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Hillsborough’s Winter Carnival

By Tim Finn

Submitted – January 2022

The tradition of winter carnivals in New Hampshire started at Dartmouth College in 1911. “  The town of Newport jumped on board with a winter carnival“ in 1916.“  Hillsborough joined the emerging tradition in 1925 after the Hillsborough Messenger, in a January 8 front page editorial, asked: “Why not winter sports in Hillsboro?”“  Members of the Hillsborough Center Club stepped forward and organized an event involving ski racing, snowshoe baseball, a baked bean supper and a carnival ball.“  A winter festival, held in January or February, was held periodically through the late 1920’s into the 1930’s.“  World War II and postwar economic instability disrupted the tradition until winter carnivals re-emerged in the mid-1950’s.“  After another break in the tradition during much of the 1960’s, Hillsboro-Deering High School stepped in during the 1970’s to keep the winter carnival torch alive and the Hillsboro chapter of the Jaycees briefly joined the effort in the late 1970’s.

Hillsborough’s early winter carnivals combined outdoor winter sporting activities with evening entertainments centered around a carnival ball.“  In addition to skiing, skating, tobogganing and dog sledding, winter carnivals offered horse racing, snowshoeing, basketball, baseball, and airplane rides taking off from Pierce Lake.“  A grand parade down Main Street consisting of floats and sleighs drawn by one- and two-horse hitches took place in 1929.“  A noteworthy exception to the parade guidelines was Deering’s E.P. Dutton’s 10 yoke of oxen. “  In the winter of 1930-31, the Boston and Maine Railroad began to run highly successful “snow trains” to New Hampshire, which increased outdoor recreation state-wide.“  In 1932, a “snow train” brought 1,200 “winter sports enthusiasts” from Boston, Worcester, Manchester and Concord to Hillsborough’s day-long winter carnival.“  The late 1950’s saw snow sculptures and chainsaw wood cutting contests in Butler Park.“  In 1968, an event involving 52 snow machines competing in races drew a crowd of 800 to the fields west of town,“ across from today’s“ Osram/Sylvania plant.

Winter carnival 1929 parade
Hillsboro Winter Carnival 1929, mounted riders and American Legion color guard leading the Grand Parade

A variety of locations in Hillsborough and Deering have been settings for the outdoor events.“  Hillsborough Center hosted the first two winter carnivals, while Grimes Field and Pierce Lake anchored events in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.“  The February 23,1933, edition of The Hillsboro Messenger observed that Pierce Lake and its surrounding hills were perhaps the most “natural and beautiful spot in New England for a winter carnival” and suggested that the area be developed into a regional winter sports destination.“  Enameled metal signs were produced promoting Hillsborough along with“ nearby Washington and Deering as “The Switzerland of New England.”“  This vision of a winter sport snow-bowl in the hills around Pierce Lake did not materialize but the Carew family did build a ski tow in Deering Center in the late 1940’s.“  The Deering ski tow hosted competitive high school ski races as part of the winter carnivals of the 1950’s.“  Dog sled teams, always a highlight of winter carnivals, competed on a 13.2-mile course through Hillsborough and Deering.“  Twenty-two teams competed in races organized by the New England Sled Dog Race Association in 1957.“  A year later, over 1,000 spectators turned out to watch 19 teams compete over two days.

Skiing Deering 1957
Winter Carnival 1957, ski competition at Carew Ski Tow in Deering
Dog sled race Hillsboro 1957
Winter Carnival 1957, dog sled race through Hillsboro

The success of the annual winter carnival has depended on the energy and commitment of town organizers and, of course, the cooperation of an unpredictable mother nature.“  Mabel Gay mobilized the efforts of the Hillsboro Center Club during the 1920’s. The Hillsboro Business Association, led by Phillip Woodbury, George Gould, Frank Gay and William Niedner,“ spearheaded efforts during the late 1920’s and early 30’s.“  A Recreation Council took charge in the 1950’s to oversee an expanded three-day event with Harold Byam, Harvey Chandler and Dave Smith chairing the carnival committee at various times.“  The Hillsborough business community and individual donors provided funding.“  In the 1950’s local businesses stepped forward to sponsor one or more of the 20 plus dog sled teams that competed in the New England Sled Dog races.“  In the late 1970’s, Hillsborough’s Jaycees, led by Mike Marguiles and Leigh Bosse, organized a town-wide “WinterThing” celebration.“  Students and staff in the Hillsboro-Deering schools have continued the tradition of the annual winter carnival since the 1970’s.

