Charles R. (Charles Robert) Corning.

The unwritten history of the New Hampshire Historical Society building online

. (page 1 of 3)
Online LibraryCharles R. (Charles Robert) CorningThe unwritten history of the New Hampshire Historical Society building → online text (page 1 of 3)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook











President of the Society


7,'^ Mill



Charles R. Corning

I have been Impressed since the dedication of
the New Hampshire Historical Society Building
that there still remained a historical residuum
worthy to be noticed and remembered. By this
I mean a chapter in our annals that has never been
written. While the history of the Society, from
its foundation nearly a century ago down to the
opening of our beautiful building, has been written
and preserved for all time, and the description of
the building and its charms and richness similarly
treated, there seemed to be wanting something to
complete the narrative. And that something I
denominate a historical residuum. In the objec-
tive point of view nothing perhaps has been left
unwritten, but subjectively the fact is otherwise.
We know that we possess one of the really beauti-
ful structures of the country, into whose construc-



tion the willing and unlimited generosity of
Edward Tuck invited the exquisite skill of the
architect and the resources of the builder. But we
do not know the history of the meeting of the
minds that made this splendid work a reality to
those who had hoped and dreamed in the days
when the old building was our only possession.

Psychology, I think, played an unsuspected
part in the result. At any rate there was meet-
ing of minds, there was touching of souls re-
sponsive to beauty In things material. Call it as
one may, this Historical Building as we see it did
not spring into living beauty complete and perfect
in the twinkling of an eye or at a nod of com-
mand. Things unseen to the common vision are
sometimes the influence that makes possible works
and deeds of surprising excellence and service.

The opening year of this century marked a crisis
in the affairs of our Society by introducing a situa-
tion perplexing and disturbing. At the annual
meeting a year or two before, the librarian,
Nathan F. Carter, called the attention of members
to the immediate necessity for more working space


and book room than were afforded in the old build-
ing. At the annual meeting in June, 1900, Mr.
Carter again referred to the matter, and was
followed by John C. Thorne who, understanding
the conditions, emphasized his remarks by saying
"A crisis has evidently come in the Historical
Society. How shall it be met.?" The President
of the Society was William C. Todd of Atkinson,
a man of scholarly instincts, an observer of men
and circumstances, clear-headed, generous and
judicious, a living asset of progress. Fortunate,
indeed, was our Society in possessing a member
endowed with Mr. Todd's characteristics. Ex-
perience and years had brought caution and well
reasoned opinions on matters in which he felt a
deep interest, and the Historical Society was an
institution he loved. Accordingly he presented
this communication to that June meeting:

"No object in New Hampshire is more worthy
of support than the New Hampshire Historical
Society. The most distinguished men of the
State were active in its formation, and have been
interested in its success. It was incorporated


June 14, 1823, and the first named of its Incorpora-
tors was the eminent lawyer, Ichabod Bartlett.
Its history has been an honorable one. Nearly
every prominent man in the State has taken part
in its proceedings; its published volumes have
been much sought, and its collection of rare his-
torical matter is of incalculable value and could
not be duplicated. It has received from its friends
many gifts, much wisdom, but little money, and
is financially poor.

"For years its collections were moved from place
to place as room could be found for them, and had
no permanent home till some generous friends in
1866 purchased the building now occupied. This
is now full, and the annual increase of books and
pamphlets is 3,000. * * * j^ j^^g j^gg^ sug-
gested that many books of little value could be
disposed of and thus room provided.

"If such a plan were wise the relief would only
be temporary. If the Society is to be preserved
and to increase its usefulness, it seems as if a large
fireproof addition must be placed on the land
recently purchased adjoining the Society building


on the south, known as the Chadwick property. A
crisis has evidently come in the history of the
Society. How shall it be met.'* Wisconsin is a
new State, but in the first year of its existence a
Historical Society was established, which now has
over 100,000 volumes, over 100,000 pamphlets,
10,000 bound volumes of newspapers, and is the
pride of the State, with a world-wide reputation,
A new building has been provided for its collec-
tions and those of the State Library at a cost of
$640,000, and the State is in future to give it
$15,000 annually, instead of $5,000 as in the past.
The Massachusetts Historical Society has become
rich by private munificence, and other state his-
torical societies are well supported. The spirit of
historical and genealogical research throughout the
country is greater than ever before. Shall New
Hampshire, one of the oldest and most respected
States of the Union, prove worthy of its past repu-
tation in all educational advance, and sustain its
Historical Society.^ The least sum for a suitable
fireproof addition is $10,000, and many thousands
more should be provided. If not less than $5,000


can be secured from others before November i,
1900, I will add five thousand dollars ($5,000)."

