Wilfred Ernest Burpee (1860-1948) and Other Early Opticians of New Hampshire

Office of Brown & Burpee, Optometrists, 940 Elm Street, Manchester NH

Office of Brown & Burpee, Optometrists, 940 Elm Street, Manchester NH

Many of my blog stories are generated based on the view of a curious, old postcard.

Reception Room, Brown & Burpee” was inscribed on the front of this particular postcard.  Three men are present–one sitting.  There are display cases in a room that did not seem typical to me of one belonging to merchants. The sign over the fireplace states “Our work is not done, until you are satisfied.”

Upon investigation I learned that Brown & Burpee, were Optometrists.  Willey’s Book of Nutfield, page 87 states: “Their testing parlor contains every instrument and convenience as an aid to their profession, and their mechanical and prescription department is the only one in the city. Their establishment combining as it does scientific and mechanical skill of a high order and being complete in all its departments has few equals in the country.” This was a business started by two men–George H. Brown and Wilfred E. Burpee.  Both graduated from Detroit Optical College, and for the purposes of brevity, I will focus only on Mr. Burpee’s genealogy [see below].

The postmark on the postcard is 1907. This office was originally in the Kennard Building (that burned January 1902), but moved to 940 Elm Street, corner of Stark Street (current building of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream) in Manchester, New Hampshire (which is shown here). Two of the men shown in the postcard are the business principals, George Brown and Wilfred Burpee, based on known photographs of them. The identity of the third younger man is unknown.

Perhaps before I continue my story I need to define a few words, as the terminology for eye specialists has changed over the years:
Oculist is an early term that indicated a person who made and sold  spectacles and lenses, but often was not someone who provided eye tests or examinations.
Optician early on meant a person with some training, who offered eye examinations and matching of lenses to improve vision, but often they did not make the lenses or glass themselves.  Optician later replaced “Oculist” and meant someone who created lenses based on prescriptions of an Optometrist.
Optometrist is the newer of the titles (coined about 1886) and was made to distinguish between an optician who created lenses and an optometrist who was an optician who had additional training to prescribe specific lenses. (In New Hampshire in 1911 an optometrist did not need to be, and most were not, a M.D.)
Ophthalmologist is a physician (medical doctor) who specializes in diseases and injuries of the eye.
[See a list of current eye care professional titles]

Note: In New Hampshire, state licensure of eye professionals did not become effective until 1911, when a distinction was made between opticians, general practitioners, and oculists (someone from each group was appointed to the NH licensing board).  Those with eye training saw this as a victory against the “ten-cent spectacle peddlars” who went door-to-door, while medical doctors (and the American Medical Association) saw this as an invasion of their professional practices by the lesser skilled (About 6% of M.D clients of this time requested their services for eye issues).

1937 advertisement for Brown & Burpee Optometrists

1937 advertisement for Brown & Burpee Optometrists

The New England Journal of Optometry, Volume 32-33, 1981 states: “New Hampshire optometry can trace its roots to post-Civil War time when George Brown and his partner Wilfred Burpee traveled from town to town attending to the visual needs of the state’s residents. They called themselves opticians…” I have found no evidence that Brown nor Burpee traveled from town to town, and in fact both of these men supported state licensure that would make it difficult for these door-to-door salesmen. What is true, is that some of New Hampshire’s early optical sales were made at the doorstep, but sellers of spectacles also had shop-fronts in the larger cities, where various lensed objects were sold, as evidenced by the 1826 newspaper advertisement: “John W. Foster, No. 2 Market Street, Has just opened a NEW SUPPLY of spectacles with Convex, Concave, Plain Green, and French Grey Glasses–mounted in the best elastic Silver Bows of different patterns, manufacture by one of the best opticians in the country. Common Silver, Plated and Polished Steel Bow’d SPECTACLES; and a great variety of Glasses in the cheapest settings. Green Shades with Double Glasses, excellent for riding in the wind, and when snow is on the ground. Neat Steel-mounted Concave Glasses, for near-sighted persons. Concave and Convex Eye Glasses. Morocco and Steel Spectacle Cases. A small assortment of MICROSCOPES and Watchmakers Glasses. THERMOMETERS of various patterns, suitable for Ships use, Distillers, and for weather glasses–made by Jones, Pool, and Kendall. Two excellent SPY GLASSES of a large size for sale very low. New Glasses fitted to Spectacle Bows and single glasses exactly matched. Portsmouth Jan. 1826.” [Feb 18 1826 Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth NH), page 3]

