Town Reports

Town meeting is mere weeks away. Soon we’ll be scrutinizing our town reports, getting geared up to discuss the important issues of our towns. Over the last few years, I’ve fallen in love with town reports. (I can practically  hear the eyes rolling)

It’s true. The history of how our towns have evolved is in those town reports.  
Take Gorham:

The earliest town reports featured a narrative of the school meeting, but not a narrative of town meeting.

1891 was the first year there was advertising in the town report.

In 1895 a report came from the Board of Health, primarily on the issue of sanitation. They decried the school outhouses as “unsightly and unclean.”  There was also concern about town sewerage issues, since Gorham was becoming an summer resort.  

“The sewerage from the railway station, Alpine House, and Park St. is first class, emptying into the river.”  Simon Stahl, and Henry Marble MD.  

Emptying into the river. Oh, boy.

In 1896, a report from the Library Trustees included a complete list of all 476 books that the library owned.  This went on for several years, along with an admonition each year that the young readers needed to use more care when handling books.  In the 1901 report, the town has 1700 library books.

What would a town report be without births and deaths? Some gems from the causes of death:

1897: exema rubrance, spasms, general decline, gun shot wound
1899 –  2 people run over by cars
1901 -“natural decline”  – she was 91
1904 – the tailor died of a bullet wound. (The customer is always right)
Also, Alphia Richardson died of “congestion of the brain.”

In 1902 – 17 people died, 3 from premature birth.  $119.50 spent on vaccinations.  New books included volumes by: Darwin, Kant, Hegel, and Adam Smith. (ponder that for a moment)

1903 – first year there’s an official notice of town meeting, and first year the town report is indexed.
1904 – 32 pages from the road agent – every ditch dug, every man who plowed, or shoveled snow, or fixed a bridge – many more roads, requiring many more man hours.  20 men paid varying amounts for fighting forest fires.
1905 – first year with a police report
70 people arrested for “drunk.”
1908 – there are 48 completed water closets in town.

The early reports are full of lists; every snow shovel and roller, every piece of equipment owned by the town. As the years go on, those lists change to trucks, snowplows, and increasingly sophisticated machinery.

In a 13 year period, Gorham went from having a sewerage problem (and applauding those who dumped it in the river) to having 48 water closets. Progress, measured by plumbing.

It’s all there, simply written, by people who didn’t know they were writing history – they were just documenting the doings of their town.  

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5 Responses to Town Reports

  1. mevansnh February 20, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    The early town reports were required to include vital records: marriages, births, and deaths.  When doing family research, these records can be an invaluable source of information that can’t be found elsewhere.  The NH State Library holds many of these early town reports, as well as county reports.  

    At some point in the late 1950s or early 1960s, I believe, the vital records were discontinued (probably concerns about privacy) and were given as statics, so many births, so many marriages etc.

  2. hannah February 20, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

    at the EPA.  It was likely the rationale for deep water oil wells in the Gulf–more water to dilute the inevitable spills.

    Sweetwater creeks and branches all over the country are called that because of the effluent contributed by out-houses.

  3. mevansnh February 20, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    to buy was in Sunapee, NH.  The year was 1970.  The real estate agent took us into the barn and pointing out that behind door number one was was a “threeoler”.  I had no idea what he meant, until I opened the door and saw a three hole outhouse that sat over the Sugar River!!  I main house had a pipe that ran into the river as well.  I imagine it was cold on days like this back then.

  4. Tim C. February 21, 2012 at 1:08 am #

    1902 – The library buys books by Darwin.

    1905 – Morals sink to such extraordinary depths, with the inevitable concomitant explosion in criminality, that the police report, revealing rampant drunkenness, becomes a critical part of the town report, and roving bands of atheists render God-fearing citizens so terrified of leaving their houses that they resort to pooping indoors.

    Wake up, sheeple!

    • Legal Beagle February 23, 2012 at 5:32 am #

      You should become the new House spokesperson!
      Too funny…but wait, the GOP actually believes this crap.!

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