Here was an offer to cause thought and stimu-
late activity. Mr. Todd had cast a coin into the
placid waters, creating the circle that, enlarging
as it journeyed, finally touched the shores of
France. In the meanwhile the friends of the
Society responded to the President's offer and sub-
scribed the desired sum, so that at the June meet-
ing, 1901, the Treasurer reported a building fund
of $10,290.89. A committee consisting of William
C. Todd, Benjamin A. Kimball, Samuel C. East-
man, Joseph B. Walker, and Virgil C. Oilman was
chosen to take into consideration the subject of
new or enlarged accommodations for the library
and rooms of the Society. At a meeting held
January 13, 1903, this committee made a careful
and well considered report which may be found
in Proceedings of the New Hampshire Historical
Society, vol. 4, p. 233.

The important conclusions in that report were
these: the committee obtained an estimate of what
could be done with $10,000; they found that


this amount of money would be utterly inadequate
to build an addition on Main Street of a size and
style that would be in harmony with the building,
and be at the same time fireproof. "If such
a building is desired," continued the report, "a
much larger fund must be created." The com-
mittee agreed that an addition to the building was
not desirable. Such an addition would be only a
makeshift, and it would be far better in the long
run to secure an entirely new building adapted not
only to present needs, but so planned as to be
enlarged to meet the future growth of the Society.
"If the recommendations of the committee meet
with the approval of the Society, time can be
gained to secure the means for a better building
than could be obtained from the present fund.
Hopes are entertained by many interested in the
welfare of the Society that such a result can be
secured from efforts that are now being made."
At an adjourned meeting held in February, 1903,
a special committee was chosen to solicit additional
funds for the erection of a new building. The com-
mittee named were William C. Todd, William P.


Fiske, William E. Chandler, Henry M. Baker,
John F. Jones, and John C. Thorne. The building
fund was soon increased to $20,000, through the
efforts of Mr. Fiske and Mr. Thorne of this com-
mittee, Mr. Fiske securing a promise of $5,000
from Nathaniel Sherman Bouton of Chicago, and
Mr. Thorne securing a like sum from the trustees
of the John H. Pearson estate.

At the annual meeting in June, 1905, a committee
previously appointed to procure plans for a new
building on the old site offered its report and
recommendations. A suitable building could be
erected for $25,000, fireproof, well equipped and
good for fifty years to come. Then followed this
significant intimation which was to mean so much
to the Society: "Information has, however, come
to the committee recently that there is a possi-
bility of a large gift for building and endowment
which is worthy of our careful consideration. The
committee, after duly considering this, has deemed
it wise to recommend that further action in regard
to the erection of a new building be postponed
until the next annual meeting."

What had happened in the meanwhile to cause
the committee to report that discussion of a new
building should be postponed? Ever since Presi-
dent Todd, addressing the annual meeting in 1900,
had called attention to the crisis in the affairs of
the Society, the subject had wakened a lively
interest in the minds of many of the members who
were deeply desirous to help the venerable Society
in its hour of distress. Naturally the idea of a
new building on the old site was in the minds of
many members, both because of long time asso-
ciation and the limited sum available for building
purposes. Something in the meantime had oc-
curred to stay the efforts of those who so stren-
uously favored building on the old foundations.
What was it.^ The meeting received new light
when a resolution was adopted declaring that "it
is for the best interests of the Society to erect a
building that shall be an ornament and credit to
the State, that the present fund is inadequate,
and that a committee of three be appointed to
increase the funds and procure designs for a build-
ing of a classical character, so that the donors may


see the type of construction contemplated." Two
members of this committee of three were Ben-
jamin A. Kimball and Samuel C. Eastman, both
of whom were heartily in favor of a more con-
venient and imposing location. It became evi-
dent that a project larger in scope and richer in
detail than any heretofore discussed was assuming
form and gathering strength, but no public dis-
closure had been made. Uncertainty concerning
the future gradually disappeared, and there came
the feeling of hope. The members favorable to
the old site with a building fund of ^30,000, real-
izing the meaning of what had occurred, abandoned
their position and gave constant support to the
new plan and the new location.

