Once upon a time, in a land directly below your feet, there lived some incredible tales. Tales of fire horses, explosions, ship captains, scottish prisoners, Indian feuds, scandal, and riots.
I have lived in Exeter my entire life, and upon doing research on the history of the area, I came to the sad realization that there’s a lot more going on in Exeter than I had ever imagined.
In the PEA library, I found books upon books detailing many historical happenstances occurring in and around Exeter, NH. I’d never known that Swasey Parkway was built from a dump, or why the streets are named the way they are. Tan Lane, for instance, was named because it was the road where the wooden houses for the tanning leather industry were built.
Back in the 1800s, when stoves and furnaces were nonexistent, the heat that rose to warm the shivering bodies of New Englanders drifted from the wood fireplace. A time when wells were used to refrigerate butter and ice cream, and telephones were unimaginable. When horse drawn carriages were all the rage and bicycles were used with pride. This was the time of history and excitement.
William Gilman Perry was a kid in the 1830s, and much of what we can trace back to that era comes from his historical records of it. In the book “Exeter In 1830”, Perry wrote a long description of what life was like back then. He speaks of the layout of Exeter; of how the first courthouse was lifted and moved away from the busy center of the town because the judges couldn’t stay focused with all the noise. The court house thus caught fire and burned to the ground. Back in 1830, the best way to put out a fire was to haul multiple buckets of water and dump them on the inflamed areas. Of course by the time the buckets were filled, the houses and buildings were often rubble.
In 1870 the fire problem was seemingly resolved. The first state-of-the-art steam fire engine was purchased by the town. The fire engine was too heavy to be hauled by men, and so started the first recruiting of fire horses. Dick and Prince were the first of Exeter’s fire horses and gained much fame in the small town for being such adrenaline junkies. They ran towards the flames with eagerness hauling along the steam fire engine.
In 1675 there are accounts of Indian attacks on the the people of Exeter and Portsmouth. There are accounts of “savages” squatting down in bushes and firing at men that passed along the road. These are tales of kidnappings and murder. Of course little is truly known of the reliability of these sources, since Exeter hadn’t started to keep track of the town’s events until 1776, following the nation’s independence from Britain. After independence was achieved, the pride of being American initiated many to take up established accounts of the historical events that followed.
Thanks to the historical accounts kept after 1776, the story of the Sunbeam can be shared with each new generation. In 1870, Captain John Chadwick of Exeter and his 14-year-old son took to the sea with 16 other crew members aboard the ship Sunbeam. The story goes that they were headed for South America but on March 31 the ship went up in flames. Captain John Chadwick’s second mate went into the hold, where upon entry he lit a flame that ignited a catastrophic explosion destroying the ship. The captain and his son remarkably survived the wreckage, but would never sail again.
This may be the last time you ever set foot in the wonderfully historic world of Exeter, NH. You have contributed your name to the history of Exeter. Maybe one day stories will be told of the kids from Exeter Summer 2017 — about how they went on to captain ships and invent new technological advances. Although Exeter NH may seem like a small quiet town, its history is quite extensive and loud.