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General History of Chesterfield New Hampshire

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Chesterfield lies in the western part of the county, in lat. 42° 54′ and long. 4° 40′, bounded north by Westmoreland and Keene, east by Keene and Swanzey, south by Winchester and Hinsdale, and west by the west bank of Connecticut river, and has an area, exclusive of the Connecticut, of about forty-four square miles, or 28,160 acres. In tracing the sketch of the grant of Chesterfield, etc., it is necessary to glance at the trouble attending the settlement of the boundary line between New Hampshire and Massachusetts, which are written up in the sketch of Hinsdale and in the county chapter, on page 64, and hence are omitted here. In 1733 Massachusetts granted a township to Josiah Willard and others lying to the northward and eastward of Northfield, which they named Arlington. It embraced a portion of the territory now belonging to Hinsdale and Winchester. Subsequently, pending the King’s decision respecting the dividing line between the two Provinces, the general court of Massachusetts granted upwards of thirty townships lying between the Merrimac and Connecticut. Of these, townships named 1, 2, 3 and 4, lay along the Connecticut, just north of Arlington, and were nearly identical, in numerical order, with Chesterfield, Westmoreland, Walpole and Charlestown. These four townships were accepted by the general court November 3, 1736. The following year, December 13, 1737, Samuel Chamberlain, of Westford. Mass., was empowered to call the first meeting of the proprietors of No. 1, for organization. No settlements were begun in Chesterfield under this grant, however, and the settlement of the boundary line of the provinces being consummated by the King in 1740, left the territory in New Hampshire and thus annulled the grant.

We have nothing to do with the territory now until 1752, when a petition was presented to the council at Portsmouth, praying them to grant the said petitioners certain tracts of land in the southern part of the province, in which it was stated “That the first or most southerly township, called No. 1 in the plan exhibited, may be allotted to the petition signed Elias Alexander, John Brooks and others. “This petition was laid before the council on the 10th of February, 1752, and on the following day, the 11th, a charter was granted by Benning Wetworth incorporating “No. 1,” under the name of Chesterfield, and granting the land to Col. Josiah Willard and sixty-four others. In the charter the boundary limits of the town are described as follows:

“Beginning and adjoining to a stake and stones near the bank of Connecticut river, which is the northwesterly corner bound of a place called Winchester; thence running south 78° degrees east upon Winchester line aforesaid, till it meets with the western line of the lower Ashuelots, so-called, then carrying all the breadth of land between the river of Connecticut aforesaid and the said Ashuelots, so far up northerly as will make the contents of six miles square, bounding on this extent by a stake and stones near the bank of the river and thence running south 78° east, till it meets with the Ashuelots aforesaid.”

The first recorded perambulations of the lines thus described, was made in 1793, when the line between Chesterfield and Westmoreland was measured by Jonas Robbins, of the latter town, and found to have a length of “seven miles and three-fourths and forty-four rods, “its direction being “east, 10′ 13 1/2′ south.” The line running from the northeast corner of Chesterfield to the southwest corner of Keene was described as having a length of one mile and sixteen rods, and a direction “south, 8° 30′ east;” and the line from the southwest comer of Keene to the northwest corner of Swanzey, as having a length of 263 rods, and a direction “east, 8° 30′ south.” The line between Chesterfield and Swanzey, was surveyed by John Braley, and described as having a direction, starting from the northwest corner of Swanzey, of “south, 33 1/2° west,” its length not being given; but according to measurements made at a later date, this line has a length of nearly four and one-half miles. The same surveyor also surveyed the line which separates Chesterfield from Winchester and Hinsdale, and found it to have a direction of “west, 10 1/2° north,”starting from the southeast corner of Chesterfield. Its length is about seven and seven-eighths miles. The width of the town on the river bank is about six miles.

It is more than probable that the name Chesterfield was given to the new town by Governor Wentworth, in honor of the Earl of Chesterfield. He was a man celebrated as an orator and writer, and his name was brought particularly into prominence at that time, as he had not only held responsible government offices, but bad, in that year, brought about an important change in the calendar. Previous to that change the legal year had begun on the 25th of March, and the civil year on the ist of January. The change made the year in both cases begin with January.

The surface of Chesterfield is broken and hilly, presenting some very pleasing scenery. The highest elevation is Wantastiquet, or West River Mountain, which rises abruptly from the river in the southwestern part of the town, to an altitude of about 1,200 feet above the sea-level. Its longer axis is about four miles, nearly parallel with the river. The mountain is in many parts wild and rugged in contour, while its summit commands a beautiful view, the eye sweeping the Connecticut for miles north and south, and taking in the beautiful country to the east, and that of the verdant plains of the valley in Vermont, with the Green Mountains beyond. The Indians, in the days of the Colonial wars, it is said, took advantage of the prospect thus afforded, to watch the settlers in the vicinity of Fort Dummer, and hence the name “Indian’s Great Chair,” applied to a particular portion of its summit. Mt. Pistareen, the next important elevation, lies east of Spafford lake, near Factory village. Its name is said to have been derived from this fact of the mountain, in whole or in part, having been bought at one time for a pistareen (about eighteen cents). It has an altitude of 1,000 feet, and also affords a fine prospect, while the scenery surrounding it is very beautiful. Of the other elevations, Streeter, Barrett, Hall and Atherton hills are the most prominent. The former lies in the northwestern part of the town, and is named after several families of that name who lived in that vicinity at an early date. Its altitude is a trifle greater than that of Mt. Pistareen. Barrett hill lies near the southern boundary of the town. Hall hill, which has a still greater altitude than Streeter hill, lies in the eastern part of the town, near Factory village. Atherton hill also lies in the eastern part of the town, its name being derived from Joseph Atherton, who settled upon it in 1795.

