By HATTIE BERNSTEIN Telegraph Staff
Sunday, October 12, 2003
Life is as constant and changeless as a favorite climbing tree or the place by the kitchen stove where a mother stands tending a pot of soup.
The charm dissipates during the sobering passage into adulthood. But childhood memories, snapshots from the mind's eye, often preserve what no longer exists.
Seen through the eyes of longtime residents, a neighborhood emerges as a vivid landscape - a place forever etched in the minds and on the hearts of those who grew up there.
So goes this story of Nashua's North End.
Since its origin in the late 1700s, the North End has been home to privilege: the families of captains of local commerce and industry, of bankers, lawyers and doctors who built the stately mansions that grace Concord Street and the surrounding streets, many named for prominent early residents.
Laton Street, for example, is named for Capt. Thomas Laton, a sea captain whose farm in the early 1800s included what is now Berkeley, Chester, Raymond, Wood and Edson streets.
|Staff photo by Dan Williamson
Andrew Hall, right, plays with his son, Austin Hall, 3, in their front yard in Nashua's North End on Monday. Andrew grew up in the North End, and his parents still live in the neighborhood. He and his wife, Karen, moved into their current house about four years ago.
An architectural treasure, the area boasts some of the most interesting - and expensive - real estate in the city: mansions in styles ranging from the colonial revival of the Governor Murphy House at 88 Concord St. to the combination Greek and Colonial Revival style of the Paige-Carter House at 28 Concord St., which for the past half century has served as the local American Red Cross chapter house. There is also the magnificent Anderson House at 90 Concord St., more recently home to Mount St. Mary, a private parochial girls high school that closed a decade ago.
In the early 1800s, while Nashua was still Dunstable, Harvard-educated lawyer Daniel Abbot bought his Federal-style home, today the Abbot-Spalding House on Nashville Street. Abbot was the first of the mercantile and professional class to settle in an area where the rocky soil was not conducive to farming and travel to the town's center near the current-day Rivier College was long and difficult in bad weather, according to Alan Manoian, the city's assistant director of economic development.
During Abbot's time, residents of the area north of the Nashua River seceded from Nashua, and Abbot subsequently became mayor of the new community known as Nashville. The formation of two separate governments, however, burdened both communities, which in 1853 agreed to reunite, adopting a city charter form of government that led to improvements in business and politics and provided more efficient services.
The city's promise as a business location attracted people such as I. Frank Stevens and John Cotton, who moved the Maine Manufacturing Co. from Fairfield, Maine, to Nashua in 1895. For more than 30 years, the icebox" manufacturer grew steadily - a stable business that promised dependable employment.
The city offered other appealing business opportunities, as well, including one taken by Lester Freeman Thurber, who left Washington, Vt., to become general manager of the White Mountain Freezer Co., an ice cream freezer manufacturer.
Thurber, who became a close friend of Stevens, built a distinguished home at 4 Manchester St., where he lived with his wife, Pembroke native Lizzie Little, and their children. After the freezer company was sold, Thurber, who had been a director, became president of the Second National Bank, the largest commercial bank in the state at the turn of the 20th century.
George Freeman Thurber succeeded his father as bank president, serving from 1935-62. George Thurber's son, Davis, was next in line, becoming the youngest bank president when he assumed the top post in 1962 at age 38.
When Davis Thurber was growing up, the youngest of three children, his family lived on Swart Terrace. In the 1930s, the terrace was relatively undeveloped - three or four houses, an old apple orchard and a circle big enough for ballgames.
Although he grew up in a distinguished North End family, he considered himself a regular kid who liked playing ball, exploring the woods near the Nashua River and railroad tracks, and bicycling across town.
"We lived in a nice house - not a mansion," says the retired banker, who recalls his impressions of the Concord Street mansions - particularly the Hub bard House, a daunting mansion next to Greeley Park's west side, where as a 12-year-old he attended a debutante ball held for a friend of his older sister.
