New Hampshire Missing Places: Mansion House in Merrimack

Photograph: front view of Mansion House, Merrimack NH circa 1970. Courtesy of Virginia Penrod. Used with permission. Colorized.

A building is more than a structure or a location–it is also a repository of stories about the people and events connected with it. My cousin, Ginny Penrod, had an opportunity to photograph the so-called “Mansion House” of Merrimack NH before it was demolished, which she shared with me.

We talked about some of the stories connected with it, and she was curious about which stories and rumors were true. Were there lost loves involved?  Did the place have a notorious reputation? (The answer to both those questions appear to be no). She shared with me some photographs she’d taken of both the interior and exterior in the days when she was working as a real estate salesperson. The house was nothing like you would find anywhere else in town.  Even the attic floors were made of cedar, she mused. I admit, I was intrigued too.

Photograph of Napoleon Sevigny, the builder of the structure later known as the Mansion House in Merrimack NH. From his obituary.

—–1938: The Lariviere House Description—–
In 1938 an incredible 15-room home with a fountain in front was built on the Daniel Webster Highway in the Reeds Ferry section of Merrimack, New Hampshire. According to an article by Cynthia Jones in a 1971 Nashua Telegraph newspaper, people who ‘owed the builder money’ worked on this structure. Whether she meant the owner, Lariviere, or the builder, Sevigny, I do not know.

My thanks to Rick Price who provided the following description of the house, from a newspaper article in the Union Leader newspaper of 5 September 1938: “F.X. Lariviere moves into 15-room house. September 5, 1938. Picture caption reads: Beautiful colonial 15-room house built by F.X. Lariviere, local furniture dealer , on the Daniel Webster Highway in Reeds Ferry. The grounds are now being graded and landscaped. A swimming pool is also being built at the rear. Napoleon Sevigny of this city was the contractor. Among the many new homes erected in Manchester and vicinity in the last year, one of the finest is the two and one-half story colonial home built by F.X. Lariviere, Manchester furniture dealer on the Daniel Webster Highway in Reeds Ferry. This imposing home within 10 miles of Manchester has attracted the attention of thousands of motorists who drive by the place with stands about 200 feet from the roadway. The house is completed and workmen are now engaged in beautifying the grounds. The large area in front of the house is being graded and will be landscaped. The dwelling is noteworthy for the size of the rooms. All of them at least 16 feet square and several of them are still larger. On the ground floor is a large living room, an equally large dining room, a kitchen, pantry, a study and an sewing room besides a large sun-porch on the southside opening from the dining room. The front door opens on a semi-circular hall and a winding staircase leads to the second floor. The second floor has four large bedrooms and two bathrooms, cedar closet. The attic is finished and furnishes much space for storage. There are screened porches at the rear and on the ground floor, one in the front on the second floor as well as a sleeping porch at the rear on the second floor. All windows are equipped with Venetian blinds. The basement has the boiler room, a billiard room, and a recreation room. North of the house is a six-stall garage. There are three stalls on one elevation leading from the highway and three more on a lower level which opens on the East side. The land owned by Mr Lariviere, covers 20 acres and is now engaged in the construction of the swimming pool at the eastern edge of this property and away from the state highway. Mr. Lariviere, who has been in business for 20 years, moved into this new home, furnished with all new furniture, a few years ago. Napoleon Sevigny, local contractor, built the house.”

Indeed photographs attest to the luxurious interior and grand exterior of the home. Photographs in the slideshow above are circa 1970 and provided by Virginia Penrod, used with her permission. these are views of the front, side and back of the building and fish pond; inside the front hall, several downstairs rooms, and two bedrooms; basement.   Note that the two major individuals involved in the creation of this home are obviously the owner, ‘F.X. Lariviere’ and the builder, Napoleon Sevigny. Both men were of Canadian origin.

–The house owner: Francois-Xavier “F.X.” Lariviere–
The first owner of this new home was Francois-Xavier (F.X.) “Frank” Lariviere. He was born on 11 Sep 1875 at Sainte-Marie, Beauce, QC, Canada, son of Jean B. “John” & M. Agnes Josephine (Arcand) Lariviere. Frank Lariviere died 16 March 1963. He married 27 March 1900 in Manchester NH to a widow, Eva May (McLean) Stuart, daughter of Charles “Carl” & Emma E. (Gannaugh/Cavanaugh) McLean. She was b about 1878 in Calais Maine. She had m1st) 21 March 1896 in Gorham Coos NH to Fred E. Stuart, son of Giles A. & Jennie (Fuller) Stuart who died in 1898.

Goffe’s Falls Trolley Car #118 on Elm Street South of Central Street in Manchester NH. In background is F.X. Lariviere store. Manchester Historic Association. Used with permission.

