Editor's note: This article appeared in the Bridge Weekly
Sho-Case and is used with permission.
By Andrea M. Fitzgerald
Long-time Hanover historian and Upper Valley architect, Jay Barrett, is the presenter of a very popular and favorite course, The History of Dartmouth College and Hanover, New Hampshire 1761 to Present, offered by the Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth (ILEAD). Barrett, who lives in Ely, was pleasantly surprised to see an aerial view in the August 25 edition of The Bridge Weekly Sho-case which showed the Connecticut River winding its way through North Haverhill and Newbury. The picture coincided perfectly with the third session of Barrett’s ILEAD course which covered Dartmouth College’s history from 1770-1780, during which time Haverhill and Newbury offered portions of prime land on both sides of the Connecticut River’s Great Oxbow to the College to entice its settlement in Haverhill. The aerial view made a good addition to Barrett’s presentation which already included a highlighted map showing the lots Haverhill pitched to the College Trustees in 1770 based on a “Plan of the original site of Dartmouth College” shown in A History of Dartmouth College and the Town of Hanover, New Hampshire to 1815 by Frederick Chase. Barrett finds the comparison between the two images fascinating, even to the point that the hedgerows are still obvious 241 years later. Also fascinating is how close Haverhill and other towns in the Upper Valley came to being able to call their town home to Dartmouth College.
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Rev. Eleazar Wheelock, the founder of Dartmouth College, was a 1733 Yale graduate and ordained minister who established Moor’s Indian Charity School in Lebanon Crank (now known as Columbia), Connecticut in 1755 and was looking to expand his school. New Hampshire’s Royal Governor John Wentworth had a deep interest in what Wheelock was doing, and they worked together to get a charter for the college. Wentworth understood that it would be beneficial to have the college in New Hampshire. Massachusetts had Harvard, and Connecticut had Yale, so Wheelock knew he probably would not get a charter in those states. In December of 1769, Rev. Eleazar Wheelock obtained a Royal Charter for Dartmouth College from Governor John Wentworth, and many towns including those in the Upper Connecticut River Valley immediately starting bidding for the school to settle in their town as their asset. Wheelock’s representatives had secured the funding from Scotland and England, and that turned out to be the easy part of the plan. Wheelock was not prepared for the difficult process of deciding where to build the college.
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Orford was one town that put together a lucrative offer of 2,100 acres, labor, and money, but it wasn’t as lucrative as Haverhill’s offer which included 5,000 acres in Haverhill, Newbury, and Bath as well as pledging local money. Hanover offered 3,000 contiguous acres. Complicating the issue, the unsettled and forfeited township of Landaff chartered in 1764 by King George III was regranted to Dartmouth College on January, 19, 1770. Governor Wentworth was in favor of Dartmouth College being built in Landaff, because it was unsettled and could be governed by the College, and Wentworth wanted to push the school north to increase development. In the end the Dartmouth College was built in Hanover, but the closest it came to settling anywhere else in the Upper Valley was in Landaff, where the college spent $7,000 to $10,000 on land improvements, building of roads, mills, and construction of a grammar school in 1780 which it operated for over two years.
Wheelock wanted the college to be in Hanover for a number of reasons. Hanover made its proposal in March of 1770, the strongest offer at that time. The town was on the Connecticut River, which was crucial, and it was at the head of the falls, the place where all supplies would be portaged regardless of where they were going. Hanover would be the closest. There was also a narrow place in the river for a future bridge, now the site of Ledyard Bridge. Wheelock was more comfortable with the settlers in Lower Coos since they were from his home state of Connecticut, and settlers in Haverhill and farther north were predominately from Massachusetts.
Haverhill prepared deeds which included the offer of a farm of about 600 acres within the two Oxbows of the Connecticut River, with a barn, corn barn, grist mill, sawmill, and house thereon. North Haverhill could have been the home to Dartmouth College, but Wheelock saw enough suitable crop land in Hanover and wasn’t as interested in Haverhill’s lush Oxbows.
Wentworth and Wheelock were both diplomats. Wentworth wanted the college to be built in Landaff, but Wheelock told him he really wanted it in Hanover. All the towns were disappointed when they learned that on July 5, 1770 Wheelock announced, from the steps of Gov. John Wentworth’s mansion, that he would choose Hanover as the home of his new college. “It was almost like two different value systems. It had to have played on Wheelock’s mind that he was familiar with the settlers in Hanover. He knew them. He went with what he identified with and needed,” says Barrett.
The site of Dartmouth College was fixed in Hanover, and the first buildings were erected in August of 1770. Wheelock laid out the village of Hanover based on the goods and services needed for the college. Land was cleared, mills built, and farms, taverns and other establishments were settled.