The unrecorded history of what took place from
1901 to 191 1 began when Mr. Kimball exhibited
to the annual meeting sketches and plans of the
new building, and John C. Thorne offered this
resolution: "That Benjamin A. Kimball, Samuel
C. Eastman, Henry W. Stevens, Frank N. Parsons,
and Frank W. Hackett be appointed a building
committee, with full power to raise such sums of


money as may be necessary, in addition to the funds
of the Society now especially pledged and available
therefor, to purchase the land on the corner of
North State and Park Streets in Concord, and to
erect thereon a new library building on the plan
submitted to the Society at this meeting, subject
to such modifications as may be found expedient
or necessary." The unrecorded or unwritten his-
tory during that period I will try to relate.

The publication of our proceedings has preserved
the story of the construction and dedication of the
New Hampshire Historical Society building which
all may read and understand, but the undisclosed
history of the undertaking, its inception and
development, makes a story worthy to be heard.
I have felt that the whole story ought to be told,
and that the telling of the personal equation and
its influence in this beautiful culmination was an
indispensable part in the history of the New Hamp-
shire Historical Society. How often have I been
asked why Edward Tuck should build so splendid
a memorial in a community no closer to him than
Concord! What influences directed him to this


work? Influence, as we commonly interpret it,
had little or nothing to do with Mr. Tuck's great
donations. Influence in this instance was a gen-
erous and receptive mind communing with life-
long principles of benevolence. In truth this man
of profound good-will, of keen comprehension, of
imagination, of sane views and application, and of
trustful disposition was the ally of Mr. Kimball and
Mr. Todd in their wonderful labors. Fortunately
the correspondence, strengthened by recollections
of the leading actors in the conception and develop-
ment of the undertaking, has been put into my
hands to be treated as I should determine. My
beginning was this communication:

Concord, New Hampshire, July 4, 1917.

My dear Mr. Kimball:

If I am not asking too much, and I am not in-
sensible to your many urgent occupations, I wish
you would detail to me through your stenographer
the beginning of Mr. Tuck's interest in our His-
torical Society building.

During my visit at Vert Mont Mr. Tuck more
than once remarked to me that "you would never
have had your Historical building if it had not

f 12I

been for Mr. Kimball." With my respect for
historical accuracy and truth I believe that this
incident in your career ought to be made known
and preserved. No man has created so imposing
a memorial of work so splendid and enduring as
you have created in Concord. "Circumspice"
applies to you as it applied to Wren and St. Paul's.
I hope I am not asking too much of you inasmuch
as my request will serve history.
Very truly,

Charles R. Corning.

Mr. Kimball mailed this note to Mr. Tuck who

replied :

82 Champs Elysees,
Paris, August nth, 1917.

Dear Mr. Kimball:

Since I wrote you July 28th I have received
your letter written at The Broads with your eagle
quill on July 8th, dealing with Coming's enquiry
for the early history of the project of a new building
for the Historical Society.

I am sending you under separate registered cover ,
Mr. Todd's first letter to me dated June 25, 1901, )
thus antedating apparently his first letter to you
on the subject which was in October of the same
year. I am returning it to you herewith, as also
Coming's letter.

I am very glad Coming is taking up this matter,
for the facts are worthy of record. To Mr. Todd


is due the credit of the inception of the project
and awakening my early interest in it. To you
is due the greater credit of having multiplied his
efforts a hundredfold, and of having stimulated
my interest in the matter, with the result that
between us we have now, in the words of a repre-
sentative of Mr. Lowell who, you say, had just
been over the building for the first time, a monu-
ment "the like of which does not exist in the
United States."