Frank Lariviere had immigrated from Canada to Manchester New Hampshire, where in 1918 at the time of completing his WWI Registration Form, he was living at 308 Highland Street, Manchester and was the manager of the E.R. Gresley Furniture Company [located at 1054-1066 Elm Street]. This is probably where he learned the furniture sales trade.

On 17 April 1924 Frank Lariviere filed to incorporate the F. X. Lariviere Furniture Company that remained in business until 26 Feb 1952 when it was legally dissolved. The store was located at 672 Elm Street in Manchester NH (see photo). At that time he was living at 1920 Lake Ave in Manchester.

By the 1940 census Frank and his wife Eva had moved to his mansion home in Merrimack. They had a live-in housekeeper, Delia Martin, and chauffeur Robert Comeau.  By 1948 Frank and Eva Lariviere had moved to the Grasmere section of Goffstown New Hampshire and they sold the Merrimack house to Carl and Anna Dybeck.

—Napoleon Savigny, the builder—
As for the builder of the original structure, Napoleon P. Savigny/Sevigny was a well known building contractor in Manchester New Hampshire. He was born in 1902 in Haverhill MA, had married in 1927 to Marie Messier, a Manchester NH girl, and remained living there. Napoleon had worked as a carpenter for many years before going into business on his own in 1936. Two years later he had built the Lariviere home. He was also the Manchester City Surveyor from 1942 to 1946. He died in 1956 at his summer home at Beaver Lake in Derry. His obituary states his surviving family included: “four daughters Mrs. Eugene (Madeleine) LaBonte of this city; Mrs. Robert (Irene) Nuttle of Frankfurt, Germany; Miss Jeanne Sevigny and Miss Claire Sevigny both of this city; two sons, Leon P. Sevigny of Fort Wayne, Ind., and Paul A. Sevigny of this city; five grandchildren; four brothers, Willard Sevigny of Derry, Emile Sevigny of Boston, Alfred and Lafayette Sevigny, both of this city [Manchester].”

Mansion House advertisement from the 1950s, courtesy of Rick Price. Used with permission.

—1948: Carl & Anna Dybeck—
He was born Karl Frederick Karlsson 20 on Aug 1893 at Nedre Ullerud Varmland, Sverige (Sweden) son of Karl Johan Dyback and Anna Sofia Nilsson. As ‘Carl Dybeck’ he immigrated to the United States in 1906, his future wife, Anna Marie Hellman arriving at the same time. In 1920 when he petitioned for naturalization in the Massachusetts District Court on 17 April 1945 he apparently had traveled to Sweden and back to the United States on 14 Feb 1914, arriving in Boston MA on the ship Alaunia.

Carl Dybeck married 12 Jan 1918 in Boston MA to Anna Marie Hillman. She was born in Westmanland Sweden 30 Aprl 1891. By 1920 they were living in Wayland MA where he was a lathe machinist. In 1924 they resided in Framingham MA again his occupation was machinist. By 1938 he was living at 76 Bay Street Road in Boston MA with his wife, but by now Carl had changed occupations–he was now a chef. Carl and Anna Dybeck had two children; Albertha Marie Dybeck and Carl Emerson Dybeck. Neither child was born or lived in New Hampshire.

I had to wonder how Carl managed to raise the funds to purchase the Lariviere house. Did he inherit the money? Did he work hard and save it all? Boston records show that in 1940 the Central Artery was being proposed and the route included some properties on Albany Street owned by Carl F. Dybeck. Perhaps the sale of this land was the down payment on the Merrimack property he would soon purchase. By 1948 the Dybecks had purchased the Lariviere home and branded it as “Mansion House.”

In May of 1971 a local Merrimack photographer, John Berg, captured the Mansion House’s last gasp as it was demolished. Courtesy of Rick Price, used with permission.

The April 19 1948 Newspaper, Nashua Telegraph, includes an article about Merrimack’s ‘newly organized Merrimack Lion’s Club’ meeting where Carl Dybeck of Reeds Ferry was a charter member and had been elected second vice-president,  The 1951-1958 Merrimack Town Annual Reports show that Carl F. & Anna Dybeck paid between $8,000 and $11,000 in yearly property taxes for the so-called “Mansion House.” In looking at advertising and also a 1971 newspaper account by Cynthia Jones, the Dybecks ran a combination restaurant, event center and antique shop. Smorgasbord meals were highlighted for the group meetings and weddings held there.

—Robert Donahue, Realtor 1969—
In 1969 Robert Donahue, a local realtor, purchased the Mansion House property and went about looking for someone interested in buying it. The Nashua Telegraph of 29 Nov 1969 p 5 mentions “A subdivision plan of the Mansion House Property owned by Robert Donahoe was reviewed” by the Merrimack town officers. By January of 1971 it had been sold to the GE Corp (see below) who planned to build a manufacturing plant. According to the Cynthia Jones story attempts were made to sell the building, but they fell through due to the difficulty and expense in these plans due to the original construction. In the end, the house was dismantled, pieces sold off, the shell demolished, with whatever remaining burnt to ash. The goldfish that survived in the front pond were given away to those who wanted to take them.