While the college was growing in Hanover, it continued to make improvements in Landaff. The improvements proved enticing to the grantees who had forfeited the 1764 Landaff charter. Until 1791 the college continued to have a presence in Landaff expending more money on improvements as well as fighting tenacious claims on the first grant. Materials in the Rauner Special Collections Library at Dartmouth College Library reveal many interesting details about the College’s presence in Landaff. One accounting for the period from June 1773 to January 1775 lists provisions sent to Landaff from Dartmouth College such as beef, pork, sugar, chocolate, molasses, clover seed, and payment for labor in building a saw mill. In a letter dated January 1774, Wentworth wrote to Wheelock “conveying this certain intelligence” that the regranting of Landaff was done in a lawful manner, and prior grantees could not prove that their title was still good. “Landaff may thence be safely improved by you for the college without any further consideration. Of this I have been long certain.” The letter is signed “Your affectionate friend, Wentworth.”
By 1774, twenty families had settled in Landaff, and a huge parcel had been laid off in one body on the Ammonoosuc River at the northwest corner of the town for the College farm. A saw mill was built in 1774, and a grist mill was built in 1775 on the north side of Mill Brook about one-half mile from Lisbon. A 1785 manuscript map shows the mill site near the present intersection of Route 10 and Mill Brook Road in Landaff.
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The College Trustees resolved in 1780 to build a grammar school in Landaff and endow it with the same privileges as Wheelock’s former Moor’s School in Connecticut. The school was to be named Phillip’s School and be 38’ x 28’ and one story high. Weekly tuition was set at 1 shilling and 6 pence for students instructed in the learned language and rules of English grammar, 1 shilling and 3 pence for arithmetic, 10 pence for reading and writing, and 8 pence for reading English. The school was to be supported by tuition, rents of the College farm, sawmill, sale of the corn mill, and sale of land for settlement. What is puzzling is that the Dartmouth College Trustees chose to go to the expense of erecting a public grammar school in Landaff in 1780 in connection with the College even though there was much disruption and expense caused from the original grantees’ claims, and Dartmouth College had already established itself ten years earlier in Hanover. There is the possibility that the Landaff settlement and rents would help support the college, and the grammar school’s namesake, John Phillips, a College Trustee, took great interest in the township of Landaff because of the eventual support it would give the college. There is also the possibility that the Trustees were staying true to their resolution that the object of settling Landaff was the promotion of learning and religion.
A 1788 Deposition of Wheelock’s son-in-law, Bezaleel Woodward, reveals the efforts Dartmouth College made in improving Landaff. According to Woodward’s deposition, from 1772 to 1774 a considerable number of settlers were placed in Landaff by Wheelock, and a saw mill and corn mill were erected. Considerable improvements were made on a parcel called the College farm, and a log house and large frame barn erected thereon. Within those years, about 1,500 acres in Landaff were disposed of by Wheelock as agent for the College Trustees, to encourage settlement. By 1775 about 1,000 pounds had been expended, and only one claimant had ever come forward.
By August of 1791, the Trustees of Dartmouth College yielded that the title of the first grant would prevail and supporting the second grant would not only be expensive but imprudent and greatly injurious to the college. The Trustees resolved unanimously that the board disclaim, forfeit and relinquish all right, title and interest to the Landaff township. An estimate of $10,000 was spent on improvements and expenses to maintain the title to the Landaff charter. Perhaps the college itself might not have made it had it been built there. We can only imagine how different the landscape of Orford, Haverhill, or Landaff and their surrounding communities would look had they been the chosen site for Dartmouth College, or how different the College would be today.
Barrett maintains that Dartmouth College’s success is due in part to where it ended up being located. In the beginning the school lived from year to year and was almost bankrupted after the Revolutionary War. The turning point was in 1893 when William Tucker became the President of Dartmouth College. He realized expansion was needed which revolutionized the school resulting in a larger campus and endowments. It didn’t hurt that former N.H. Governor and White House Chief of Staff Sherman Adams and former N.H. Governor Lane Dwinell, both Dartmouth graduates, and former Lebanon attorney and U.S. Senator Norris Cotton used their influence to change the course of Interstate 89 in the mid 1960s so it didn’t bypass Hanover.
When Barrett drives up Route 10, he can’t help but look at The Ridge in Orford or the fertile land in North Haverhill and wonder what those towns would look like today if Dartmouth College had chosen them. “At the end of the day, Wheelock made the right decisions. Those reasons are still valid today. Wheelock knew what he was doing,” says Barrett.