December 1, 1841 NH Sentinel, Keene NH: “Eyes for the Blind. S. & H. Gerould, Next to the Court House. Spectacles. Keene, Oct 20 ” [continuing at least until 1844].

April 24, 1847 Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics page 3:  “the undersigned well known Optician and Oculist has the pleasure to inform the citizens of Portsmouth that he is enable to apply upon the first examination the correct focus to the eye … he may be consulted for a few days only at the Rockingham House. [etc]. E. Markens, Oculist and Optician, April 24.”

February 25, 1864, Farmer’s Cabinet (Amherst NH) page 3: “Dr. J. Moses, Oculist and Aurist (advertisement) at the Hotel, East Wilton, (2 days); his office: No. 59 Main Street Nashua, Every Monday.

cc babbitt opticianBrown & Burpee were not the first opticians in Manchester, New Hampshire.  I have found several records of Carlos C. Babbitt, who died 23 August 1910 [see photograph]  and who had already been an optician in Manchester for 35 years (setting up shop in 1876).  His adopted son continued with this business upon his death.  His office and residence was at 721 Beech Street, Manchester, New Hampshire.  Note: There may have been opticians earlier than Mr. Babbitt. [see photographs of other city opticians].

*****Additional Reading*****

Eighteenth Century Spectacles

Early Controversy of Optometrist Licensing

Lecture Handout: History of Optometry

                                  ANCESTORS OF WILFRED E. BURPEE

Thomas Burkby/Burpe/Burpee came from England to Massachusetts about 1644. He was born about 1627 in Yorkshire England and died 1 June 1701 in Rowley MA. He married 1) 14 June 1653 in Rowley MA to Martha (Cheney) Sadler, daughter of John & Martha (Parrat-Colby) Cheney, and widow of Anthony Sadler who she had married in 1649. She was b. 1629 in England and d. 24 June 1658 in Rowley MA. He married 2nd) 15 April 1659 to Sarah Kelly, daughter of John Kelly of Newbury MA. She was b. 12 Feb 1641 in Newbury MA and d. 25 Dec 1713 in Rowley MA. Thomas secured the land of John Hill of Rowley in 1751. Mr. Burpee’s wife Martha who came with him to Rowley was buried there 24 June 1658.
Children of Thomas & Martha (Cheney) Burpee:
1. Hannah Burpee, b. Jan 1655 in Rowley MA; d. 3 May 1683 in Suffield, Hartford Co. CT; m. 19 Oct 1681 in Newbury MA to John Huggins.
2. John Burpee, b. 16 Sep 1656, d. 1657
3. Sarah Burpee, b. May 1658, d. 1660
Children of Thomas & Sarah (Kelly) Burpee:
4. Sarah Burpee, b. 21 May 1660 in Rowley MA; m. Samuel Spofford
5. +Thomas Burpee, b. 25 Dec 1663 in Rowley MA
6. Mary Burpee, baptized 24 October 1675

