s first mill on the Sugar River in the area where the old Coy Paper Company once operated on Plains Road.

Sanborn said Tyler was also an “inventor and tinkerer.”

“He invented the rye-fly water wheel, which was the precursor to the turbine water wheel and (his grandson) John Tyler builds upon that having that legacy in the family as millwrights.

“He ends up building the Tyler Water Wheel, which was a turbine that was used throughout the country.”

The Tyler Turbine, an enclosed wheel, was known for being less susceptible to breakage from debris and ice and also being more efficient.

Sanborn said the Tyler “inventive streak” extended to Benjamin Tyler Henry, grandson to Col. Benjamin Tyler, who was born in Claremont in 1821 and designed and built the Henry Repeating rifle. It was first used in the Civil War and produced in Windsor, at what is now the American Precision Museum.

Stevens Family

The Stevens family influence went beyond building the public high school. Paran Stevens, Sanborn believes, was responsible for convincing investors from Boston to buy the first building that would eventually become the Monadnock Mills complex, one of the city’s major employers from the 1850s to the 1930s. Both he and his father also had a lot to do with establishing the location that became Claremont’s center, Sanborn said.

“Stevens had importance locally but also his sphere went beyond (Claremont),” Sanborn said.

Stevens’ father, Josiah, who came to Claremont from Guilford, Conn., with his father a few years after the charter was signed, owned property downtown. He sold some of it to the town for Broad Street Park and also sold the parcel that was the site for the town hall, which was moved to the location in the 1780s and today is city hall, Sanborn said.

“That made this the center of town, rather than the west part (Maple Avenue),” Sanborn said.

The family also constructed the Tremont House, a hotel that burned down in 1879 and was approximately in the same location as today’s Moody building (1890s) which began as a hotel.

Sanborn said while managing the Tremont House, Paran Stevens watched the growing stature of the lower village (the area of the Main Street Bridge over the Sugar River), and the building of the Second New Hampshire Turnpike, which brought travelers from points south through Unity on their way to Vermont. These developments threatened to pull the center of town away from Stevens’ hotel, Sanborn said.

To counter that, Stevens encouraged the construction of mill No. 1 along the Sugar River in the Water Street area, though his name was not directly related to the investment.

“The idea was to make this the center of town, for business, religious, government and industry,” he said.

A financial crisis in the mid-1830s stopped work at the first mill, known then as the Sugar River Manufacturing Company, and the building sat idle. Meanwhile, Stevens went off to Boston to build his hotel business, and soon the Boston firm of Parker, Wilder and Parker bought mill No. 1.

“I’m thinking he (Stevens) gets them to buy it,” Sanborn said. “Otherwise, why is a firm in Boston looking at Claremont? I think he ends up being a middleman and they end up building the Monadnock Mills complex.”

Sanborn traces the history behind the building of Stevens High School to the 1850s when Claremont went to the state Legislature for permission to build a public high school, which at that time did not exist in New Hampshire.

“The state says OK, but it is not just Claremont that gets a public high school, every town gets a public high school,” Sanborn said. “That is the way the bill was written. It is because Claremont wanted one, everybody else gets one. Stevens then offers in the 1860s to pay for half the cost and donates $10,000.”

Samuel P. Fiske married a Stevens and using the Fiske family influence, began the town’s first public library with his and his father’s own private book collection. The first location, as a temporary measure, was in the high school before it moved to the Bailey Block on Opera House Square. The current library on Broad Street was built in 1903.

Beckwith and the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Connection

The influence of Hira Beckwith, an architect and builder, who built the opera house, is still visible today in many buildings and homes around Claremont.

Beckwith, who was born in Lempster, N.H., in 1852, had clientele up and down the Connecticut River Valley but also east and west of the river, including Sunapee, Sanborn said.

“He ended up working in those communities as well. In Claremont a lot of his buildings, what he designed and built, are what we see downtown,” Sanborn said.

The Opera House, Union Block, Huntoon Block, the top of the Old Bailey Block and some of the buildings down in the mill district were Beckwith’s design, construction or both. He also designed and constructed a number of homes around on Broad Street and Summer Street, including his own residence, which still stands today.

Less known is Hiram Hitchcock, also born in Claremont, who Sanborn said managed hotels in New Orleans and in Boston as an employee of Paran Stevens.