Corning quotes me correctly as having said that
we never would have had such a building except
for Mr. Kimball. It was only my faith in your
wonderful taste and knowledge in artistic and
architectural matters, and in your fidelity and zeal,
heart and soul, in the work, that made me willing
to place such a great sum of money in such an
object. I can truly say that I consider it perhaps
the happiest inspiration of my life to have gone
into this enterprise, and to have brought it with
you to so magnificent a conclusion, of which we
and our successors will never cease to be proud.

With Mr. Todd's letter I am sending various
pieces which I have numbered in sequence. They
appear to be all that I have of special interest until
the years 1906 and 1907. They will all explain
themselves without further remark from me.
You have, I am sure, a better recollection of our
various conversations than I have. I wish now
that I had kept a record, although perhaps it is of


no great consequence. I do remember that I did
not wish to have Carnegie's finger in our pie. We
have done fairly well without him; in fact you and
I would not be willing to trade our building for any
forty or more that he has ever erected.
Yours affectionately,

Edward Tuck.

William C. Todd, born in 1823, was not far from
eighty years of age when the condition of the
Society, so urgent and pressing, touched his loyal
nature to the quick and compelled him to act. I
have mentioned the offer made by him in 1900,
and the words he delivered at the annual meeting
of the following year. No one saw the critical
situation clearer than he, or attempted remedial
measures more resolutely. A graduate of Dart-
mouth, he chose the teacher's profession, becoming
head of the academy at Atkinson, his native town,
and later principal of the Girls' High School in
Newburyport. From slender beginnings, by pru-
dence and saving, Mr. Todd was laying up a
modest competence, when Fortune introduced
him to the Bell telephone, at that time a neglected
foundling in the world of finance. The result was


that Mr. Todd became a wealthy man. No pen
picture can present William C. Todd as he walked
our streets and conversed with his friends, but the
record has been written of his generosity in life
and his benefactions after death. No reflective
member of this Society can ever efface the picture
of this aged man lying on his death bed, his mind
alive to the necessities of his beloved Society, and
his trembling hand composing an appeal to the
one responsive soul in all the world who listened,
and who finally wrought the miracle.

Mr. Todd's first communication with Mr. Tuck
was this letter:

Atkinson, N. H., June 25, 1901.

Edward Tuck, Esq.
My dear Sir:
After much hesitation I have concluded to
address you in regard to the New Hampshire
Historical Society in which I have become much
interested. It is one of the oldest of similar soci-
eties in the country, and has had the support of
the ablest and most distinguished men of the State.
Its origin dates back to 1823. March 3, 1823, a
literary society of Portsmouth addressed an invi-
tation to eighteen literary gentlemen of Rocking-

f 16I

ham and Strafford counties on the subject, who
met at Exeter March 13, when that able lawyer
Ichabod Bartlett presided. It was decided to
form a society, and a committee was chosen to
invite gentlemen to meet in Portsmouth for that
purpose. This was done, and the society was
organized May 20, 1823, and incorporated June 13,

The first president was William Plumer, Jr., of
Epping, at one time Governor, followed by Levi
Woodbury, Ichabod Bartlett and other distin-
guished men of the State, who from the first have
been among its officers, have given addresses before
it, and contributed to its publications. To the
efforts of men like John Farmer, Jacob B. Moore,
Rev. Dr. Bouton, in connection with this society,
we owe, I think, the large amount of valuable
information acquired on the early history of New

Among the past members of the Society more or
less active in its history can be named such men as
Ichabod Bartlett, Charles H. Atherton, Samuel D.
Bell, Jeremiah Smith, Isaac Hill, Ira Perley, Frank-
lin Pierce, Amos Tuck, Rev. Dr. Peabody, Rev.
Nathan Lord, Jeremiah Mason, John S. Wells,
J. J. Bell and Charles H. Bell, both its Presidents
for years, Joel Parker, and many others who have
been leading actors in the affairs of the State, and
few States can point to an equal number of men of
whom it would have more reason to be proud.


