Compass Points

A Brief History of Meredith, NH

What is now the lovely village of Meredith, New Hampshire was once the site of fledgling industries and commercial enterprises that led to Meredith's development.

In the late 1700's Atlantic Salmon and Shad still swam up the Merrimack and Winnipesaukee River Basins to a series of small waterfalls connecting Lake Winnipesaukee with Lake Waukewan located in the hills above Meredith. The waterway between the two lakes was a natural source of waterpower for the early mills founded at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in this country.

In 1795, John Jenness bought the water rights and land along this outlet which is now tiny Corliss Brook running between Lang Street and Stevens Avenue and past the fire station before trickling into Meredith Bay near the Town Docks.

Jenness built a grist mill and a saw mill on the waterway. Besides the mills, Meredith then consisted of only 10 dwellings and a general store. The property soon changes hands. At the turn of the century a young man named John Bond Swasey purchased or inherited most of the land on which Meredith Village now sits.

Swasey had inherited a 95 acre lot from his father Benjamin who had bought the land in 1777. The farm was located in what is now the core of Meredith Village.

Across from his homestead on Main Street, (which is now the home of Paul and Kristen Eldridge and the offices of Compass Rose Buyer Brokers and Eldridge Appraisals) Swasey owned the general store which supplied the many new settlers moving into Meredith Village. According to remembrances of early 19th century residences, however, the mills ceased operation sometime between 1810 and 1816.

Swasey then undertook a project that was to have great significance for the town of Meredith, a project that marked the beginning of the development of the present Mill Falls Marketplace site.

Starting from the frontage on Lake Waukewan that is now called John Bond Swasey Park, Swasey built a rock-lined canal over 600 feet in length channeling the water under the Main Street horse path to where the land drops sharply to Lake Winnipesaukee.

Water power was now concentrated into one fall of about 40 feet. The Waukewan Canal and the falls were probably completed by 1818.

Now Swasey was able to build a number of profitable mills for sawing lumber, grinding flour, combing cotton flax and weaving cloth. All these mills helped stock the shelves of the Swasey store. Swasey's man made waterfall was considered among the best mill drivers in the state.

Swasey died in 1828 at the age of 46. He had carved out an industrial center that became the hub of Meredith. Town citizens today still credit him with nursing the village through its infancy, and setting the town on the road to prosperity.

The current restored mill at Mill Falls may have been producing textiles at its beginning. Some historical evidence indicated the large mill was built and housed a rustic cloth manufacturing business by about 1820. However, according to the "History of Belknap County," written in 1885, the mill was a grist mill until Joseph W. Lang and several partners founded the Meredith Village Cotton Factory Company at the site in the 1830's, after purchasing it from the Swasey estate.

The cotton mill evidently did not prosper for very long. The same history book says the mill was "an idle cotton mill by 1850." Soon after a man named Seneca Ladd leased the mill and installed new machinery "for theManufacture of pianos and melodians."

In 1858 a man named Joseph Ela recognized a new cooperative effort was necessary to promote growth in the town. Swasey's waterfall and the canal were key to the town's further development. So Ela and his partners formed a corporation, The Meredith Mechanics Association, to buy and control the water rights and mill buildings along the waterway. Ela was the first president of what was locally called "The Corporation."

The purpose of The Meredith Mechanics Association was to make capital investments to attract new manufacturers to the town, and utilize available mill space. The corporation constructed a flume or chute for the waterfall and made numerous other improvements to the water power system. In time, most of the land encompassed by Main Street, Dover Street and Lake Winnipesaukee was purchased by The Meredith Mechanics Association.

In 1889, a disastrous fire destroyed one of the larger mills owned by the Mechanics Association. The disaster triggered the beginning of the end for the Association. The tenant of the mill that was destroyed was Hodgson Hosiery, perhaps the town's most profitable company at the time, and a major source of income for the Association. The firm had employed 160 workers before being put out of business by the fire.

Then in 1890 the founder of the Association, Joseph Ela, died at the age of 93. In that same year, Sam Hodgson bought the property of the association and formed the Meredith Water power Company.The current mill of the Mill Falls Marketplace was one of many buildings on the site at the turn of the century. The rights to these mills were purchase from Hodgson about this time by J. Q. A. Whittermore, an investor from Newton, Mass. He empowered two brothers, Allie and Minot Hall to develop linen manufacturing operations at the site.

The Halls were very successful. Each year the factory turned out increasing quantities of linen towels, and the workforce increased accordingly. The Halls soon married into some of Meredith's oldest families. Minot Hall married Cassandra Swasey Lincoln, Great-Granddaughter of John Bond Swasey.

Bringing use back to the present - Paul Stevens Eldridge, Owner of Compass Rose Buyer Brokers, is the Great-Great-Great-Grandson of John Bond Swasey. We hope you have enjoyed this brief history of early Meredith.

LET US CONTACT YOU

   Name:
   
   Phone:

   
   Email:
   
   Comments:
   
   Please enter the verification code below