The town has no stream flowing through it, though the majestic Connecticut upon its western border compensates for any lack of beauty in this respect. There are many streams and brooks having their rise here, however, among which are Catsbane brook, with its tributaries, Lily Pond and Wheeler brooks; Governor’s brook, Leavitt’s brook, Marsh’s brook, Partridge brook, Wild-brook, (upon which is a deep ravine, the most remarkable natural curiosity in the town,) and Broad brook. Catsbane island, lying in the Connecticut about half a mile below the mouth of Catsbane brook, contains but a few acres, but it is noted as being the place where the Indians crossed the river on their way to Canada, after having defeated Sergeant Taylor’s party, in July, 1748. There are also several ponds lying partially or wholly within the limits of the town; but for beauty or interest nothing in the vicinity equals Spafford’s lake.

This beautiful sheet of water, which has become so justly celebrated as a resort in the summer season, lies nearly in the center of the northern half of the town. It has an irregularly ovate form, about a mile and a half in length and a mile in width, thus covering about 700 acres, and lies at an altitude of 738 feet above the sea, and 500 feet above the Connecticut. Its shore is, in great part, either sandy or rocky, and its water is remarkably pure, being supplied mostly by springs, for there are only three or four brooks of any consequence that empty into the lake, and it is doubtful whether they do more than supply the loss from evaporation in the summer months. Pierce’s Island, an emerald gem of about seven acres in extent, lies in the southwestern part of the lake, and is much resorted to by picnic and camping parties. Here many Indian relics have been found-principally stone pestles and arrow-heads-and tradition says that it once was used by the savages as a stronghold, or place of refuge. As to the origin of the lake’s name there are two theories, though there are no positive records to substantiate either. The generally accepted tradition is that it was named from early settlers, by the name of Spafford, upon its shore. But the town records show the name of no such early settlers. There are reasons, however, for supposing that its name was given before the settlement of the town, and this Spafford, who is said to have lived near its shore, was a hunter and only a temporary resident. Another theory is that it was named after one of the original grantees, of which there were two, John and Silas Spafford.

For the past fifteen years or so the lake has been gradually growing in popular favor as a summer resort. Those who seek health and comfort here do wisely, for the lake, though not large, is said by travelers to be one of the most picturesque in the country. The first person to put a sail-boat on the water was Capt.-, who was known by the sobriquet of Capt. Bulky. This was many years ago; so many, indeed, that the captain’s real name has been forgotten. Afterward, Ezekiel P. Pierce had a sail-boat built in 1857, and remodeled in 1860, which, sometimes manned by an experienced seaman, was used more or less by sailing parties for several years. Near the original entrance to the lake, at the southwest part, is the “Lake House,” a substantial stone building, erected in 1831, by Ezekiel P. Pierce, Sr., and for many years kept by him as a temperance hotel. It is still the residence of members of his family. In 1873 the Prospect House was built by John W. Herrick, of Keene, designed for the accommodation of persons who came to the lake seeking health or recreation, and of which A. R. Mason is now proprietor. Here also are the picnic grounds of George W. Darling, furnished with cottages, dining hall, skating rink, dancing pavilion, etc. In 1874 John W. White commenced building his boat-house, etc., on the southern shore of the lake, and finished it the following year. On this shore, and on the western shore, are extensive picnic grounds, which are well patronized. At the latter, Lucius Thatcher, proprietor of the Chesterfield house, has a large stable for horses lodging-house, restaurant, dance-pavilion, etc. But one of the greater attractions on the lake is the little steamboat “Enterprise.” This was built by its present owner, John W. White, and was launched July 3, 1876. The model of this trim little craft was drafted by D. J. Lawlor, of East Boston, Mass., and her builders, on the shore of the lake were Stephen G. and Edward McLeod; navy-yard employees. Her length is forty feet, breadth of beam fifteen feet, depth of hold four feet, draft twenty-eight inches, diameter of propeller-wheel thirty-two inches, her build being rather for comfort and safety than speed. Her carrying capacity is about 125 persons, though she has carried as many as 150.

Geologically, the rocks of Chesterfield belong principally to the Coosgroup, and consist of quartzine, gneiss, mica-slate, mica-schist, hornblende rock and conglomerate. Porphyritic gneiss exists to a considerable extent in the south eastern part of the town. No minerals of importance have been found, except iron in small quantities on Wantastiquet mountain.

In 1880 Chesterfield had a population of 1,173 souls. In 1884 it had fourteen school districts and fourteen schools, one of which was graded. Its fourteen school buildings, including sites, furniture, etc., were valued at $6,615.00. There were 218 pupils in these schools, twenty-two of whom were pursuing the higher branches, taught by two male and nineteen female teachers, the former at an average monthly salary of $37.50 and the latter $21.43. The entire amount of revenue for school purposes during the year was $1,790.62, and the entire expense $1,799.71, with H. B. Morgan and AE. Hill, committee.


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