Some of the collections of the Society are very
valuable, and more would have been published if
the funds had permitted, but the Society is poor.
Its permanent fund, after 78 years, is only $11,400,
whose income is almost fully restricted. There
are about 170 members paying an annual assess-
ment of $3. Only two gifts, I think, as large as
$1,000 in money have been received in its whole
history, though wisdom has been freely offered.
It receives from the State $500 a year, which small
sum is used to pay the Librarian, a retired clergyman
and a Dartmouth graduate.

The Massachusetts Historical Society has just
erected a new building at a cost of $195,044, and
has invested funds of $182,339. One of the first
acts of Wisconsin when it became a State was to
establish a Historical Society, which has been its
great pride, receives from the State an annual gift
of $5,000 for its support, has a national, if not a
European reputation, and the State has just
erected for its use and that of the State Library a
building at a cost of about $650,000.

The building used at Concord is an old bank
building, is literally filled with treasures, among
them sixteen volumes of unpublished letters of
Daniel Webster, the gift of Peter Harvey. The
Sabine collection of 7,000 volumes will come to the
Society on the decease of an old lady of 83, and
there is no room for them.

It has been impressed on me that no object in
New Hampshire is more worthy of aid than this


Society, and its first great want is a new fireproof
building. My means are limited but I have no
family, and I last year off"ered ^5,000 for this pur-
pose if a like amount could be secured from others.
This was done in small amounts, over 100 aiding,
much of it from friends away from the State, and
the Society now has a building fund of ^10,000,
but it needs ^25,000 or ^30,000 to build what seems
to be a necessity if the Society is to continue its

As one of the first settled States, New Hamp-
shire ofi"ers a wide field for historical research, for
which this Society seems to be the proper medium.
May its good work in the past be continued.

I am a stranger to you, and have seen you only
once. I was in i860 a member of the examining
committee at Dartmouth, and noticed you because
I knew your father. I was born In the same con-
gressional district, belonged to the same political
party, became acquainted with him, and on my
way to Washington, meeting him In Boston, he
volunteered to give me a letter to Mr. Lincoln.
Like all Dartmouth men I rejoice in your noble
gift to our alma mater. I gave it a ^1,000 scholar-
ship years ago from money earned in teaching.

I ask pardon for this letter, and for addressing
you at all, knowing how many appeals of this kind
you must receive.

Very respectfully yours,

Wm. C. Todd, Dart. 1844.


The second act in this interesting narrative was
Mr. Tuck's kind acknowledgment to Mr. Todd:

Paris, September i8th, 1901.

W. C. Todd, Esq., Atkinson, N. H.
My dear Sir: —

Your very interesting letter of June 25th regard-
ing the New Hampshire Historical Society reached
me some time ago, and has merited a more prompt

You need make no apology for calling my atten-
tion to the present condition of the Society. On
the contrary, I thank you for informing me so
fully regarding the great interest taken in the for-
mation and the development of the Society by dis-
tinguished sons of New Hampshire in the past, and
of its straightened condition which ought not to be.
I was among those who contributed last year to
the building fund of which you speak, although
my interest in the Society was not at all awakened
as it has been by your letter. You, individually,
have certainly been more than generous in your
own contribution for the needed fund. I shall
bear in mind all you have written me, and it may
be that somewhat later I shall be in a position to
aid materially in the good work which you so
disinterestedly have taken up. It would certainly
give me great pleasure if I felt able and free to
do so.


In the meantime I shall be glad to hear from you
further in detail as to what you think needs to be
done to relieve the Society from its present distress,
to assure its further existence, and to provide com-
fortably for its installation in a suitable new build-
ing, over and above whatever funds and means of
support it already has in hand.

Thanking you for your letter I am yours very

^' Edward Tuck.

William C. Todd then interested Benjamin A.
Kimball both by correspondence and interviews,
securing his masterful aid and co-operation which,
once begun, continued to the end. Mr. Kimball
had long been a member of the Society, and had
served as President during the years 1 895-1 897,
but, as he says, he had not in the stress of stren-

1 3

Online LibraryCharles R. (Charles Robert) CorningThe unwritten history of the New Hampshire Historical Society building → online text (page 1 of 3)