Will showing children of Thomas Burpee

Will showing children of Thomas Burpee

Thomas Burpee/Burpe / Burkbee, son of Thomas & Sarah (Kelly) Burpee was b. 25 Dec 1663 in Rowley, Essex Co MA, d. 24 June 1709 in Rowley MA; he married 3 Dec 1690 in Rowley MA to Hester/Ester Hopkinson, dau of Jonathan & Hester (Clark) Hopkinson. She was b. 9 April 1667 in Rowley MA and d. 30 Oct 1722 in Rowley MA. She was the granddau of Michael Hopkinson who was admitted to the First Church of Rowley. The children shown below were mentioned by name in Thomas’ will. [see]
Children of Thomas & Hester (Hopkinson) Burpee:
1. Jeremiah Burpee, b. 27 Oct 1691 Rowley MA; m. Rebecca Jewett; removed to New Hampshire
2. Sarah Burpee, b. 15 Dec 1692 in Rowley MA
3. Esther Burpee, b. 13 March 1693 in Rowley MA; m. John Dole
4. +Thomas Burpee, b. 31 Oct 1695 in Rowley MA
5. Ebenezer Burpee, b. 8 Jan 1796 Rowley MA; m. Miriam Pearson
6. Jonathan Burpee, b. 7 Dec 1699 Rowley MA; m. Hannah Platts; removed to Nova Scotia
7. David Burpee, b. 27 Nov 1701
8. Hannah Burpee, b. 15 Dec 1703
9. Nathan Burpee, b. 8 January 1704-05
10. Sarah Burpee, b. 20 May 1707
11. Samuel Burpee, b. 17 March 1708-09

Thomas Burpee, son of Thomas & Hester (Hopkinson) Burpee, was b. 31 Oct 1695 in Rowley MA, and d. in Lancaster, Worcester Co. MA. He married 1st) 3 Feb 1719 in Rowley MA to Mary Harris. She was b. 9 March 1698 and d. 17 Aug 1721 in Rowley MA. He married 2nd) 20 Sep 1722 in Rowley MA to Mary Kilborne. She b. 17 March 1696 in Rowley MA.
Children of Thomas & Mary (Harris) Burpee:
1. +Thomas Burpee, b. 25 Nov 1719 Rowley MA
2. Stephen Burpee, b. 2 Aug 1721, d. 2 Aug 1721
Children of Thomas & Mary (Kilborne) Burpee:
3. Mary Burpee, b. 14 Oct 1723 Rowley MA; m. Amos Rugg
4. Stephen Burpee, b. 17 March 1725, d. 1725
5. Esther Burpee, b. 22 Aug 1726 in Rowley MA: m. Jacob Smith
6. Nathan Burpee, b. 23 July 1730 in Rowley MA; m. Azubah Sawyer

Thomas Burpee, son of Thomas & Mary (Harris) Burpee, was b. 25 Nov 1719,Rowley MA and d. 1 May 1800 in New London, Merrimack Co. NH. He married 19 Oct 1743 [pub April 1742 in Lancaster MA] to Anne Chaplin, dau of Jeremiah & Anne (Kilbourne) Chaplin. She was b. 15 Oct 1721 (bap) in Rowley MA. THomas was a miller. They removed to Lancaster, Worcester Co. MA in 1745, then returned to Rowley MA in 1747. Thomas served in a local militar company during the French & Indian War (1757). About 1786 he moved to New London NH to be with sons Thomas, Asa and Calvin who lived there. [? served in the Revolutionary War]
Children of Thomas & Anne (Chaplin) Burpee:
1. Stephen Burpee, b. 25 February 1745 in Lancaster MA
2. Mary Burpee, b. 2 Sep 1747 Rowley MA
3. Sarah Burpee, b. 20 Sep 1750 Rowley MA
4. Thomas Burpee, b. 24 Feb 1753 in Rowley MA; m1) Joanna Foster; he m2) Sarah Smith. He served as a minute man in the revolutionary war. In 1788 they moved to New London NH
5. Mary Burpee, b. 20 Sep 1755; m. Benjamin Adams
6. Martha Burpee, b. 12 March 1758 in Rowley MA, d. 1759
7. +Asa Burpee, b. 1 July 1760 in Rowley MA

