Era 4: Expansion and Reform – 1800 to 1860
Compiled by Tom Sullivan and Louise Troehler
A national day of mourning for George Washington. Citizens assembled in somber dress at 10:00 a.m. to march with muffled drums to the crepe decorated church for religious services. These included an oration and vocal selections by a choral group. A company of militia and cavalry formed an honor guard.
A traveler passing through Keene wrote that “We came into the beautiful compact town of Keene; I was pleased with the prospects it is composed of elegant houses neatly finished and painted. There is a large Congregational Meetinghouse and a Court House in the town, the land is very good and very level for some ways round.”
The village of Keene contained 100 houses and shops, a meetinghouse, a courthouse, and a jail.
The population in Keene was 1,645.
The Social Library, a subscription organization in which borrowers paid the privilege of membership, was incorporated. It cost four dollars to belong. The Rev. Aaron Hall served as librarian. The first library was located at the site of the present Keene Public Library.
A stagecoach line ran from Boston to Keene twice a week. A plank walk, the first sidewalk, was laid along Pleasant Street (now West Street). It was laid from the meetinghouse to the mill sites at the Ashuelot River.
The Cheshire Bank received it state charter, with Daniel Newcomb as president and Elijah Dunbar as cashier.
Captain William Wyman, the fifth son of Col. Isaac Wyman, returned to Keene with a fortune after years at sea. He built a brick general store known for many years as the Eagle Hotel Block.
In 1810 Captain Wyman built one of the finest homes in Keene. Tradition claims that his ghost haunts the house he never lived to enjoy.
Abel B1ake built what is now called the Horatio Colony House Museum at 199 Main Street.
Dr. Amos Twitchell, who lived in Keene, proved his skill as a surgeon by conducting a rare operation in which he tied the carotid artery. This is perhaps the first time such an operation had occurred in the country.
Keene’s “gay blades” stole a historic cannon from Walpole. Return of the cannon was demanded by court action. Attempts to arrest the culprits proved unsuccessful. The cannon was hidden in a grainary near Main Street. On July 4, 1809, a group from Walpole went to steal the cannon back. Making such a terrible noise, the church bell was rung. The Walpole men got the cannon into the wagon and headed out of town, but Keene men went after them. The Keene men were unsuccessful in catching the Walpole folks, as they turned off on the wrong road. Rivalries such as these kept the local spirits high.
The Court House and Town Hall was moved to the corner of Court Street and Winter Street.
During this time Keene’s Main Street was often called, “Keene long pasture.” Consequently a law was passed forbidding livestock from running free. The town pound provided a valuable service by holding stray animals of all kinds.
The first meeting of the Keene Engine Company was held. This was the first successful movement to introduce the fire engine.
The population in Keene was 1,646.
Adolphus Wright opened a wig shop within his barbershop business, which also sold candy, toys, small wares, and homemade beer.
The War of 1812 began. Keene was well represented in the militia. News of the burning of Washington D.C. shocked Keene as it did the rest of the country.
Roxbury was incorporated, with Keene giving up 1,472 acres.
Miss Catherine Fiske opened her celebrated Young Ladies Seminary on Main Street where Keene State College is now located. Students were taught French, Italian, Latin, English, mathematics, history, geography, as well as painting, drawing, and ornamental needlework. The first piano in Keene was used at her school. Miss Fiske emphasized the importance of “manners, morals, and minds” to her students.
The New Hampshire Glass Factory, later known as the Keene Window Glass Company, began operations.
The announcement of Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans did not reach Keene until the Boston stage arrived on the 1 February. The news was greeted with great jubilation that the war was ending.
The first elephant exhibit came to Keene.
Francis Faulkner and Josiah Colony purchased a sawmill and gristmill on West Street.
The year was long remembered as the “year without a summer”. For more than twelve weeks during the spring and summer no rain fell in the region. It was cold and dry. Grass withered, corn and other crops did not mature, leading to much distress.
John Lyscom, Keene’s first dentist arrived in town.
The first cooking stoves were introduced in Keene and exhibited at Hall’s Store.
