Henniker Historical Society

The Cogswells of Henniker


This is the full text of a speech given to the Cogswell Family Association on August 17, 2001, at Daniel's Restaurant & Pub, Henniker, New Hampshire. The material was researched and written by Martha Taylor, and delivered by Bruce Elliott.


Good evening everyone! On behalf of the Henniker Historical Society, I extend to you all a very hearty welcome to Henniker. We're delighted that the Cogswell Family Association is holding its reunion this year in “The Only Henniker On Earth.” For my talk tonight, we're all indebted to Martha Taylor who researched and wrote it as another of her many efforts for the Society. As she is unable to be present tonight, she asked me to present the talk for her. Martha gratefully acknowledges contributions from two sources: one is The Story of Henniker by Francis Childs, a booklet published by the Society; and the other is “The Cogswell Years,” a chapter of an unpublished paper written by Marian Chase on the history of the house in which the first Cogswell in Henniker lived. The paper is in the Society's archives, and the booklet is available for purchase from the Society.

Henniker of course is what it is today because of the men and women who lived here and the events that took place in our town during the past 233 years. Cogswells were an important part of that history.

Henniker was incorporated in 1768. Our unique name was given to us by Governor Wentworth to honor his good friend John Henniker, a merchant from England. Most towns in this part of New Hampshire were named for the towns that the settlers came from, and our town fathers went to the governor with the name “New Marlborough.” Thank goodness he didn't agree, because now we're proudly known as “The Only Henniker on Earth.”

The first Cogswell to settle in Henniker was Deacon Nathaniel, who came here in the spring of 1800 from Ipswich (now Essex), Massachusetts. He bought a farm that was next to that of his brother-in-law. His sister, Hannah, had died before her husband moved to Henniker, leaving Nathaniel to be the first Cogswell here.

The earliest recorded census in 1773 shows the population of Henniker to be 338 people. Seventeen years later the population had jumped to 1,124; and in 1820 it was 1,900 people. It never was higher than that for the next 140 years – until 1960. Today it is said to be 4,433.

Nathaniel, a sixth generation Cogswell, was known as an able and upright man. He served the Congregational Church as a deacon from November 1822 until his death in July of 1836.

The second Cogswell to settle here was Nathaniel's nephew, David. He also was born in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and he came to Henniker at 25 years of age in 1815. He was a blacksmith in Ipswich, then in Gloucester, and then in Henniker. During the War of 1812, he served in the Gloucester Artillery. In 1820 he built the Cogswell House on Main Street, just a hundred yards east of here. You'll see it on your Sunday tour. The house was in the family for more than 100 years and is currently the president's house for New England College. For many years David had his blacksmith shop next to the stone bridge, and was a member of the Henniker Rifles, the first rifle company in the state.

Forty-five men formed the Henniker Rifles in 1818. David was a private; his cousin, George W., was also a private; and another cousin, David L., was a sergeant. The company began to drill immediately and, by the 1819 muster, it had become quite proficient. An application was made to the state for commissions for the officers and it was found there was no authority for raising riflemen. The state then amended the militia act to include one company of riflemen. The Henniker Rifles mustered and paraded until the militia system was abolished in 1851.

At one point, David had one room of his house full of silkworms, but the enterprise didn't prove profitable so he soon abandoned it. David's brother, Jonathan, followed David to Henniker in 1817. He was a carpenter and only stayed here until 1836. He had several children, but none of them settled in Henniker.

David's son, Leander Winslow Cogswell, was born in 1825, the first Leander of several found in the family. The year of his birth marked the start of regular tri-weekly stagecoach routes that came through here on both east-west and north-south runs.

In 1836, a private academy – what we know today as a high school – was established in town. Leander was a student at Henniker Academy and his education enabled him to teach school for several years. He also engaged in the mercantile business, was a route agent for the railroad and was a state legislator from Henniker for several years. He was state treasurer, bank commissioner, justice of the peace, and held several town offices. In 1862 he enlisted in the 11th Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteers. He was discharged in 1865 and later wrote the history of that regiment. He also wrote the book entitled History of Henniker, NH, which covers the time period from 1735 to 1880, and he furnished genealogical data to the Rev. Jameson for the book entitled The Cogswells in America.

During his lifetime, prosperous farms stretched out everywhere, on the hills as well as along the river. All sorts of skilled artisans plied their trades, some from their homes and some traveling from farm to farm. There were 8 or 10 blacksmiths, among them David Cogswell whom I mentioned previously, his brother Thomas, who worked in Henniker for a while, and David's two sons, David Warren and John. They not only shod horses and oxen, but also provided the town with door hinges, latches, plow points, pitch forks and shovel blades. There was one nail maker who made by hand most of the wrought iron nails used by carpenter Jonathan Cogswell before Jonathan moved from town. We still find them holding old houses together. There were masons, coopers, shoemakers, tin workers like David's sons, William and Fitz, peddlers, tailors, carpenters, wheelwrights and saddlers.