Asa Burpee, son of Thomas and Anne (Chaplin) Burpee, b. 1 July 1760 in Rowley MA (baptized 10 Aug 1760 in Rowley) and d. 15 October 1843, age 83. He married 22 November 1781 in Rowley MA [recorded also Boxford MA] to Mary “Molly” Perley, daughter of Benjamin and Apphia [or one source says Hannah Clark] Perley of Rowley MA. She was b. 2 Jan 1760 and d. 27 July 1833, aged 73 years. Asa came from Rowley, MA to New London NH about 1786 a shoemaker [see link for more info] [marriage]
Children of Asa & Mary (Perley) Burpee:
1. Thomas Burpee, b. 13 Dec 1782 Rowley MA; m. Mary Woodman
2. Rebekah Burpee, b. 28 June 1784; m. William Loverin
3. Dolly Burpee, b. 28 June 1787 New London NH, d abt 1835
4. +Perley Burpee, b. 4 June 1790
5. Deliverance “Delia” Burpee, b. 11 May 1792; m. James H. Pillsbury
6. Apphia Burpee, 13 May 1793; m. Capt. Jonathan Everett
7. Azubah Burpee, b. 27 Jan 1797; d. 1856 unmarried
8. Sally Burpee, b. 1 Oct 1799; d. 21 Aug 1799
9. Abial Burpee, b. 1 October 1800, d. 1842; m. 1828 to Mary Woodbury

Capt. Perley Burpee, son of Asa & Mary (Perley) Burpee, b. 4 June 1790 New London NH; d 21 Aug 1865 in New London NH; he married 31 December 1816 at New London NH to Judith Colby, daughter of Joseph & Anne (Heath) Colby. She b. 17 Nov 1796 and d. 29 March 1884. Buried Old Main Street Cemetery, New London NH. Perley was Capt. Shoe maker and farmer. They resided on Colby Hill later known as the Burpee Homestead.
Children of Perley & Judith (Colby) Burpee:
1. Anthony Burpee, b. 16 Dec 1817 New London NH; d. 14 Oct 1905 in New London NH
2. Abial Burpee, b. 28 Oct 1821, d. 1823 New London NH
3. Edwin Burpee, b. 1819, d. 11 Aug 1823 New London NH;buried Old Main Street Cemetery New London NH.
4. Sarah Ann Burpee, b. 16 Aug 1823 New London NH; d. 10 Dec 1892, New London NH, single
5. Judith/Jane Maria Burpee, b. 28 March 1827 New London NH; she m. 11 June 1850 to Nahum T. Greenwood, son of Samuel & Martha Greenwood. She d. 17 May 1907 in Worcester MA
6. + Edwin P. Burpee, b. 10 Jan 1829 New London NH

Edwin P. Burpee, son of Perley & Judith (Colby) Burpee, b 10 January 1829 in New London NH, he died 5 Feb 1897 in Concord, Merrimack Co. NH; He married 15 Feb 1859 in Bradford NH to Rosaline P. Todd, dau of James & Mary (Dodge) Todd. She b 27 Dec 1838 in New London NH, and d. 14 Nov 1906 in New London, Merrimack Co. NH [from tombstone] Her father was b. Francestown and her mother New Boston NH. Buried New London NH.
1870 US Census > NH > Merrimack > New London
Edwin Burpee 40 Farmer NH
Rosaline Burpee 30
Wilfred Burpee 10
Mary Burpee 7
Susie Burpee 4
Eliza Burpee 2
Judith Burpee 73
Sarah Burpee 46
Emma Couch 25
Children of Edwin P. & Rosaline P. (Todd) Burpee:
1. +Wilfred Ernest Burpee, b. 7 Feb 1860 in New London NH
2. Mary E. Burpee, b. abt 1863 New London NH: she m. 1 Sep 1897 in New London NH to Walter Leeds Macomber, son of William A. & Mary (?) Macomber. He was b 3 Sep 1862 in Newtonville MA.
3. Susan C. “Susie” Burpee, b. 19 November 1865 NH in New London NH, and d. 12 April 1888 in New London NH, age 22 of consumption
4. Eliza Colby Burpee, b. 14 December 1867 New London, NH

