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Laconia State School: Seven to Save Profile

The New Hampshire School for Feeble-Minded Children opened in 1903 and, from the outset, the School was a source of pride for Laconia. Its 247-acre campus set on a rise between Lake Winnisquam and Opechee Bay and was designed to be curative in nature. Here, children between the ages of three and twenty-one who could not get the care they needed at existing facilities (county poor farms or state hospitals, for example) could learn skills in an environment tailored for their needs.

Early on, there were two school sessions daily, where pupils were “given instruction in industrial work” – the girls made “raffia work, basketry, rugs and knitted items” and worked in the sewing rooms, while “the boys work[ed] on the farm and in the manual training shop.” The dairy herd was recognized as one of the finest in the state, and milk was processed at the Weeks Dairy in Laconia.

Boys digging for a cement wall at the Laconia State School. Courtesy photograph.

Boys digging for a cement wall at the Laconia State School. Courtesy photograph.

By August 1916, there were nearly 300 pupils on site with a large waiting list. The campus continued to grow to meet the increased need, but overcrowded conditions worsened through the Great Depression. (In 1924, the campus was renamed the Laconia State School.) By 1942, the population had increased to 600, and by 1974 over 1,000 residents called the Laconia State School home. Calls to increase funding were rejected by the state legislature until a successful lawsuit in 1978 forced the state to reduce the numbers of residents, increase staffing, renovate several buildings, and develop community-based mental health initiatives.

The institution was finally closed in 1991, leaving most of the historic brick buildings vacant. A state-sponsored redevelopment plan is currently underway and is charged with finding a solution that meets local and state goals. This plan is complicated by the site’s cultural and architectural history. For many New Hampshirites, the site represents a painful time in families’ pasts - stories that were chronicled in the documentary, “Lost in Laconia.”

The Laconia State School campus was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Its campus of 20th century buildings, barns, stone walls, mature trees, and panoramic views make the site architecturally significant. Its history of institutionalizing children within this campus - regardless of the intended benevolence - makes the site equally significant. We should not erase histories that make us uncomfortable.

The agricultural history and opportunity is an important consideration in the site’s reuse. Photo courtesy of Cristina Ashjian.

The agricultural history and opportunity is an important consideration in the site’s reuse. Photo courtesy of Cristina Ashjian.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

The Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission’s website includes minutes of past meetings and planning documents. If you have thoughts about how this site should best be used to meet the needs of the State, Laconia, and those who lived or worked there, contact them.

The master planning is ongoing, but it’s best to participate sooner, rather than later.

Our thanks to historian, Gordon DuBois, for his history on the Laconia State School, and to Cristina Ashjian, for her photographs.

Manchester VA's Manager's Residence: Seven to Save Profile

After WWII, sixteen million veterans suddenly needed medical treatment and care. In response, the U.S. government built fifty-six new hospitals. New Hampshire had lobbied for a VA hospital since 1938, and it was finally granted in 1945. Construction started in Manchester in 1948, with a grand opening in June 1950.

In addition to the eight-story main hospital, the $5 million complex included twelve ancillary buildings set on a thirty acre campus designed by Boston landscape architecture firm, Shurcliff and Shurcliff. It was recently announced that six of these brick ancillary buildings - all designed in a modern Prairie style - would be demolished to make way for new construction and expanded parking.

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Because the site was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in 2011, and because it’s federal property, such action triggered the Section 106 process. The Manchester Heritage Commission and the N.H. Division of Historical Resources got involved and proposed a compromise: demolish five buildings, but keep Building #2 (known as the Manager’s Residence).

This house, stylistically unique in Manchester and the state, was originally built to house the hospital’s first chief administrator, Dr. George Pratt. Its horizontality - emphasized in its belt courses, low pitched roof, rectilinear chimney - and its cantilevered porch roof should conjure up another Manchester icon. The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Zimmerman House was also built in 1950 and included many quintessential Wrightian Prairie style elements.

Preservationists in Manchester (and beyond!) are hoping that the VA administration will see the value of the Manager’s Residence and also the potential for its reuse as outpatient services. According to Aurore Eaton, of the Manchester Heritage Commission, “We hope that Seven to Save status will emphasize the importance of this building’s architecture, history, and potential for veterans care.”

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Time is of the essence if we’re to help save this building. Contact NH’s delegation and let them know this piece of history matters more than parking spaces for several cars:

Senator Maggie Hassan’s person of contact is William Bateson, who can be reached by phone at (603) 880-3314 or by mail at 142 Main Street, Suite 520, Nashua, NH 03060.

For Senator Jeanne Shaheen, contact Christopher Scott at (603) 647-7500, or by mail at 2 Wall Street - Suite 200, Manchester, NH  03101.

For Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster, contact Melanie Spears, VA & Military Outreach at (603) 226-1002 or by mail at 18 North Main Street - 4th Floor, Concord, NH 03301.

For Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, contact the Dover office at (603) 285-4300 or mail to 660 Central Ave., Unit 101, Dover, NH 03820.

You can also contact Andrew Cushing at the NH Preservation Alliance with more questions.

Canterbury Shaker Village Turning Mill Pond: Seven to Save Profile

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“Sometimes our greatest assets are liquid,” quipped Canterbury Shaker Village’s Maggie Stier the night of the Seven to Save announcement. And, in the case of Canterbury Shaker Village’s Turning Mill Pond, a “liquid” asset is in danger of being no more.

Map showing the waterways built by the Canterbury Shakers. From “The Shaker Mills in Canterbury, New Hampshire,” by David R. Starbuck (1986).

Map showing the waterways built by the Canterbury Shakers. From “The Shaker Mills in Canterbury, New Hampshire,” by David R. Starbuck (1986).

Turning Mill Pond is one of a series of manmade bodies of water created by the industrious Canterbury Shakers to provide enough water power for their mills. At their peak, the Shakers had built nine dams and reservoirs to power fourteen mills – all in an area that was bereft of natural waterways.

The Shakers built Turning Mill Pond Dam in 1817 to power a large mill in which they manufactured lathe-turned wooden components such as chair parts, stairway balusters, handles, and their famous flat brooms.  The latter represented an improvement over the common round broom of the era and were in heavy demand; by 1860, the turning mill annually produced 43,500 flat broom handles.  Water-powered lathes also turned or smoothed the Shakers’ cooperage, including their superior and widely purchased wooden pails and tubs. 

Though none of the mills remain, the remnants of this Shaker history play an important role in interpreting a cultural landscape that is one of New Hampshire’s twenty-three National Historic Landmarks.

The original 1817 stone dam at Turning Mill Pond was breached in 1980. In response, and in an attempt to save the original structure, an earthen dam was built behind it in 1987. In 2010, this earthen dam was also breached. The Department of Environmental Services Dam Bureau directed Canterbury Shaker Village to either repair the earthen dam for $200,000 or drain the pond and erase an important piece of the Village’s cultural landscape.

A drained pond would result in loss of wildlife habitat, the water supply for the East Canterbury fire district, and– critically – the source of the Shaker Village’s sprinkler and hydrant system.

With a pending LCHIP grant and a warrant article proposed for the 2019 town meeting, this Seven to Save faces a tight timeline in which to rally support and raise the funds necessary to preserve this important piece of Shaker heritage.

For more information, contact Susan Bennett, Canterbury Shaker Village Executive Director at (603) 783-9077 x 201