Hitchcock, Stevens and Albert Darling bought a five-story hotel in Manhattan and renamed it the Fifth Avenue Hotel.

At the time of its construction in 1859 by Amos Enos, it was considered “far north” around 24th street in Manhattan and away from the city center, Sanborn said

Under Stevens, Hitchcock and Darling, the hotel becomes a huge success and spawns similar construction north. “It becomes where everyone wants to go,” Sanborn said.

Hitchcock, who married Mary Maynard, eventually retired and bought property in Hanover, where he had family. He later bought the Hanover Inn.

“Then his wife dies and to honor her memory, he builds a hospital for Dartmouth Medical School, which becomes Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital.

“We now have Dartmouth-Hitchcock Memorial Hospital because of Hiram Hitchcock of Claremont.”

But the influence did not stop there. Hitchcock remarried Eliza Howe and when he died, she donated money to build Howe Library in Hanover.

“I know I am being a little flip when I say, Claremont is the center of the world,” Sanborn said with a chuckle. “But when you start pulling all these things together and see what influences came out of the people that came out of Claremont, I’m thinking, it all comes back to here.”

It would be impossible to understate the mark that Albert Ball, an inventor, left on Claremont and the world beyond.

As the story goes, Ball and Roger Love, of Windsor, encountered James Upham while the latter was pruning trees outside his Claremont home in the spring of 1868. Love and Ball sketched for Upham, who owned Claremont Machine Works at the time, a diamond channeling machine for quarrying rock, according to a pamphlet on the history of the Sullivan Machine Company published in 1963 by the company, which by then was Joy Manufacturing of Pittsburgh.

They agreed to produce the machine at Upham’s factory. Soon after, the three men founded the company that went on to gain a reputation as one of the world’s best- known manufacturers of machines for drilling, mining, oil production and industrial construction. Sullivan Machine produced the Tyler Turbine Water Wheel and equipment that did work at Niagara Falls, the Chicago drainage canal and the Panama Canal, according to pamphlet. The company had facilities and a presence around the world and at home and was large part of Claremont’s strong growth and reputation as one of the state finest manufacturing centers.

As Joy, it was part of the construction of the Alaskan pipeline and the site of the Lake Placid Olympics.

As for Ball, Sanborn said the historical society has a thick folder filled with copies of Ball’s patents, including diamond milling machines, coal cutters, diamond drills and cloth measuring machines.

Also of note is Simeon Ide, a printer and newspaper publisher from Vermont who came to Claremont and managed the Claremont Manufacturing Company on the banks of the Sugar River. Sanborn said it was the first paper company to house the whole job under one roof from making the paper to printing and selling the finished product.

“He published the first compendium of books in print in the 1850s with the titles, author, publishers and price” Sanborn said.

But what Ide’s company didn’t produce is slightly more interesting. According to Sanborn, Ide approached the heirs of Noah Webster to print the Webster dictionary but the owners of the company weren’t interested.

“We could have had the Claremont-Webster dictionary instead of the Merriam-Webster,” Sanborn said.

Others of Note

Hosea Parker: A lead lawyer and uncle of Beckwith who was born in Lempster, N.H., but came to practice law in Claremont in 1860. He was elected to Congress and as a member of the House committee on patents, his lasting influence was that of being a vocal opponent of extending the patent on the sewing machine monopolies. By vote, the committee reported against the extension and the full House agreed.

Harriet Farley: Born in Claremont, Farley left her home in Atkinson, N.H., and went to work in the mill town of Lowell, Mass., where she became editor of a literary magazine, The Lowell Offering, written by female mill workers that had strong readership as far away as Europe. She would later become a leading abolitionist in Lowell, Mass.

George Stowell: Born in Cornish built a hardware business in Claremont and donated money to build Stowell Memorial Hospital, which became Valley Regional Hospital. He also gave money for Stowell Library in Cornish.

Constance Fenimore Woolson: Author.

Barbara Cochran: Born in Claremont and won Olympic gold in skiing in 1972.

Sanborn said his years of digging into the city’s past has given him a perspective on why Claremont looks the way it does today.

“Looking around at our environment we live in now and seeing what people through the past 250 years have done — some of it with their own initiative some of it with help from others and the community — that built us up to what we are and everything that made us and what went into making Claremont; it is all these influences that made us, the individual and the community,” Sanborn said.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at

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