The Origin of the New Hampshire Historical Society

Engraving. Portrait of John Farmer (1789-1838). Engraved by T. Moore. script “Cor. Sec’ry N. H. Historical Society”. Below that “From a miniature. painted in 1824.” New Hampshire Historical Society Collection.

Today the New Hampshire Historical Society has a strong presence in the state, and maintains several buildings to house the collections and the library of the society in Concord, New Hampshire.  Even the collectors of history have a history of their own–and that is what I hope to address in this story.

Previous to the formation of the New Hampshire Historical Society in 1823, historical societies had already been instituted in Massachusetts, New York, Maine and Rhode Island.  As early as 1813, John Farmer, Esq., then of Amherst NH, was probably the earliest promoter of a similar society in this state [NH].  At that time he was a contributor to the publications of the Massachusetts Historical Society and in 1820 published in pamphlet form, “An Historical Sketch of Amherst, N.H.

Portrait of Jacob Bailey Moore (1797-1853), by Helena Smith Dayton (1879-1960), 1947. Oil on canvas. New Hampshire Historical Society Collection

Portrait of Jacob Bailey Moore (1797-1853), by Helena Smith Dayton (1879-1960), 1947. Oil on canvas. New Hampshire Historical Society Collection

During the winter of 1821, and most of the year 1822, John Farmer, Esq. of Amherst and Jacob B. Moore, Esq. of Concord, later Librarian of the Society, employed their leisure hours in the preparation of a Gazetteer of New-Hampshire, that included descriptions of all towns and places in the State, with notices of its geology, mineral localities, natural curiosities, etc. with the book being published in the summer of 1823.  “Collections, Topographical, Historical, and Biographical, relating principally to New-Hampshire,” which was published on 15 April 1822. Jacob B. Moore afterward published a periodical. There he proposed: “Another object is, to excite the attention of those versed in the unwritten history of our State to the formation of a society at the seat of government, embracing the general plan of the Historical Societies in Massachusetts and New-York. ” [see preface to 1F & M Collections, page 4].  Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3]

On 28 February 1823 at a meeting of a Literary Society in Portsmouth NH, at which a number of gentlemen from other towns were present, they resolved to form a committee of eighteen persons to be appointed to plan for the 200th anniversary of the first settlement of New-Hampshire. At this time nothing was said about a historical society.

In a following letter, dated 11 March 1823, to the Nathaniel Haven Jr. of Portsmouth, one of the persons of the new committee, John Farmer urged the formation of a historical society, sending copies of charters of organizations from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine and New York. In this letter he also indicates, as he had been been requested to supply, that he found “New-Hampshire settled 16 April 1623” in Thomas’s Almanac for 1801, and the same in earlier almanacs for 1794. [Though two towns still fight over which area was settled first].

Thirty-one ‘gentlemen’ met on 20 May 1823 in Portsmouth NH, when Hon. Ichabod Bartlett was chosen Chairman and Hosea Hildreth Secretary, it was “Voted, That we form ourselves into a Historical Society.” Officers chosen at that meeting to serve until an act of incorporation was obtained were:
Ichabod Bartlett, President
William Plumer Jr., Vice President
Hosea Hildreth, Standing Committee
Jacob B. Moore, Standing Committee
Nathan Parker, Standing Committee
John Farmer, Recording Secretary
John Kelly, Corresponding Secretary

Portrait of William Plumer (1759-1850), by Charles Balthazar Julien Fevret de Saint-Memin (1770-1852), c. 1806.  New Hampshire Historical Society Collection

Portrait of William Plumer (1759-1850), by Charles Balthazar Julien Fevret de Saint-Memin (1770-1852), c. 1806. New Hampshire Historical Society Collection

Nathanial A Haven Jr., member elect to the legislature for that year, was appointed to prefer a petition for incorporation, on behalf of the society.  This act of incorporation received the governor’s approval on 13 June 1823. The same day the Society was incorporated it met at the capitol in Concord, accepted the charter, adopted a constitution and elected their first officers under its provisions. Its first president (1823-1825) and one of the principals donors to the Society was Hon. William Plumer of Epping.

The leadership went about collecting New Hampshire’s history, mostly printed material, and printing annual volumes of the collections of the society. (The first three of these were published at the expense of Jacob B. Moore, Esq., and afterward at the expense of the Society). At its annual meeting in June 1926 the Society voted to publish in the next volume a sketch of any member who had died.

Old Postcard showing the back garden of the (then) NH Historical Society building.

Old Postcard showing the back garden of the (then) NH Historical Society building at 214 N. Main Street.