The indoor activities held on Friday and Saturday evenings included one-act plays, high school basketball games and the highlight of the weekend, the carnival ball and the crowning of the carnival ball queen.“  In 1929 events were held at the Hillsborough Opera House.“  That year, the Hillsboro Dramatic Club put on a one act play/farce, “The Hickville Bungler.”“  During the 1950’s, a drum and bugle corps performance, square dancing, round dancing and Sunday church services were added to the program.“  The carnival ball and crowning of the ball queen took place throughout the history of Hillsborough’s winter carnival.“  Mrs. George F. Gould was crowned Carnival Queen in 1925.“  Doris Radford took the honor in 1929, while Henniker’s Judy Ward was Carnival Queen in 1958.

Radford 'Queen of Snows' 1929
Winter Carnival 1929, Miss Doris Radford, “Queen of the Snows”

As mentioned, another break in the winter carnival tradition appears to have occurred in the 1960’s.“  The Recreation Council disbanded in 1960.“  Ideal weather conditions, always hit or miss, were mostly a miss in 1959 and again in 1960.“  In fact, the lack of snow in 1960 led to the last-minute cancellation of the New England Sled Dog races.“  The winter carnival torch was then picked up and kept alive by Hillsboro-Deering students and staff.“  Hillsboro-Deering High School’s 1974 winter carnival was over a week long. “  When mother nature failed to deliver adequate snow, the Hillsboro Public Works Department stepped in to haul snow to ensure that skiing and snow sculpture contests took place as planned.“  Other activities included class skits, basketball games, a carnival dance and carnival queen, poetry, poster and photography contests as well as broom hockey on the Grimes Field ice rink.“  The Jaycees’ “WinterThing” in 1978 briefly resurrected the multi-event, multi-day town-wide winter carnival.“  Over the course of ten days in late January residents and guests competed in cross country snow mobile races, as well as card games and bingo.“  Hillsboro once again hosted New England sled dog races.“  There was a bonfire/skating party and a ham & bean supper.“  Mother nature did not disappoint.“  A young folks’ winter Olympics, originally scheduled for Saturday, January 21, was postponed due to heavy snowfall the day before.“  While organizers had the skiing venue ready to go on the 21st many of the competitors could not make it to the event.“  A successful winter Olympics took place on February 12.

Hillsborough can take great pride in the success of its winter carnivals.“  Visitors from throughout New England have journeyed to Hillsborough to compete in a variety of events and to enjoy the area’s natural winter beauty.“  More importantly, Hillsborough residents of all ages have joined in the community wide effort.“  The town’s business community, schools, civic organizations and ad hoc committees have come together to host multi-event and multi-day winter celebrations.“  This spirit of civic engagement continued into the late 20tth and early 21st centuries through the Hillsborough Balloon Festival, Summerfest, the Schnitzel Festival and History Alive celebrations.“  It continues today as Hillsborough celebrates its 250th anniversary.

Sources:

This overview of Hillsboro’s winter carnival tradition is mostly drawn from numerous articles from the Hillsboro Messenger archives available online through Hillsborough’s Fuller Public Library.

 

Baldwin, Harrison C “ The History of Hillsborough New Hampshire: 1921 to 1963“  Transcript Printing Co.,

Peterborough, NH“  c. 1964

 

Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration, New Hampshire: A Guide To The“ 

Granite State,“  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., c. 1938, p. 524.

 

Hillsboro Messenger“  1/8/1925, 1/22/25, 2/12/25, 2/26/25, 2/18/26, 225/26, 1/10/1929, 1/31/29, 2/6/29, 2/14/29, 2/21/29, 2/28/29, 2/20/30, 2/27/30, 3/3/32, 2/16/33.2/23/33, 1/14/60, 1/24/57, 1/18/58, 1/23/58, 2/15/1968, 2/22/68, 2/20/74, 1/11/78, 1/18/78

 

Hillsborough Town Reports, 1954 to 1959.

 

 

 

News

Tragedy and A Snow Train Come To Hillsborough

By Tim Finn

Submitted – September 2021

Tragedy and A Snow Train Come to Hillsborough

The last week of February 1932 brought tragedy and a snow train to Hillsborough-area residents.