Postcard of Mansion House in better days circa 1950s. Courtesy of Rick Price. Used with permission. Colorized by the blog editor.

–General Electric Corporation, 1971–
The Evening Sun newspaper of Baltimore MD 18 Jan 1971 page 32 announced that General ELectric Corporation would “build one of its largest heavy machinery plants” in Merrimack NH, “eventually employing 1500 perons in the manufacture of steam turbines and electric dynamos.” A 90,000-square foot plant was projected to be built in the Spring. The new plant was subject to voter approval along with two public hearings on zoning changes. In March of 1971 articles were include in the Merrimack warrant and approved. GE acquired additional acres for overall operations.

General Electric Company was one of three so-called “blue chip” industries in Merrimack, that also included Anheuser-Busch Inc and Nashua Corporation. Ground was broken for the new GE plant on May 14, 1971. The general contractor was Davison Inc of Manchester while grading and site preparation was done by Weaver Bros Inc. Concord, and the erection of structural steel was performed by Lyon Ironworks, Manchester.

The General Electric Company’s Merrimack Generator Department Plant was dedicated 15 AUgust 1973. More than 200 attended the special ceremonies with a social following at the Sheraton-Wayfarer Inn Bedford. Some in attendance (this is not a complete list) were Ronald E. Geiger, chairman, Merrimack Board of Selectmen, John Berkenkamp, plant manager; U.S. Sen. Thomas J. McIntrye, main speaker, and U.S. Rep. Louis C. Wyman. In this same month the Nashua Telegraph ran a photograph about GE having the world’s largest boring machine. GE Corp would remain in Merrimack NH for a decade when it was sold to Chemfab (see).

–Chemical Fabrics Corp (ChemFab) 1983—
The Burlington Free Press newspaper of 2 Dec 1983, page 32 reported that Chemical Fabrics Corp of N. Bennington VT was moving its headquarters to the 175 acre site it bought from the General Electric Co. in Merrimack the following summer. [ChemFab was founded in 1968, owned by the family of the late founder John Cook and (now) run by his won Warren C. Cook.] The company was most widely known for its high-profile work in architectural fabric, and also fabric for industrial communications and defense applications. Covered stadiums often used ChemFab materials including the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich [opened Aug 1975, closed Jan 2013], the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodone in Minneapolis Minn [opened 1982 demolished to build US Bank Stadium] and the Carrier Dome in Syracuse NY. [Opened 1980]

—Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, 2000 —
Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp, a Wayne N.J. company and subsidiary of Saint-Gobain in France purchased Chemfab Corp in 2000. The following year it closed its Bennington VT factory and consolidated (but kept open) its Merrimack NH and Elk Grove Ill plants. The Merrimack facility produced specialty coated fabrics and films for several industrial applications. Their fabrics can be found in the roof of the Denver Airport and the retractable roof of the AT&T Stadium in Dallas (Cowboys). It also supplies Hazmat protective suits. In November of 2001 advertisements were placed in the local newspapers seeking additional employees for the Merrimack NH facility. Saint-Gobain’s Merrimack NH plant has been linked by the state of New Hampshire to water contaminated with PFAS chemicals. In 2018 Saint-Gobain reached an agreement with the NH Dept of Environmental Services to provide drinking water to 302 homes in Bedford Litchfield and Merrimack.   Aerial View Map, Saint-Gobain, Merrimack.

RECAP of Property Owners:
1. Mr. & Mrs. Francois-Xavier Lariviere [Napoleon Savigny, builder]
2. Carl & Anna Dybeck
3. Robert Donahoe, Realtor
4. General Electric Corporation
5. ChemFab (Chemical Fabrics Corp)
6. Saint-Gobain

SOURCES:
1. FamilySearch, birth, marriage, death records. WWI Registration; US Census records.
2. Photographs, internal and external of Mansion House, courtesy Ginny Penrod, used with permission
3. Postcard of Mansion House and Advertisement, courtesy of Rick Price, used with permission
4. City of Boston Report, 1940.
5. Cynthia Jones. Article: Merrimack Landmark For 40 years; Mansion house Now But A Memory, Nashua Telegraph 11 June 1971, page 12
6. City Directories, Massachusetts & New Hampshire
7. Various other newspaper articles.

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2 Responses to New Hampshire Missing Places: Mansion House in Merrimack

  1. ron b comeau says:

    My Dad was Robert Comeau who worked for the Larivieres. I have some interesting photos of the place. What a tremendous job you did on this article. Excellent research. I’ve never found anything about the mansion house. THANK YOU
    Ron Comeau

    • Janice Brown says:

      Robert, I’d love to see the photographs. Have you scanned them? Are you on Facebook? So glad you enjoyed the story. It was not easy to research but my cousin Ginny wanted to know so I persisted 😀

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