In it early days, the New Hampshire Historical Society held its annual meetings in the NH House of Representatives, during the session of the Legislature. In the beginning books, manuscripts and other collections were kept at the officers and houses of the officers.  In 1829 an application was made to the NH State Legislature to use committee room #12 in the state house which was approved and allowed. This soon became too small for the collection.

Postcard showing the front door of the New Hampshire Historical Society when it was located at 214 North Main Street, Concord NH.

Postcard showing the front door of the New Hampshire Historical Society when it was located at 214 North Main Street, Concord NH.

In 1835 and 1836 there were petitions, signed by William Plumer and others, for funds with which to erect for the society’s use a fire-proof building, but these were unsuccessful. In 1839 more extensive accomodations were found in the hall of Blazing Star Lodge, on Main Street in Concord NH opposite the Phenix hotel. Then the museum-library moved shortly afterwards (1840) to the hall on the third floor of the building of the Merrimack County Bank, [at 214 North Main Street] paying a minimal $15 a year in rent, and occupying that space for almost thirty years.

In 1866 when the bank ceased, and the building was up for sale, four subscribers donated $200 each and the fund raising efforts of Rev. Nathaniel Bouton, DD and others helped to purchase this building on 9 June 1869 and conveyed it to the Society.   The lot upon which it stands is a part of one of the original house-lots laid out in 1726 for the original settlers of Concord, assigned to Jacob Abbot. After the American Revolution, it was purchased by Major Daniel Livermore, who served at Bunker Hill [sic Breeds Hill] as a 2nd Lieutenant. in the 1st NH Regiment, commanded by Colonel John Stark.

First Floor museum display at NH Historical Society, pre 1911 (when it was located at 215 North Main Stret Concord NH)

First Floor museum display at NH Historical Society, pre 1911 (when it was located at 214 North Main Stret Concord NH)

In 1806 the legislature had granted a charter of a bank called the Concord Bank to sixteen  grantees. This bank divided into two, and one of those purchased the premises of the widow Mrs. Livermore, occupying a portion of the dwelling house as its business. In 1826 it incorporated as the Merrimack County Bank which continued until 1866 and the bank ceased to exist. In that year the building was designed and built by local architect/builder John Leach in the Adamsesque Federal style. The NH Savings Bank and the Merrimack County Insurance Company also occupied portions of

Another view of First Floor museum display at NH Historical Society, pre 1911 (when it was located at 215 North Main Stret Concord NH)

Another view of First Floor museum display at NH Historical Society, pre 1911 (when it was located at 214 North Main Street Concord NH)

this building.  The second floor had offices–including the Registrar of Deeds for Merrimack County, the selectmen of Concord, ex-President Pierce’s law office, Dr. Bouton and others. The third floor, used as a public hall since 1840 was the section that the Historical Society had used.

Alterations were made to make it fireproof, including removing side windows and filling them with masonry, and its roof covered with slate. The inside was also extensively altered, and alcoves built for display of books, manuscripts and artifacts.

2nd Floor "Chamber"  museum display at NH Historical Society, pre 1911 (when it was located at 215 North Main Stret Concord NH)

Wnd Floor “Chamber” museum display at NH Historical Society, pre 1911 (when it was located at 214 North Main Street Concord NH)

The 22d day of May 1873 was fixed as the day for the proposed [fiftieth] celebration and dedication of the society’s library, the dedicatory exercises to take place in the society’s building. During these exercises, a poem that had been requested to be written specifically about New Hampshire, by Edna Dean Proctor, was read.  [see poem in its entirety].

The New Hampshire Historical Society continued to use this building exclusively until 1911, when “Edward Tuck (1842–1938) and his wife Julia (1850–1928) financed the creation of the Society’s landmark building at Park Street (completed in 1911) and made additional gifts that laid the foundation for the Society’s endowment.” [see postcard photo at bottom of post].

Second Floor "Dining Room" museum display at NH Historical Society, pre 1911 (when it was located at 215 North Main Stret Concord NH)

Second Floor “Dining Room” museum display at NH Historical Society, pre 1911 (when it was located at 214 North Main Street Concord NH)

The current building owner’s web site states: “At about 1910-1911, the society employed Guy Lowell (architect of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston) to substantially renovate the building for continued use as museum space, upon completion of the Historical Society’s 30 Park Street Building in Concord.”

In 1952 the building was acquired by the Christian Mutual Life Insurance Co which restored the interior.  It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.  The Life Insurance Company sold the building in 1977, to its current owners, the law firm of  Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell. [See how it looks today].

nh his society newer watermark

According to the NH Historical Society web site: “Edward Tuck (1842–1938) and his wife Julia (1850–1928) financed the creation of the Society’s landmark building at Park Street (completed in 1911) and made additional gifts that laid the foundation for the Society’s endowment. ” This building is located at 30 Park Street in Concord NH.

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