For the most part, however, neighborhood life in the North End was similar to that in other areas of the city. Thurber played football on the circle at Swart Terrace. He went to the movies downtown on Saturday mornings to watch westerns featuring Tom MIx" and Gene Autry. He walked to Mount Pleasant School, taking one of two routes: down Concord Street past the long row of mansions, or along Berkeley Street past the newer but similarly imposing homes, including the Stevens House, a stately mansion with a charming duck pond, carriage house and wide expanse of landscaped lawn built by his grandfather's friend I. Frank Stevens.
"I walked a lot," he recalls. "Sometimes, I was dropped off (at Mount Pleasant) by my dad on his way to work when he would stop to see his mother."
During his elementary school years, Thurber, now 78 and living in a historic home on Davis Court, followed a tradition started by his older sister and brother. Every Monday he walked across the street to have lunch at his grandmother's house at 4 Manchester St. - a formal affair during which grandfather came home from the bank and grandson, dressed in clean knickers, was expected to demonstrate good manners. Meals, eaten in the dining room, were healthy, Thurber remembers, recalling tasty salads and homemade mayonnaise.
In grade school, Thurber attended ballroom dancing classes at Mount Pleasant and spent long afternoons playing outside near his home. Ignoring parental injunction, he and his friends explored the area by the Nashua River where hobos slept under makeshift tarps near the railroad tracks and sometimes walked up Swart Terrace knocking on doors, usually unlocked, to ask for food.
Like other children in the neighborhood, Thurber frequented Jeannotte's Market on Courtland Street, where he bought candy with his allowance - 10 cents for every A he earned on his report card, 5 cents for every B. As the son and grandson of bankers, he received early training in money management: His father required him to keep a cashbook to record his income and spending.
"Mother might sneak us a little (extra cash)," he recalls.
In junior high school, Thurber attended the Eaglebrook School, a pre-preparatory middle school in Deerfield, Mass. For high school, he went to Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and then joined the Navy after graduation and completed his college work while in the service.
After marrying and working for a period for his father-in-law, an Indiana plastics manufacturer, he followed his father and grandfather into the Second National Bank, which became the Bank of New Hampshire in 1969.
Steven Thurber, the fourth generation of the family to make his home in the North End, lives in a big house on Elliott Street with his wife, Deborah. His son, Davis, 22, is a college student in Boston.
Unlike his father, Steven Thurber did not attend Mount Pleasant School. Nor did he follow his father's Monday tradition of lunch with the grandparents, although Sunday dinners at his grandparents' home on Swart Terrace provided similar social training.
But in other ways, the North End childhoods were similar.
Though his family lived in the South End for a time, they moved to Swart Street when Steven was 12. He attended ballroom dancing classes at Charlotte Avenue School and made the traditional trips to Jeannotte's Market for candy and ice cream.
In seventh grade, before he transferred to Eaglebrook and then attended Phillips Academy like his father, he walked downtown to Spring Street Junior High School on a route close to the one his father had taken to Mount Pleasant.
Like his father, Steven Thurber received an allowance - 50 cents a week, which he used at least in part to buy penny candy.-In addition to mowing the lawn - his mother insisted he wear shoes with steel toes for the job - he was assigned chores in the house.
He says childhood was different for his son, who grew up in a small starter home in the North End off Hills Ferry Road, where he played Biddy basketball, baseball and other sports from a young age and his father served as a coach.
Now a teacher at Nashua High School, Steven Thurber did not aspire to follow his grandfather and father into the banking industry. Instead, he spent two decades as a rock musician before pursuing a second career in public education.
What he has emulated, however, is his father's and grandfather's concern for others and their desire to make a difference in the community - traits the elder Thurber's demonstrated in their leadership roles at the bank.
Norman Hall, 55, owner and operator with his son Andrew, 33, of the Davis Funeral Home at 1 Lock St., recalls his North End childhood with affection.
Hall, who grew up at 58 Abbot St., still lives close to where his grandfathers, Fred Sherwin and J. Earlfred Hall, raised his parents. Sherwin lived at 56 Abbot, next door to Hall's parents, and in 1949 built the Manchester Street home where Norman Hall later moved with his wife, Mary, to raise Andrew and his sister, Heather, both married and living nearby with their families.
