Book Review: Hidden History of New Hampshire
by D. Quincy Whitney (History Press: paper, 160 pages, $19.99)
Review by Rebecca Rule
In Hidden History of New Hampshire, D. Quincy Whitney of Nashua shows
there’s always something new to learn about our small state. Ours is, indeed, a
deep well of history. Yup, we go way back.
Whitney started work on this book about ten years ago when she was tapped
by the State Council on the Arts to research and write about “New Hampshire
Firsts and Bests,” for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, DC,
featuring -- in 1999 -- the Granite State. She selected the most intriguing of those
“Firsts and Bests” and combined them with several other stories for Hidden
Organized thematically, the stories are short (usually no more than a page or
two), fact-filled but not bogged down in facts (she’s a lively writer), and often,
surprising -- even to those of us who think we know quite a bit about our state,
having lived here all our lives (so far).
Recently, you may have heard murmurings of a second Bretton Woods world
monetary summit. Pretty sure the new owners of the Mount Washington Hotel
would be delighted to host dignitaries from around the world to hash out ways
get us out of a financial pickle, as they did in July of 1944, “within a few weeks
of the D-Day Normandy landing and Hitler’s bombing of London.”
WWII Conference in the White Mountains
Whitney tells the story behind the story, including who attended and which
disputes threatened to clog the works. The hotel had been closed for two years
because of the war, so quickly preparing it for the conference presented
The government brought in 150 workers -- including enlisting a group of Army
Military Police who outworked the hired help -- to overhaul the hotel that has
two thousand doors and twelve hundred windows.
Roofs had collapsed under heavy snow, wallpaper was peeling of the walls
and everything was in need of a coat of paint. As the Walking Tour guide
booklet states, “Each worker got 50 cans of white paint, and was told if it didn’t
move, they should paint it white -- which is what they did! They painted all of
our beautiful mahogany doors white, the brass light fixtures in the Great Hall
and even some of the Tiffany windows.”
Sure enough, in this whitest of hotels, the dignitaries managed to establish the
World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the gold standard at $35 an
ounce, and to tie other currencies to the U.S. dollar -- all without benefit of the
Wifi or I-phones. Each year, people from all around the world “revisit the
hotel they knew in 1944.”
Pretty interesting and timely. Whitney included that story under the
“Government, Politics and War” theme.
Fun to Read
Other themes: “Home, Town, Community,” “Ingenuity and Enterprise,”
“Forests and Mountains,” “Sea, Lake and Sky.” She covers a lot of territory, but
the book never feels disjointed or haphazard. It’s fun to read.
We meet New Hampshirites of note from poet Celia Thaxter to teacher-in-
space Christa McAuliffe, from Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy to
inventor Dean Kamen.
In this short space, I can offer just a few tastes from this book’s rich menu.
Among the historical snapshots that caught my eye:
We boast the oldest and longest covered bridges in the country,. The
Woodsville bridge, built in 1829, is believed to be the oldest; the Cornish-
Windsor bridge wins the prize for the longest.
The tradition of supporting the arts can be traced to 1931 when we established
the New Hampshire Commission of Arts and Crafts -- the first in the nation.
Perhaps Governor Winant was influenced by the stirring words of Royal Bailey
Farnum, director of the Rhode Island School of Design: “History has shown
again and again that the state and the nation which supports its art lives on
In 1900, our beloved Robert Frost “moved his family to a farm in Derry . . .
where he grew apples, raised chickens and continued to write and suffer
consistent rejection. The Atlantic Monthly responded to one submission: ‘We
regret that the Atlantic Monthly has no place for your vigorous verse.’”
After Frost became famous, the Atlantic Monthly “came calling.” Frost
submitted “the very same poems that had been rejected earlier.” Ha!
In 1872 Norwegian immigrants formed what is now the oldest ski club in
America, according to “unofficial historians” (gotta love ‘em). Later the
skiklubben was named the Nansen Ski Club after adventurer Fridtjof Nansen
who skied across Greenland. The skeleton of the great Nanson Ski Jump, which,
when constructed in 1938, was the highest in the country, still stands on a
hillside between Berlin and Milan. It’s 171 feet high.
Wild Game -- in New Hampshire
Here’s one last nibble from Hidden History.
Whitney gives a brief history of a place that has long fascinated me, because of
the fence that keeps everybody out but, could not, evidently, keep everybody
in: Corbin’s Wild Game Preserve.
When banker Austin Corbin II bought 25,000 acres in Newport, Croydon, and
Grantham in 1888, some called it “Corbin’s folly.” New York newspapers
criticized his purchase of “a big worthless chunk of New Hampshire wilderness
populated by wild animals and thickly scattered with granite boulders.”
His idea was to bring in wild animals from other
places so he and his buddies could hunt them --
while preserving them. He imported bison,
bighorn sheep, antelope, and even “wild boars
from the Black Forest of Germany.”
Some of the elk and boars escaped and their
descendants may be living in the woods outside
the sanctuary even now. How weird is that?
In the 1940s “a one-day elk hunting season was
declared” to thin out the herd of escapees.
“Today,” Whitney writes, “this largest private
game sanctuary in the United States still exists,
although, according to local residents, it may
be one of the best-kept secrets of the Granite State.”
About this article's author: Rebecca Rule is a humorist, author and storyteller,
who is the author of two collections of short fiction, including The Best
Revenge, winner of the NH Writers Project award for fiction.