From 1834 to 1836, the Academy, the stone bridge in the center of town and three meetinghouses were built. The stone bridge was destroyed in the 1938 hurricane and rebuilt the next year. It is currently being widened. The Academy is now the home of the Henniker Historical Society, where you registered today. The Congregational Church building, next to Academy Hall, is still being used as a Congregational Church. The Baptists and Methodists built the other two churches. But after the Baptists left Henniker, the Methodists bought the Baptists church building in the town center and sold their original building to be used as a barn.

The eighteen forties marked the heyday of the so-called “great teams” and Henniker was on a convenient route from Boston to Vermont and northern New Hampshire. The Henniker Inn, and the part of it called Bell's Tavern, became a favorite stopping place because it was in the center of town and had stalls for one hundred horses, and an ample stable yard in which to park the large wagons. The former inn now serves as the administration building for New England College. It's the large white building with the long porch, a few yards west of here on the other side of Main Street. Droves of beef cattle used the same route as those teams, and it is said that the white picket fences that were very common in town during the last century and a half were necessary to keep the cattle out of residents' yards.

Henniker remained a strong agricultural society until the beginning of the Civil War, when there began the decline of family farms here as well as elsewhere in the country. The first Cogswell in Henniker, Nathaniel, farmed on Depot Hill from the time he came here in 1800 until his death. By 1811 he owned 145 adjoining acres on Depot Hill, including one and one-half acres in orchard, 2 acres cultivated, 14 acres mowing and 30 acres pasture. He paid tax on 4 oxen, 2 horses and 11 cows for a total of $13.10, the eleventh highest taxpayer in town. The 1815 ledger of Joshua Darling's store has a record of Nathaniel buying 12 pounds of nails at one time and 18 pounds at another time. Could he have been adding the two ells to the original house?

His sons Daniel and George W. continued to manage the farm after Nathaniel's death until they sold it thirty years later. His third son, David Low, lived and farmed nearer town. Capt. Jonathan Cogswell farmed on Bradford Road, at the opposite side of Henniker from his uncle Nathaniel and his cousins. He farmed for 64 years after coming here in 1820. His son, Washington Choate Cogswell stayed on the homestead and farmed with his father. At the eastern end of town David Warren Cogswell, son of David, was a blacksmith and farmer on the Main Street property until the early 1900's. [It is his classified ad that appears on your place cards.]

By the early 1800's the emancipation of slaves was a well-established issue nationwide, leading to the formation of anti-slavery societies even in small towns such as Henniker. The first society here was formed in March 1835, sponsored by the Methodist and Baptist clergymen. The Congregational Church took the stand that it was a political matter and would not allow church involvement. George and Daniel did not agree with the church's position – they believed in the immediate emancipation of the slaves. The two brothers, along with Oliver Pillsbury, an early anti-slavery advocate and deacon of the church, withdrew their membership from the church and explained their position in a lengthy letter written to the church in 1841. (The Henniker Historical Society has the original of this letter in its archives, and of course you're very welcome to see it.) However, the brothers continued their positions in the Sabbath School. They were tolerated there for another five years, until the church finally “voted to suspend George W. Cogswell and Daniel Cogswell from all communion with the church until the third Monday in June next. [a period of 7 months]”

As agriculture declined, industrial development grew. In 1866, Gage's dry measure shop was established in part of Gutterson's Mill at the lower dam, down-river from this building we're in. Their dry measures are now sought after by collectors. The West Henniker paper mill began operation in 1871 and continued into the 1970's. Davis' powder keg and mackerel kits business turned out impressive numbers annually. A three-story shoe shop was opened in 1873. William E. Cogswell owned the block on Main Street that housed his tin shop. Yes, Henniker was ceasing to be a town dominated primarily by agriculture. By the turn of the century there were fewer farms than before, but they were much better equipped and far more productive. Most were now dairy farms, supplying large amounts of cream to the local creameries and shipping daily carloads of milk to Boston. Edward N. Cogswell was clerk and treasurer of the Contoocook Valley Creamery Association, established in 1887.

In 1883 Washington C. Cogswell climbed to the top of the Congregational Church steeple with Deacon Horace Childs to replace the weathervane. Washington was 61 years old & Horace was 76!

Henniker Spring Water Co. was formed in 1884 with Cogswells being three of the original 14 stockholders.

About this same time, Henniker opened several guest homes for summer visitors in farms and large old homes. The village proper grew rapidly. Between 1886 and 1902 more than 60 new buildings were erected within the village limits. During this time a Cogswell personally attended to tree replacements on the town common as well as to the beautification of the grove in Community Park, which is just across the street from here. Scribner & Cogswell did the plastering in the newly built Emerson Block, the building that now houses the pharmacy. In 1890 Charles E. Cogswell returned to Henniker and opened a first-class barbershop on Bridge Street and his wife worked as a milliner.
John C. Cogswell did the mason work for the rebuilding of the Preston Block, the large building on the square that now houses the pizza place.

Edward K. Cogswell began working as a clerk in Folsom's general store in 1888. By 1895 he had married Mr. Folsom's daughter and bought the store from his new father-in-law. Mr. Cogswell then made sure that his store was the first to be wired for electric lights.