Samuel Dinsmor, a prominent Keene lawyer, was reelected to Congress.
The Reverend Zedekiah S. Barstow arrives in Keene to preach and teach. He and his wife moved into the Wyman Tavern and lived there for the next 55 years. Barstow was chosen as head of the school board and tutored students at his home. He was also the last minister to be come to Keene by a town vote.
A petition was presented to the Court that stated the jail yard for poor debtors included only a few houses, and asked that it be extended. The request was granted.
Temporary 1ocks were constructed between Keene and Winchester to connect the Ashuelot and Connecticut River. The state legislature approved completion of this work that enabled the town to take tolls and conduct navigation on the Ashuelot River. However, river transport enjoyed only a short period of success as it was soon replaced by railroads and highways.
The population in Keene was 1,895.
Keene’s first theatrical performance by a professional company performed the tragedy “Douglass, or the Noble Shepherd.”
The services of the Keene Engine Company were put to the test when a large three-story tavern burned. The single town fire engine could do little more than save some of the neighboring stores. As the town wells were being drained, bucket lines were formed from Beaver Brook. The town soon purchased a second and larger fire engine.
The first flour was sold in the general store. This made life a bit easier for Keene women, for they no longer had to go to the miller.
George Tilden opened a stationary store where boys trained as apprentices for seven years.
A new brick court house and town hall was built at the corner of Court and Winter Streets.
The Faulkner and Colony Mills were destroyed by fire and rebuilt with brick.
Keene held a big celebration for the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
The first circus comes to Keene. It had a zebra, rhinoceros, orangutan, and a wax exhibit.
The year was also known as the “Grasshopper Year.” Grasshoppers destroyed gardens, crops, and even clothes hung out to dry.
The mail stage line came through Keene. The line gave Keene two daily stages from Boston. It also connected to New York three times a week.
The state legislature divided Cheshire County to create Sullivan County. Keene became the only “shire” town in Cheshire County.
The Baptist Church bought the Revere Bell for $125.00. It weighed 777 pounds. It sounded curfew at 9:00 p.m. and a signal at noon. The bell rang five times for a fire, three times for a man’s death, and four times for a woman’s death. The bell also rung the age of the person who just died.
The meetinghouse, originally built in 1765 and rebuilt in 1786, was moved to its current location (north side of Central Square) and is now the United Church of Christ.
A 2-day storm caused the Connecticut River to rise more than 20 feet.
Keene High School was established, but only lasted two years.
By the late 1820s, although the area was still largely agricultural, the region was in the early stages of becoming more industrialized. The town was beginning to realize some of the problems industrialization would bring, such as with transportation, communication, supplies, and laborers from outside the region.
Cheshire County Temperance Society was formed as a response to the use of hard liquor that “was so general and excessive as to become alarming.” The start of the Temperance Society led to the formation of other societies to curb problem drinking.
The population of Keene was 2,374.
The Unitarian Church on Main and Church Streets was dedicated.
The first Keene directory (in pamphlet form) was issued.
Keene lawyer Samuel Dinsmoor “the elder” was elected governor of New Hampshire.
The number of “scholars” in Keene’s public schools reached 768.
A stone jail was built on the corner of Washington and Mechanic Streets. This new building was 24 by 36 feet and 2 stories, and built with 14,000 tons of Roxbury granite. It was reported as one of the strongest and best-built prisons in the United States. The jailer’s house was located next door to the prison and constructed of brick.
Many fine homes were built during the 1930s on Washington Street.
Keene Academy opened on Winter Street.
Daniel Webster spoke for two hours to approximately 4,000 people at the Keene Academy building on Winter Street.
Dr. John Bixby opened an apothecary.
By 1840 the location and size of Central Square was firmly established. Many of the new buildings near and around the square were three-story high and built of brick. The Cheshire House, Unitarian Church, Baptist Church, Center School, and Academy Buildings were all near the square. In addition to the prison, a stone county office building was also built. Stone bridges, as well as many highway improvements were taking place. Mills, shops, and industry were all becoming established and making the town one of the busiest centers in the state.
The population of Keene was 2,610.
