Home OR Use Scroll Down Botton > > >
.....Mrs. Blaisdell is the author of a series of books, Over The River And Through The Years about the history of the Connecticut River Valley covering the towns along the river north and south of Haverhill. Book one, Early Travel, Railroads, And The Connecticut River, was published in 1979 Mrs. Blaisdell is an active member of the Haverhill Historical Society. She and her husband, veterinarian Edwin E. Blaisdell, live in North Haverhill.
....This article was first reproduced in the Fall of 1983, issue of "Outlook Magazine", The Magazine of Northern New Hampshire, published under the auspices of the White Mountain Region Association.
....The Grafton County seat has always been the Town of Haverhillbut through the years there have been six different courthouses, in four different villages or neighborhoods of the town.
In 1772, Haverhill won the designation as county seat, with the resulting honor and economic advantages, through he efforts of Colonel John Hurd, a Haverhill resident who had considerable political influence in the state government at Portsmouth. In return for this favor the town fathers had promised Colonel Hurd the gift of 1,000 acres of land in the town. Perhaps he made his success in this mission look too easy because they reneged on their promisealthough they did reimburse him for his small out-of-pocket expenses on their behalf. They may have felt it was enough recompense that Colonel was appointed chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas, also county treasurer and register of deeds.
Because the earliest settlement in the town was in the North Haverhill area, this was the logical location for the first courthouse, and was so voted by the Haverhill proprietors in April, 1773.
This stone monument marked the site where the first Grafton County Courthouse was built in 1773, and remained until 1794, was located on Route 10 in No. Haverhill just south of the apartment building next to Agway.
Colonel Asa Porter was designated the proprietors' agent for erecting a building fifty by eighty feet, with an upper story for court and jury rooms, and the lower story to be divided between the jail, the rooms for the sheriff, and a dwelling for the jailer. This first court house was located just south of the present building earlier known as the Green Store, now Coiffures by Carol. (South of the apartment building next to Agway.)
The raising of the frame of the building took twelve days, and during that time the town supplied the workers with six hundred and fifty pounds of beef, twenty-five pounds of pork, one and one-half gallons of molasses, a quantity of bread-and forty-five gallons of rum. Can you imagine the hue and cry if a present-day public project included rum in its list of expenses!
There was considerable dissatisfaction with Colonel Porter's work. He had spent so much on the basic structure that there was scarcely anything left for finishing it offwhich was done, in such a stingy manner that forever after here were complaints and needs for repairs. There were lawsuits against Colonel Porter, and his accounts for the project were never finally accepted until eighteen years laterjust three years before the building was abandoned. The total cost of the building was the equivalent of almost $2,000a lot of money in those days.
Court sessions were suspended during the Revolution. However,
The building where Grafton County Court was held from 1814 to 1845, which was part of the Junior High School. From 1794 to 1814, court was held in another building just to the right of this one, which burned in 1814.
there was some use of the property by Moses Hazens, regiment stationed nearby in 1779, resulting in forty-two pounds damages paid by the State of New Hampshire. It seems some of the soldiers had carried away surplus foundation stones to use for making chimneys for their huts.
When court activity resumed after the war, in 1783, the condition of the courthouse was so bad that the court adjourned to the nearby house of Nathan Merrill, and then to Ezekiel Ladd's on Ladd Street (a little north of Haverhill Corner, near the present Ladd Street School where County Road meets Route 10) for the remainder of the term.
In spite of continual repairs, the courthouse-jail in North Haverhill was abandoned by the County in 1794. After that was occupied for some years as a dwelling, and the courtroom was used for town meetings, but eventually it stood empty. Stories of its being haunted kept curious children from going in, but didn't keep them from throwing stones at the small green glass window panes until all were broken. Eventually the building was torn down and its site was marked by a stone monument (See accompanying photograph).
Rapid growth three miles south, in Haverhill Corner (also called Haverhill, or just "the Corner") made it a logical place for the new court facilities. Strongly recommending this move was Colonel Charles Johnson, who at the time was the Corner's greatest organizer and supporter. He had given land, and he and others had constructed a building, for new Haverhill Academyallowing enough additional space not only for the district grade school, but also to accommodate the courts, in hopeful anticipation of their relocation at the Corner. (This building was between today's Academy building and Pearson Hall.)
The last public hanging in New Hampshire was in 1868 was that of Samuel Mills, convicted of murder. It took place at the County Jail on Court Street in Haverhill Corner, from the large timber sticking out the side window. The jail still stands at the rear of the jailer's home.
According to records, before the court moved to new quarters, it met "in the meetinghousewhether it was the one on Horse Meadow or on Ladd Street is not specified. In 1794, the County was offered the use of the new Academy building, free of charge. This offer was gratefully accepted, and the move was made.