Mrs. E. Maria (wife of Washington) formed a reading club with 163 members, and the annual dues were set at 10 cents. She oversaw the growth of this reading club into a public library in less than two years and she served as its librarian for the next ten years.

Even in the 1890's, peoples homes were violated. During a night in August, Edward N.'s home was entered. The burglars found a box with $3.16 in it. They took the box and contents, and then went into the cellar to find something more of value, which they did. They ate the blueberry pie and cake that Mrs. Cogswell had made that day, and they were never identified.

Leander W. Cogswell was called upon to make speeches for various events in town. He spoke at the re-dedication of the Henniker Academy in 1888. He delivered the opening address at Henniker's first Old Home Week in 1899, sharing the podium with Henniker's well known poet, Edna Dean Proctor. He made a major address during Old Home days in 1903 at the laying of the cornerstone of the Tucker Free Library building on Western Avenue. Edward N. had been on the building committee.

The new century found Addie and E. Maria Cogswell as members of Henniker's Women's Club. Edward N., Leander A., Willis C., Charles C. and John C. were members of the Never Rest Club, a businessmen's club. Muriel Chase Cogswell was a Campfire Girl in 1915.

The water supply had not been adequate in the town center, so in 1914 Edward N. joined a committee to study the problem. Two years later he was named one of the first Water Commissioners of Henniker Water Works.

Memorial Day, 1920, is remembered because a Soldiers and Sailors monument was dedicated in Henniker. This monument is found next to Cogswell Memorial School on Western Avenue. On top is the full-sized bust of Col. Leander W. Cogswell. One plaque there reads as follows: “This monument is erected by voluntary subscriptions in memory of Col. Leander W. Cogswell and the men of Henniker who fought in all the American Wars.” There are also engraved plaques on the other three sides with the names of Henniker men who saw service in wars from the Revolution through World War I. Cogswell men found there are: Fitz E. and Leander W. of the Civil War; and Guy E. and Henry W. of World War I.

World War II veterans' names are found on the monument in Woodman Park in front of the Town Hall. David E. and Leander Reginald are listed there. David E. also served in the Korean War.

In 1920, the Henniker Universalist Church went out of existence. Leander A. Cogswell purchased the land and building for the town on condition that it be leased to the Knights of Pythias.

Leander A. was born in 1864, the middle son of David Warren and Eliza. After attending school in Henniker, he entered the shoe business. Eventually he owned his own plant in Manchester, about 30 miles southeast of here. One of his first donations to the town was a generous sum of money to improve the road to Weare. That was the road he traveled when he spent weekends in Henniker while working in Manchester. His engineering foreman invented a tool used for trimming leather to uniform thickness. The two men soon combined forces to promote the use of the tool, leasing the invention to other shoe factories. Through this, Leander became one of the wealthiest citizens of Henniker and a great benefactor.

Cogswell Springs Water Works came into being in 1921 with the donation of $50,000 to the Town of Henniker by Leander A. in memory of his parents. This memorial fund was to be used for public school maintenance, for shade and ornamental trees to be placed along highways, and for parks and commons that were located within one-half mile from Proctor Square. As a condition of this gift, the water works system then known as Henniker Water Works had to be named Cogswell Springs Water Works forever thereafter.

In 1925, the Methodists were having financial difficulty, so Leander bought their land, but not their church building. Later he gave the land to the Town of Henniker with the stipulation that the town return the land the church was sitting on and use the remainder of the land as a community park.

When he died in 1928, never having been married, his will revealed a gift to the town of $125,000 to build a high school. He required that the building cost between $75,000 and $90,000 with the balance to be put in a trust fund for its maintenance. He also donated the land to build it on. Cogswell Memorial School was built in 1930 with this bequest. He donated a piece of land behind the schools for a “Henniker Athletic Field” and $5,000 for its upkeep. He left land for Azalea Park and $5,000 for its upkeep and improvement.

The Town of Henniker was not the only beneficiary of Leander A. Cogswell. He left individual bequests totaling $205,000, with the balance of his estate left to set up the Cogswell Benevolent Trust.

The last male Cogswell in Henniker was David E. who died in 1997. He's buried in Henniker with at least 66 other Cogswells. If you're interested in who they are, there's a list on the table here, with enough copies for everyone.

Henniker is now home to New England College, established in 1946, and we have a popular ski area, called Pats Peak. We also have several delightful restaurants like this one. Want to take pictures to document your time here? Be sure to walk over the stone bridge in the center of town and take pictures of the covered bridge, best seen from there. Then go to the covered bridge and take pictures of the double-arch stone bridge, the first one built in New Hampshire.

Yes, Cogswells have been a vital part of Henniker for two hundred years and their progeny will surely continue to shape Henniker for many years to come.

We're glad to have been part of your 2001 Reunion. We hope you have fun in Maine tomorrow, and we look forward to giving you a tour of Cogswell sites on Sunday.

If you would like a printout of this talk, there are a few copies here and, beginning tomorrow morning, it will be posted on the Society's website at www.hennikerhistory.org.

Thank you very much for inviting me.


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