The valley road up the Ashuelot River from Gilsum to Marlow was opened. This road connected Beaver Brook Road (built in 1837) from Keene to Gilsum and offered a “easy and pleasant” route to Newport 33 miles away.
Keene voted unanimously for the erection of a fireproof building in Keene to hold county records.
The charter of the Fitchburg, Keene, and Connecticut River Railroad Company was granted, and than rejected.
The Cheshire Railroad Company was formed.
The Cheshire Railroad Company held its first meeting in Keene and obtained its charter. Thomas Edwards was a strong leader and was primarily responsible for bringing the railroad to Keene.
The first local Roman Catholic mass was celebrated. The building of the railroad required a large labor force that included many Irishmen who brought their families with them to settle in the region.
There was much controversy about where the railroad station was to be built. Some wanted it built on Water and Marlboro Streets. Some local businessmen wanted it closer to Central Square. Those who wanted it closer to the Square won out. They paid $4,500 to buy land next to Main Street to present to the railroad company as a possible location. The station was located on this property, and it also included land on West Street.
The Keene Fire Society turned over to the town all of its property, including 2 fire engines, hoses, fire buckets, and engine house. From this point forward the Keene Fire Society ceased to exist.
New Town Hall was built on Washington Street and facing Central Square.
16 May The Cheshire Railroad arrived in Keene.
New Town Hall was dedicated on Washington Street.
Keene lawyer Samuel Dinsmoor “the younger” was elected governor of New Hampshire.
The Ashuelot Railroad line from Keene to the Connecticut River south of Hinsdale was opened.
By mid century Keene was a thriving village with a population of 3,392 people. Direct rail lines linked Keene to Boston and service to New York. Keene’s position as the most important town in Cheshire County was firmly established.
The Central Square common was fenced for a park and trees were planted.
The Ashuelot Railroad line began operating, which opened rail traffic from Keene to the Connecticut River Railroad.
The first telegraph lines and service arrived in Keene.
The New Hampshire Union Railroad was incorporated to run from Keene to Concord via Hillsboro Bridge. When the grantees met for their 1st meeting, however, they decided that the cost of the project would be higher than its projected use, so the enterprise was abandoned.
Keene celebrated its centennial anniversary of its organization under New Hampshire charter. Five hundred dollars was raised at the annual town meeting to pay for the celebration.
The Keene school district leased the unsuccessful Keene Academy for their new High School.
The old glass factory at the north end of the town on Washington Street, an important landmark for nearly 50 years, was destroyed by fire.
During these four years nearly one hundred buildings were built in Keene. The railroad became a local fixture and the city’s industrial life quickened its pace. The streets and square were not yet paved, but nearly every business block was equipped with a permanent sidewalk covering or canopy. The town’s two weekly newspapers printed news received by telegraph.
Knowlton and Stone Hardware was established and remained a downtown fixture for more than a century.
During the 1850s many Keene people traveled westward. The California Gold Rush was one reason. But many Cheshire County residents headed to new agricultural lands in Kansas.
The present day Cheshire County Court House was erected on Court Street, and is registered on the National Register of Historic Places. It replaced the county records structure that was built in 1824. The architect for the new Court House was G. J. F. Bryant of Boston.
The voluntary library association became known as the Keene Public Library. (Public meaning publicly funded at $5.00 a share.)
The Municipal Gas Works was established, with connections to public buildings, some street lamps, and many private homes.
The local YMCA was organized. Men went there to read and listen to lectures. Although the organization became inactive in 1869, it was revived again in 1885.
The population in Keene was 4,320.
The following account was written around 1860 by a correspondent from the Christian Freeman.
“Nearly in the middle of the county, on a broad plain where once was the bottom of a lake, surrounded by hills, is the smart and beautiful village of Keene. Its broad, straight, well made streets and sidewalks; its many large and ornamental trees; its elegant dwelling houses and fine gardens; its convenient ‘Square’ and miniature park render it absolutely the handsomest village of the size in the Eastern States.”
Tom Sullivan teaches elementary school in Keene and Louise Troehler is an HSCC volunteer.