The Origin and History of New Hampshire’s Daniel Webster Highway

Old postcard photograph of the New Daniel Bridge (built in 1922) showing the Library and Central Street in the distance. This street was a part of the Daniel Webster Highway that extended from Nashua to the White Mountains. Daniel Webster was born 2-3/4 miles form the Highway at lower Franklin.

Old postcard photograph of  Franklin New Hampshire’s “then new” Daniel Webster Bridge (built in 1922) showing the Library and Central Street in the distance. This street was a part of the Daniel Webster Highway that extended from Nashua to the White Mountains. The birth place of Daniel Webster is a few miles away.

The Daniel Webster Highway in New Hampshire was originally called the “Merrimack Valley Road” and followed the course of the Merrimack River. On January 23, 1921, the Anaconda Standard newspaper (of Anaconda MT) announced that “backed by many prominent citizens, the New Hampshire Bar association is completing plans for pushing through the legislature a bill for naming one of the three main roads (the so-called “middle road”) the “Daniel Webster highway.”

Photograph of Judge Edgar Aldrich from The Granite State Monthly, Vol 54-55, edited by Henry Harrison Metcalf, John Norris McClintock, July 1922, Vol LIV, No. 7

Photograph of Judge Edgar Aldrich from The Granite State Monthly, Vol 54-55, edited by Henry Harrison Metcalf, John Norris McClintock, July 1922, Vol LIV, No. 7

–The initial efforts to name the road–
At its annual meeting in 1920 the New Hampshire Bar Association had passed a resolution presented by Hon. Edgar Aldrich requesting the association’s president to appoint a committee of 15 to make known to the New Hampshire State Legislature that one of the main roads in New Hampshire (i.e. the one described above) should be designated and marked as the Daniel Webster Highway to pay “tribute to a son of New Hampshire–and to the most famous expounder of the Federal Constitution.” A letter petitioning same was sent by Judge Aldrich to the Governor of NH, who in turn presented the proposal to the Legislature for consideration.

Soon after this proposal, the NH state legislature enacted a statute providing that “the great New Hampshire highway beginning at the Massachusetts boundary and running northerly through many cites and towns to Colebrook be given the name of Daniel Webster highway.” This road was the main automobile thoroughfare from Boston to the White mountains. In 1921 it was the most traveled road in New Hampshire.

Likeness of Daniel Webster

Likeness of Daniel Webster from front cover from Pamphlet re: Funeral March Performed at the obsequies of the Hon. Daniel Webster. Boston MA: 1871; from American Memory / Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University

–Why name it after Daniel Webster?–
He was born in New Hampshire, and became an attorney, later becoming famous as a statesman of Massachusetts. He served in Congress from both states, first as a representative from New Hampshire, and then as a senator from Massachusetts. He was twice Secretary of State. He is considered, by some, to be New Hampshire’s greatest statesman.  [To learn more about Daniel Webster read his biography]

–Why THIS road was named for Daniel Webster–
This 200-mile road ran from Nashua, near the Massachusetts line, north through Manchester, Concord, and Laconia to the Canadian line, north of Colebrook, New Hampshire. Proponents of this naming plan stated that “this route would take travelers through towns that were associated with Webster’s early life.” [Editor’s Note: Curiously, the Webster highway did not pass by the birthplace of Daniel Webster, any more than the Horace Greeley Highway passed by the original home of Horace Greeley. But it was justified because it runs a short distance from the Webster birthplace. In fact Daniel Webster was born 2-3/4 miles from the Highway in lower Franklin NH.]

–The 1922 Dedication of the Daniel Webster Highway–
Before the road’s re-designation as the Daniel Webster Highway (or “DW Highway”), new lighting was added in some populated areas (ie., an eleven foot pipe extension with artificial light Mazda Lamp). On May 16, 1922 Nashua New Hampshire’s Daniel Webster Highway dedication day was greeted with “smiling skies and balmy breezes.” Thousands of people from both Massachusetts and New Hampshire gathered for the ceremonies and entertainment.

Daniel Webster monument side 1

Photograph of one of the granite monuments, located at the New Hampshire-Massachusetts boundary line, designating the Daniel Webster Highway. From The Granite State Monthly, Vol 54-55, edited by Henry Harrison Metcalf, John Norris McClintock, July 1922, Vol LIV, No. 7

The Nashua, New Hampshire lunch reception committee was composed of members of the Nashua Rotary Club, under the chairmanship of George L. Sadler. Guests of honor included Governor Albert O. Brown of New Hampshire, Highway Commissioner John N. Cote (representing Gov. Cox of Massachusetts), and Charles R. Corning, judge of probate of Merrimack Co. NH, orator of the day. Then dignitaries, and a large crowd gathered at the New Hampshire-Massachusetts state line for a dedication ceremony.