However, after twenty years, in 1814, this first Academy building burned. It was replaced by a new brick building (the present Pearson Hall, part of the Haverhill Academy Junior High School). The entire upstairs was for the use of the courts, and the downstairs for the Academy and the district school. These downstairs rooms were also used by the juries when court was in session. This building was financed jointly by the three occupants.
This cooperative arrangement continued for about thirty years. In 1845 the three-way partnership of the Academy, the district school, and the County was dissolved; the County relinquishing its share in the building in exchange for a building lot for a new courthouse (the present Alumni Hall). It was completed in 1846 at a cost of $4,500, and was considered to be one of the best in the state, attractive and convenient.
In the meantime County records had been stored in the homes of the current court clerk and the registers of deeds and probatean arrangement which had become cumbersome (as the quantity of records increased) and vulnerable (in case of fire in a private dwelling). The County voted in 1838 to erect a suitable building for county offices and fireproof storage. This was completed in 1840 at a cost of $2,450. (This is the present Haverhill Free Library, which has the Haverhill Historical Societys museum upstairs.)
It was not until 1840 that county clerks and registers of deeds and probate were relieved of the responsibility of storing records in their homes, In 1839 the County voters approved spending $2,450 to erect this building next to the County Courthouse in Haverhill Corner, to house the county offices and fireproof storage vaults. The building is now owned by the Haverhill Free Library, also having rooms for the museum of the Haverhill Historical Society.
As for the jailaround the time when the courts moved to Haverhill Corner, the jail also moved there. Partially recompensed by the gift of the old courthouse-jail building in North Haverhill, John Page, Michael Johnston, and others built a new jail house at the Corner. It was a two-story building, the jail occupying sixteen feet of the west end (toward Route 10), and the dwelling for the jailer (the "jail house") in the east end. It was securely constructed of a double layer of three-inch hardwood planks, with a six-inch layer of flat rocks between the inner and outer walls of the lower story and wherever needed in the upper, besides a one-foot thickness of staggered courses of flat stones underneath the floor. This fortress was completed an accepted in 1794, and prisoners were moved from North Haverhill.
The most notorious prisoner at this jail was Josiah Burnham, who was confined here for debt and for dishonest business transactions. He was in the same cell as two other debtors, and somehow they aroused in him such anger that he attacked them with a long knife, fatally wounding both of them. In the ensuing trial, one of the lawyers chosen to defend Burnham was young Daniel Webster, who had been in law practice only about a year and was not yet famous. In
The fifth Grafton County Court House, relocated to Woodsville, was built in 1889 for $20,000 and remained as the Countys courthouse until 1972 when the modern present courthouse in North Haverhill was built for $1,800,000.
this case, the only plea he could reasonably make was against capital punishment. But Burnham and was publicly hanged in 1806 on Powderhouse Hill, just south of Bedell Bridge Road on Route 10, before a crowd claimed to number 10,000.
This jail was used for fifty years, until 1845, when the prison part of the building was taken down and rebuilt in a more modern style. During the rebuilding period the prisoners were housed the attic of the Exchange Hotel (located west of the North Common which later burned).
After the jail was rebuilt there two more hanging there Enos Dudley in 1849 and Samuel Mills in 1868, both for murder. Mills was noted to be the guest of (dis)honor at the last public viewed execution in the State of New Hampshire. Another condemned prisoner kept in this jail was Frank Almey, murderer of Christie Warden of Hanover. He was hanged in the state prison in Concord in 1892.
The jail in Haverhill Corner was used until 1897, when a new one was built at the County Farm on Horse Meadow, (just north of North Haverhill village), at a cost of $1,200 plus the proceeds from the sale of the old jail.
The arrival of the railroads in 1853, brought a great and prolonged surge of growth to Woodsville (located in the northwestern part of Haverhill township). As travelers throughout the region made more and more use of the railroads, it became obvious that Woodsville was becoming more accessible than Haverhill Corner for the courts or for other County business.
Just as Colonel Johnston had promoted moving the courts to The Corner nearly one hundred years earlier, a new campaign was to move them to Woodsville. The chief promoter there was Ira Whitcher (father of historian William Whitcher). who offered a building lot free of cost next to his own residence (the present Bruno law office). Mr. Whitcher for years had refused to sell this lot, saying that he was holding it in reserve for the Grafton County Courthouse.
In 1889, the County voted to sell its Haverhill Corner buildings and erect a new court house in Woodsville for $20,000 besides building another in Plymouth, for $10,000, to serve the east side of the County. (A third courthouse was later built in Lebanon to serve that area.)