"It was quiet, peaceful, a nice area," recalls Norman Hall, who grew up playing ball on North Common, a field on Sargents Avenue separated from his back yard by lilac bushes.
"I had no fear," he says. "My parents had no fear of us playing in the park."
Hall says he never considered himself better than children who lived in other neighborhoods. Nor was he aware of anything resembling "class consciousness," despite his prestigious address.
Instead, he recalls a friendly neighborhood where people knew their neighbors and kept an eye on each other's children.
"Our parents knew all the parents," he recalls. "We had to be home by 5, and we were home by 5."
When his own children were growing up, Hall reminded them of two things: Their grandmother was always at home in the neighborhood if they had a problem, and they could knock on any door if they needed help.
These days, Hall says, the neighborhood is not so close. Neighbors, for whom free time is a luxury, don't sit on either side of a fence drinking coffee. Nor are they likely to be watching out for each other's children the way they used to.
But in other ways, things have remained the same. The biggest changes are a new coat of paint on an old home here or there, Hall says.
"I still feel safe in the North End," he says.
When he drives past his old haunts - the playing field at North Common, Centennial Pool and the nearby wintertime ice rink - Hall says he happily recalls the carefree days of his childhood.
"I was one of those kids once," he says while watching a group of children at play. "My grandchildren could walk to this area and everything is the same. . . . It gives me a feeling of joy."
His son, Andrew Hall, says he felt he had returned home several years ago after his family moved from the South End into an older home on Hall Avenue owned for generations by the Sharpe family, acquaintances
of his family. He now lives three-tenths of a mile from his parents on Manchester Street, and is also close to his sister and her family on Charlotte Street.
"This is what I pictured," he says he told his wife, Karen, after the move.
The North End is a repository for Andrew Hall's childhood memories. He grew up running errands to Jeannotte's. He played football in Greeley Park on the Manchester Street side and spent winters there sledding down "Suicide Hill" and "Death Run" with his buddies.
These days he enjoys listening to baseball games being played up the street at Holman Stadium. He is also pleased with the neighborhood social life - back yards on Courtland and Hall streets face each other, providing a venue for an occasional party.
"This is what the neighborhood is about, what a neighborhood should be,'' he says.
Like his father, Andrew Hall looks forward to watching his son, Austin, 3, enjoy the pleasures that sweetened his boyhood - everything from games in Greeley Park to trips to Jeannotte's for milk and candy. It isn't the status of a North End address that he values, but the continuity and security of a life lived closed to his origins.
"I want that sense of permanency, roots," he says. "That's what you're here for."
After moving to Hall Avenue, he considered putting up a fence. But he changed his mind after watching the neighbor children running through the yards and recalling something his father told him as a little boy: "If you ever have a problem, knock on someone's door."
At home on Berkeley
The North End also is home to Bea Cadwell, resident of a grand old mansion on Berkeley Street for the past 45 years. Cadwell, 91, the daughter of a milkman, grew up in the neighborhood near St. Joseph Hospital, graduated from the nursing school at the former Nashua Memorial Hospital and met her husband, W. Dexter Cadwell of Berkeley Street, while she was caring for his mother.
"May I drive you home?" her future husband asked after their first meeting.
His family had been executives in the Jackson mills dating to the 1800s. She had her first inside view of the North End in 1918 when she was 6 and her father took her on one of his milk runs to see the black butler employed at 90 Concord St.
"No one in the city had seen a black person,'' recalls Cadwell, who remembers entering the service door that led into the kitchen, where she admired a splendid man dressed in a black coat with gold buttons.
A widow, Cadwell occupies the home that has been in the family for three generations and is now owned by her son and daughter-in-law. Almost a half century ago, she and her family moved from a six-room cape on Russell Street to the 12-room house with a four-room attic on Berkeley Street, where the neighbors were welcoming and friendly and still are. Until several years ago, Cadwell hosted an annual Christmas Eve open house for her neighbors.
"You couldn't ask for better neighbors," she says.
Likewise, she couldn't ask for a nicer place to live.