Daniel Webster monument side 2

One of two signs placed to designate the Daniel Webster Highway. From The Granite State Monthly, Vol 54-55, edited by Henry Harrison Metcalf, John Norris McClintock, July 1922, Vol LIV, No. 7

On each side of the road, exactly on the state line, solid granite markers were placed, the gifts of the John Swenson Quarry Company of New Hampshire to the state of New Hampshire. The bronze plaques with inscriptions were placed by the William Highton Sons Company of Nashua NH. One marker states “The Daniel Webster Highway,” and the second “Union and Liberty, one and inseparable, now and forever.” Judge Charles R. Corning of Concord NH was orator of the day. Former State Senator William F. Sullivan of Nashua NH acted as master of ceremonies. Mayor Henri A. Burque gave an address of welcome. There were many songs sung, music played, and orations read. Band concerts on three public squares were held after the program, followed by a luncheon arranged by the Rotary Club.

Among those present at this Rotary Club luncheon were: Mayor George H. Brown of Lowell, MA; Mayor L.H. Dauphnett of Franklin NH; Mayor L.H. Wilkinson of Laconia NH; Mayor Frank W. Hartford of Portsmouth NH; Mayor George E. Trudel of Manchester NH; Leslie P. Snow of Rochester NH, associate justice of the New Hampshire supreme court; ex-Gov. Rolland H. Spaulding of Rochester NH; Secretary of State Edwin C Bean, Concord; Highway Commissioner F.E. Everett of Concord NH; Clarence E. Carr of Andover NH; President Ernest W. Hopkins of Dartmouth College; President Charles Hetzel of New Hampshire State College; Adj.-Gen Charles W. Howard of Nashua NH; Maj. George E. Liscomb of Lebanon NH; Maj. Robert P. Johnston of Concord NH; Maj. Fred N. Beckwith of Dover NH; Col. G.V. Fiske of Manchester NH; Maj. E. Curtis Matthews of Portsmouth NH; members of the Nashua city government and other local guests. The rotary lunch was in charge of President Ivory C. Eaton, and the parade was under the direction of Ottis E. Mercer.

–Massachusett’s Efforts–
In January of 1922 the Boston Herald announced that a petition had been filed in Massachusetts by Representative Roland D. Sawyer, “for building of a Daniel Webster highway, from end of New Hampshire’s Webster highway in Tyngsboro, through Boston to Marshfield, Webster’s home. The March 1, 1922 issue of the Springfield Republic newspaper (Springfield MA) stated that a proposal had been made to the committee on highways and motor vehicles in Massachusetts by Roland D. Sawyer, Representative of Ware, MA “to confer officially the name of Daniel Webster upon the shore highway now known by that name.” The route (in Massachusetts) ran from Marshfield to Quincy, along the South shore, and was already unofficially being called the Daniel Webster Highway. The proposal was an attempt to create a road that ran from Salisbury NH, Daniel Webster’s birthplace to Tyngsboro (state line), through Somerville to Quincy, and then to Marshfield, which was his home in Massachusetts.

Daniel Webster Highway in Concord in 1923. Following unusual weather, freshets caused the rivers to rise and flood many roads.

Daniel Webster Highway in Concord in 1923. Following unusual weather, freshets caused the rivers to rise and flood many roads.

–Changes and Improvements in the “DW”–
As the years passed, improvements were made to the New Hampshire section of the highway, and many businesses were built up along it. In November of 1923 one of the greatest rain storm in years (more than three inches of rain fell in 12 hours) resulting in a great deal of damage to the Daniel Webster Highway. In 1932 money was appropriated to straighten a sharp turn in the highway in the town of Merrimack in Hillsborough County,  New Hampshire.

On 24 September 1939 exercises were held to dedicate a new section of the Daniel Webster Highway that connected New Hampshire with the province of Quebec. They were held in a natural hillside amphitheater, and included addresses by official representatives of the State of New Hampshire, the United States and Canada. George D. Roberts was chairman of that dedication committee. Later, the flood of 1943 did a great deal of damage to the Daniel Webster, and other highways which necessitated expensive repairs.

With the passage of the Federal Highway Act in 1956, and the ensuing construction of the F.E. Everett Turnpike, Interstate 93 and 293, and NH Routes 101, Route 3, and Route 3A, the popularity and use of the Daniel Webster Highway declined somewhat.

The Daniel Webster Highway still exists today, portions also being called by secondary names such as Concord Street, Old Route 3, and Route 3.  As my former father-in-law used to say, “New Hampshire has too many damned names for the same road.”

**ADDITIONAL READING (or WATCHING)**

VIDEO: Dean Shalhoup speaks about the history of the Daniel Webster Highway

Daniel Webster: Lost in Portsmouth

Salisbury New Hampshire Lawyer, Orator, Statesman: Daniel Webster (1782-1852)

Daniel Webster Highway: The Granite State Monthly, Vol 54-55, edited by Henry Harrison Metcalf, John Norris McClintock, July 1922, Vol LIV, No. 7; page 225 [has details of the speeches made when the DW Highway was officially opened, and more photographs of the people involved with the ceremonies].

Video: Daniel Webster Monument (in Massachusetts)

 

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4 Responses to The Origin and History of New Hampshire’s Daniel Webster Highway

  1. Penrod Virginia says:

    fascinating! As all your reports are, Jan. This touches a personal root so it is a tickle to read. thanks

  2. Dick Brodeur says:

    LOVE this line in the story: “The Daniel Webster Highway still exists today, portions also being called by secondary names such as Concord Street, Old Route 3, and Route 3. As my former father-in-law used to say, “New Hampshire has too many damned names for the same road.” That is such a yankee thing to say!

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