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Biography of Horace Childs

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Horace Childs, a pioneer railroad bridge builder in New England, is a prominent resident of Henniker, Merrimack County, N.H. He was born in this town, August 10, 1807, son of Solomon, Jr., and Mary (Long) Childs. He is a lineal descendant of William Childs or Child, a brother of Ephraim Child, who emigrated from England, and settled in Watertown, Mass., in 1630. The family, which was a notable one in England, sustained the dignity of a coat of arms. William Child was made a freeman at Watertown in 1634, and became a landowner there. His son John was conspicuous in the public affairs of Watertown. He died at the age of forty years. The third in this line was John Childs, Jr., son of John and Mary (Warren) Child; and the fourth, his son Jonathan, born in Watertown in 1696, who settled in Grafton, Mass., where he died in 1787, in the ninety-second year of his age.

From the “Genealogy of the Child, Childs, and Childe Families,” by Elias Child, published in 1881, chapter viii., relating to the Watertown branch, we learn that Jonathan Child married in 1729 Abigail Parker, and had eight children, the eldest, Josiah, born in 1730, the youngest, Joseph, born in 1753. Ruth, born in 1740, and the sixth, Solomon, born January 31, 1744. The same record of Jonathan Child’s family is in the History of Grafton, Mass., except that the year of the birth of Solomon is there given as 1743. The History of Henniker names Solomon as the “son of Josiah and Ruth Childs .” If the foregoing record be correct, he was younger brother of Josiah, and Ruth was a sister. Josiah, son of Jonathan, it may be mentioned, married Elizabeth Ball in 1755, and in 1760 settled in Upton, Mass.

Solomon Childs, grandfather of Horace, was born in Grafton, January 3, 1743. He wedded Martha, daughter of Elijah Rice, of Westboro, Mass., on April 16, 1767, and shortly afterward settled in Henniker, where he cleared and improved the farm that is now occupied by his grandson, Carlos Childs. He lived to see the town become a prosperous farming community; and his death occurred February 27, 1827.

His son Solomon, father of Horace Childs, was born in Henniker in 1781. He attained considerable prominence as a builder in his day, being employed for some five years in erecting the factories in Dover, N.H.; and he was highly respected as a genial, courteous, and eminently worthy citizen. He was exceedingly vigorous throughout his active period; and when over eighty years of age he walked from Manchester to Henniker, a distance of twenty-seven miles. Solomon Childs, second, died October 19, 1865. His first wife, Mary Long, whom he married September 21, 1806, was a native of Hopkinton, N.H. She died in 1823. His second wife, Lucinda, daughter of William and Mary (Heaton) Childs, died January 20, 1852. His first wife was the mother of eleven children; and Horace, the subject of this sketch, is the eldest. Enoch, who was graduated at Yale University, went to Montgomery, Ala., where he established an academy, which he conducted for six years, and then returned North. He was for some time in the government service in Washington, after which he was interested in railway construction in New Hampshire. He died in Henniker in 1880. Mary Long Childs, a sister of Horace, became a school teacher, and later married Asa Whitney, of Henniker. Her last years were spent with her daughter, Sarah M., wife of Eugene Brooks, of Cambridgeport, Mass., where she died June 1, 1896.

Horace Childs remained at home, and assisted in carrying on the farm until he was sixteen years old. He then accompanied his father to Great Falls, N.H., where he worked upon the factories; and later he was similarly employed in Dover. While working in the latter place his father decided to send him home to attend school, and fitting him out with clothing gave him a dollar to pay his stage fare. Young Horace, however, decided to walk, and seems to have kept on travelling afoot until he reached Hopkinton. He continued to follow the carpenter’s trade; and after reaching his majority he found employment in various places. While working in Claremont, N.H., he was stricken with typhoid fever, making it necessary for his sister Mary to leave her school in Hopkinton, in order to care for him during his illness. After his recovery he was persuaded by her and his brother Enoch to attend Hopkinton Academy, and he paid the expenses of his three years’ course by devoting his leisure time to following his trade.

It was while thus engaged that he first became associated with his cousin, Colonel Stephen Long, of the United States Army. The Colonel had brought his family to Hopkinton, Horace Childs found an opportunity to board with his cousin, paying his way by making some repairs upon the house. Colonel Long had acquired a patent for a new plan of constructing bridges, and, having confidence in his young kinsman’s ability, desired him to take charge of one of his contracts. Mr. Childs accepted the proposition, and constructed his first bridge in Haverhill. He next took the contract to build some bridges for the New Haven & Hartford Railway Company, paying Colonel Long a royalty upon his patents; and in these operations he made considerable profit. At this time a party in Springfield, Mass., patented improved plans; and in order to compete Mr. Childs was obliged to design one still better, which he succeeded in doing. For several years he was busily engaged in building bridges for railway companies in New England, and also for the Erie Road in New York State. He realized substantial profits; and upon one occasion, by a sudden fall in the price of iron, he made ten thousand dollars outside of his contract. He constructed a railroad bridge at Manchester, N.H., taking stock in the road as part payment, but had the misfortune to fracture his leg while filling the contract. This accident so interfered with his work that he decided to refrain from taking large contracts in the future, and from that time until his retirement he devoted his attention to work nearer home. His last operation was the construction of the bridge over the Contoocook River at Henniker; and, having here closed his unusually active career as a bridge builder, he settled in Henniker, where he has since resided. He has taken an active interest in educational matters, having assisted many deserving young men in securing the advantages of higher learning. In 1836 he was chosen by his fellow-townsmen to arrange for the establishment of an academy; and, as the site chosen by him was accepted, he took the contract to erect the building, and was one of the incorporators.

In 1831 he united with the Congregational church, of which he has since remained a member, and for upward of forty years has served as Deacon. He has not only contributed generously toward its support, but, in company with Fayette Conner, he stood the entire expense of repairing the building, and made up a deficiency in paying for an organ. Early in the fifties, while journeying from Boston to Concord upon a train which was also conveying President-elect Franklin Pierce and family, an accident occurred near Andover, Mass., in which a little son of Mr. Pierce was killed, and Mr. Childs was picked up for dead. He was spared, however, and permitted to continue the good work in the way of charity and benevolence which has characterized his whole life. He has been actively identified with religious matters in this section for considerably more than half a century, and is a life member of the American Board of Foreign Missions. In politics he is a Republican.

On January 11, 1837, Mr. Childs was joined in marriage with Matilda R. Taylor, daughter of John and Sally (Jones) Taylor, of Lempster. She is a descendant of William Taylor, who came to America in 1642; and her ancestral line continues, it is said, through William (second), Abraham, Deacon Samuel, to her father’s father. The Taylor family have been somewhat noted for longevity. Mrs. Childs’s father died at ninety-two, and an uncle at ninety-six. The Rev. Oliver Swain Taylor, who died in Auburn, N.Y., in February, 1885, aged one hundred years and four months, was graduated at Dartmouth College in 1809, with the degree of Doctor of Medicine. November, 1815, he was appointed to accompany missionaries to Ceylon, but did not go. He was ordained a minister at the age of sixty-three years. Mrs. Childs was carefully educated, being a pupil in her girlhood at the academy in Ipswich, Mass., then a flourishing institution of learning under the charge of Miss Grant; and for ten years she was engaged in teaching.


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