"It has stayed a very pretty street, the prettiest street in the city,'' she says. "People still want to live on Berkeley Street. It's really a desirable address."
Stories from the past
Bob Sampson, 71, a resident of Sargents Avenue for close to 40 years, moved to the North End when he was 12. But his family connections to the neighborhood date to his earliest childhood. Before his parents were married, his father was a boarder in David and Nola Staniels' home at 21 Berkeley St. During his early years, he and his parents spent a number of Christmas holidays with the Stanielses.
Retired from a 50-year career in engineering-related fields, Sampson still remembers the stories he heard from I. Blaine Stevens, a peer of his father's who grew up in the stately mansion at 51 Berkeley St., the home I. Frank Stevens built after moving his Maine Manufacturing Co. to Nashua in 1895. Stevens once told Sampson how he and his brother attached spikes up and down the laundry chute of the big house for climbing. No one caught on until their mother began complaining that she was missing laundry - later discovered hung up on the spikes in the chute.
In the early days, the duck pond outside the Stevens House froze over in winter and the caretaker - the Stevenses employed at least five servants - would place a sign telling neighborhood children the ice was safe for skating.
Sampson recalls that Abby Laton, a friend of his mother's, said the Laton pig farm had been located near Beasom Street and the skating pond had once been the piggery pond.
During the Great Depression in the 1930s when the national economy crumbled, many of the North End mansions were put on the market, Sampson recalls. The Stevens Home sold for $11,000 in 1939.
"Philip Stevens told me he sold his father's house," Sampson remembers. "He said he was glad to be rid of it."
Since 1902, when I. Frank Stevens built the home for his family, nine families have occupied it. The most recent owners are Elizabeth and Richard Foemmel, who moved in 18 months ago and are restoring the home to its original design.
Sampson's family, prosperous before the Depression, lost their money, but not their connection to the North End. His father, who came to Nashua as an electrical engineer for the Nashua Light Heat and Power Co. in 1907, later worked as an electrician in one of the mills, one of the fortunate few to have a job during the Depression.
From a young age, Sampson appreciated the history of the North End. He was fascinated by the stories he heard from I. Blaine Stevens and recalls in particular a photograph that depicts the intersection of Courtland and Chester streets separated by a gate to keep the cows from roaming.
In 1980, when Glynn Bingham was 16 and a Concord Street resident, he started his first job - stock boy at Jeannotte's Market. Twenty years later, in May 2000, he became the market's fourth owner in more than 100 years.
Bingham, who has a bachelor's degree in finance from Bentley College, was finishing a master's degree in education at Rivier College when the owner of Jeannotte's, Mike Fair, called to ask if he would manage the store. A key employee was leaving and Fair needed help. Bingham agreed on condition that he would be allowed to buy the business after Fair retired five years later.
Fair now works part-time for Bingham, who says more than half of the customers he serves are the same ones on whom he waited 22 years ago when he first started working at Jeannotte's.
"They use it as a fill-in,'' he says of customers who are likely to stop in for a container of milk, a loaf of bread or a sandwich from the deli.
From its origins, Jeannotte's, which was founded on Chestnut Street in 1899 under the name Cold Blast Market - it was the first grocery in town to install an icebox" - has been known for its meats. Hamburger is ground fresh every day and is the top draw, Bingham says.
The market, which moved to the corner of Courtland and Manchester streets more than 60 years ago, hasn't changed much through the years, although Bingham has made some small accommodations.
"My theory is if it's not broke, don't fix" it," says Bingham, who now sells more deli sandwiches than he does meat.
Likewise, Bingham says, the neighborhood where he grew up has changed little. There are fewer children and more traffic. But the area is still a quiet and respectful residential neighborhood, a desirable address to homeowners and renters alike.
"Everybody wants to be in the North End," he says. "Once or twice a week, someone comes in to ask if there are any apartments available."
Bingham says he shares that appreciation, a respect based in large part on the strength of his childhood memories.
"To me, even though I live in the South End, this is still my neighborhood,'' he says. "I call this my home, too."