Construction of the Courthouse in Woodsville was in charge of Mr. Whitcher, and the building was completed and put into use in March,
The old and the new justice rooms. The photo of the old court room on the top, built in 1889, was taken recently. The photo on the bottom is the first court room in the new courthouse in North Haverhill. Its second court room was built in 1983 at a cost of 169,500 tax dollars.
1891. However as in 1773, there was yet to be considerable haggling over the project. The records of the County Convention specified that for $20,000 the building was to be furnished in a thorough and workrnanlike manner. Mr. Whitcher contended that the word furnished" should have been finished, as in the usual language of such contracts. Therefore he presented to the county commissioners his bill of about $3,000 for furnishing the courthouse and for extra expenses he had incurred to make changes which the county commissioners had requested. However, the commissioners refused to approve this bill, even though the convention had already appropriated the money to pay itand it finally had to go though the State Supreme Court before it was settled and Mr. Whitcher paid. By that time he must have questioned whether he really wanted the courthouse for a neighborand whether he should have been so generous as to donate the building lot.
Further bitterness against Mr. Whitcher was expressed by the people of Haverhill Corner, who felt he had stolen the courts from them. Consequently when he ran for representative to the General Court (state legislature) in 1890, they put up a candidate in oppositionwhich did not affect the outcome of the election, but did give them a chance to publicize their feelings.
In 1915 the Woodsville courthouse was enlarged on the west (back) side, and the vaults for county records were also enlarged and made more fireproof.
For many years Grafton County had the three courthouses, in Woodsville, Plymouth, and Lebanon, but there was increasing interest in the building of one new, larger courthouse to replace the three. As early as 1954, the County Delegation voted to build a new courthouse, and appointed a building committee, but because of disagreement as to where in the County it should be built, nothing further was accomplished on the project.
The subject of a new courthouse was brought up again in February of 1968 at a public hearing of the county budget, when Robert Jones of Lebanon, a County Probate Judge, urged the building of a new courthouse, saying that in Woodsville there was not adequate space for offices or parking, and that there was a need for two court rooms in order to handle the increasing number of court cases. A joint committee of the Grafton County Delegation and the County Bar Association immediately began work on the project, and within three months a special meeting of the Delegation voted to purchase the Arthur Clough property adjoining the County Farm, to use as an addition to the County Farm property and/or a site for a proposed new County building.
The new Courthouse was designed by E. Verner Johnson, of Robert N. Hotvedt & Associates architectural firm of Boston; the bid for construction was awarded to Cummings Construction Company of Ware, Massachusetts, with offices in Woodsville. In spite of deleting or deferring various items from the original plans, the final cost of the building, parking lot, landscaping, etc., was very nearly $2 million (quite an increase over the $20,000 voted for the courthouse in Woodsville in 1889and the $2,000 for the first little courthouse in North Haverhill in 1773, back in the days when a dollar was a lot of money).
As had happened in 1773 and 1889, the cost of the new courthouse did not go unnoticed. There were continual cost overruns, and in 1971, Kenneth Curran of Littleton, a member of the County Delegation, stated in a public hearing that the courthouse project had been railroaded through, and that it was over designed, over priced, and allowed for the padding of income.
The new and present courthouse was finally completed and accepted by the County in 1972.
However, one of the deletions from the original plan was the finishing of the second courtroomalthough the need for a second courtroom was one of the original reasons for building a new courthouse. The case load of the court made the second courtroom an absolute necessity, so the project was done at a cost of $169,500.
Ever since the beginning of the courthouse construction, the residents of this architecturally conservative area have been exchanging comments on the modernistic style of the courthousebut far greater was the concern regarding the expense of heating it; with such high ceilings and all the great expanses of single-pane glass.
When the building was first designed, bulk heating oil sold for nineteen cents a gallon, but its price skyrocketed, along with that of electricity used for air conditioning in the summer, since none of the windows open. These unexpected increases were especially significant in the energy-expensive courthouse. By 1979, the total daily energy cost for the building averaged $143.59.
Following the energy audits of the building which were finally done in 1980 and 1981 by Dynamic Integration Corporation, four inches of styrofoam insulation was installed in one-third of the roof, which was never insulated. Also, a cut-off for the heating/cooling system was installed so that the entire system was cut off during nights, weekends, and holidays, then turns on automatically one hour before the offices opened in the morning.
The many changes in location of the Grafton County courts through a period of two hundred and ten years were primarily caused by growth and development by the various villages in the Town of Haverhill. Other important factors have been the changes in methods of transportation, the increasing population of Grafton County, and the need for continual expansion and modernization of facilities. Whatever developments the future may make necessary, the present courthouse location should have plenty of room for expansion and change. K.B.
Sources: "Histories of Haverhill" by J. Q. Bittinger (1880) and William F. Whitcher (1919) .
1983 Courthouse budget statistics from Grafton County records.