Wilfred Burpee photo from Willey's Semi-Centennial of Manchester NH

Wilfred Burpee photo from Willey’s Semi-Centennial of Manchester NH

Wilfred Ernest Burpee, son of Edwin P. & Rosaline P. (Todd) Burpee, was born 7 February 1860 in New London Twp, Merrimack Co. NH, and died 29 April 1948. He is buried in Old Main Street Cemetery in New London NH. He married 28 Nov 1894 in New London NH to Lucy Nelson Sheppard, daughter of James E. & Lucia (Nelson) Sheppard. She was born March 1867 in New London NH and died 29 February 1960 in New London NH. He was a member of Brown & Burpee, Opticians of Manchester NH. In 1899 he patented, with George H. Brown, an exhibiting or displaying appliance. He was a deacon of the Merrimack Street Baptist Church (1908 Manchester City Directory). SEE photograph of his office and references above. [another photo of W.E. Burpee].
Biography: BURPEE, Wilfred E., optometrist; b. New London NH Feb 7, 1860, s. Edwin P. and Rosaline (Todd) Burpee; ed. Colby Acad., New London NH; Detroit Optical Inst.; m. Nov., 1894 Lucy Nelson Shepard of New London NH. In mercantile business since 1892, stores in Manchester and Concord; mem. Brown & Burpee Co., Inc.; Trustee Colby Acad; dir. Manchester Y.M.C.A. Republican. Baptist. Home: 353 Walnut St., Office 940 Elm Street, Manchester NH
from: Willey’s semi-centennial books of Manchester, 1846-1896, page 86
WILFRED ERNEST BURPEE was born in New London, N.H., Feb. 7, 1860. His father is Edwin P. Burpee, whose mother was the sister of Gov. Anthony Colby. For seven years in company with A.H. Whipple he conducted a well known summer hotel, “The Heidelberg.” Mr. Burpee was educated in the public schools of New London and at Colby Academy. In 1891 he graduated from the Detroit Optical College, receiving the degree of optical specialist. Since 1886 he has been actively engaged in optical work and has won a wide and enviable reputation for his skill. In November 1894, Mr. Burpee was married to Miss Lucy Shepard of New London.
1907 Manchester City Directory
BURPEE, Wilfred E (Burpee & Brown) optician 940 Elm house
1908 to 1930 Manchester City Directory
BURPEE, Wilfred E (Burpee & Brown) optician 940 Elm house 353 Walnut
1937 Manchester City Directory
BROWN & BURPEE INC. 940 Elm Corner Stark tel 649 Eugene F. CLough pres Wilfred E. Burpee treas optometrists–See page 123
Nashua Telegraph, Wednesday March 2, 1960, page 2
Obituary: Mrs. Lucy S. Burpee
New London, March 2–Funeral services will be held tomorrow for Mrs. Lucy S. Burpee, 93, former president of the United Mission Society of New Hampshire. Mrs. Burpee died in a New London nursing home Monday night after a long illness. She was the widow of Wilfred E. Burpee, a prominent Manchester and Concord optometrist.
Children of Wilfred E. & Lucy N. (Sheppard) Burpee:
1. Mildred S. Burpee, b. 29 Dec 1896 Manchester NH. She married 25 Feb 1918 in NH to Lt. Roland H. Brock, son of Winfield H. & Angela B. (Ford) Brock. He was b. 28 Aug 1890. In 1920 they were living in Athol, Worcester Co. MA, he was a publisher and printer. Son: David F. Brock, b abt 1919 MA. In 1930 living in San Diego California. Son John W. Brock b abt 1925 in California in addition. In 1940 Roland working as right of way agent for a Gas Company.
2. Helen Burpee, b. 16 Jan 1901; d. 11 May 1902 in NH ;age 1 yr 3 months 25 days of pneumonia


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