On Wednesday, February 24, 12-year-old Hendrick Jordan and 11-year-old Antres Onnela drowned in the Contoocook River upstream from“  Bridge Street while skating on the recently frozen river.“  It was school vacation week and the boys had headed off to go skating around 9:30 a.m.“  Antres’ father, who had warned them against skating on the river, went to look for the boys when they failed to return to the Onnela family home near Grimes Hill.“  He found their shoes on the river bank, skate marks on the ice, and a hole in the ice where the boys had fallen in.“  An intense multi-day search followed led by Police Chief Frank Paige and involved frantic family members, Hillsborough residents (including all three selectmen), and eventually, a professional diver from Somerville, Massachusetts.“  The boys’ fathers and volunteers searched all night Wednesday and into Thursday when temperatures approached 0 degrees Fahrenheit.“  The diver, Fred Wallace, located Hendrick’s body around midday on Friday, February 26, near where the boys had fallen in.“  The search for Antres continued Friday afternoon and into Saturday.“  His body was recovered late in the day on Saturday, about 200 feet downriver.“ “ 

While this tragedy was unfolding, the grief-stricken town prepared for the arrival of a “snow train” carrying 1,200 “winter sports enthusiasts” for a snow carnival to be held on Sunday, February 28.“  The Boston and Maine Railroad had recently been marketing Sunday snow train excursions to various locations in New Hampshire, including Crawford and Pinkham Notches, Warner and Jaffrey.“  After consulting “reports furnished by expert observers” associated with the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Ski Committee, the company would announce the snow train’s destination on Boston radio stations (WEEI) and in Boston newspapers on Fridays and Saturdays. “  Snow trains would leave Boston and Worcester early Sunday morning bound for New Hampshire, described as the “Switzerland of New England.”“  In addition to passenger cars, the trains included supply cars stocked with equipment for purchase or rent and dining cars. Round trip tickets cost $1.75 to $2.75, depending upon the destination.“  Lunch could be had for .65 cents and dinner for .90 cents.“  William Niedner, Philip Woodbury, and other members of the Hillsborough Business Association had been working since early January to arrange a snow train to Hillsborough.“  A meeting had been held to gauge local support for hosting a snow train. “  Niedner (who owned Rosewald Farm) had even traveled to B & M offices in Boston to advocate for Hillsborough.“  Committees had been meeting to address transportation, hospitality, and publicity needs. It appears that word reached Hillsborough sometime on Friday that the town was the destination for a snow train on Sunday, February 28.“  At that point, the search for the boys was ongoing and there apparently wasn’t time to alter Sunday’s plans.“  The snow train arrived Sunday morning at Hillsborough Depot greeted by the Hillsborough Band playing “Hail, Hail the Gang’s All Here.” “  Local residents were on hand in cars and trucks to transport guests to various winter sporting sites around town.“  Visitors from near and far arrived to participate in skiing, skating, snowshoeing, tobogganing, and dog sledding.“  The Jackman Reservoir (Pierce Lake) below Gibson Mountain was an especially active site where, in addition to skating, skiing, and dog sledding, folks could get a ride in Stewart Astles’ airplane.“  The Rosewald Farm and Parker Hill were also busy venues as was a site in Deering.“  Dining services were available at the Hillsborough Community Hall and on B & M RR dining cars. Local boys helped guide guests to and around the sites.“ 

Summer scene of Hillsboro Depot
Hillsborough Depot (summer scene) where the band and residents greeted the snow train.

The snow train departed Hillsborough on its return trip late in the day on Sunday.“  Funerals for the two boys were held the next day from their homes. The service for Antres Onnela started at 1 pm and was led by Rev. Frank Coad of Smith Memorial Church.“  Classmates who served as his funeral bearers were Norman Coad, James Stafford, Harold Travers, Earl Boutelle, Leo Laflamme, and Frank Camara. “  One hour later, Rev. H.H. Crawford of the Deering Community Church led the service for Hendrick. “  George Colby, Donald Mellen, Albert Mosley, George Barrett, Norman Crooker, and Harold Travers served as bearers for Hendrick.“ “ 

Hendrick Jordan’s family had recently relocated to Hillsborough Bridge from Deering. “  Perhaps Hendrick’s family moved to Hillsborough for opportunities not then available in Deering.“  Hillsborough’s business community, in addition to bringing the snow train to town, had recently reopened the closed woolen mill under the auspices of the Hillsborough Hosiery Company.“  Hillsborough also had a new high school.“  In fact, the boys’ high school basketball team traveled to Durham the weekend after the funerals to take part in the state basketball tournament.“ “ 

Antres Onnela, through his mother Caroline C. Bixby, was a direct descendant of Joseph Bixby who immigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony around 1638.“  Joseph Bixby settled in Rowley. Massachusetts (now Boxford, Massachusetts) in 1660 and served in the Rowley militia company during King Philip’s War in 1675-76.“  Antres was also a direct descendant of Thomas Bixby of Francestown, New Hampshire, who fought at Bunker Hill in 1775 with Colonel Prescott’s Regiment.“  Antres’s father, as well as both of Hendrick’s parents, were more recent immigrants to the area. “  Wilhart Onnela had immigrated from Finland.“  Hendrick’s father, Philip, was born in Russia while his mother, Tatania Lopata, was from Poland.“ “ 

Hendrick and Antres are buried not far from each other in Deering’s Butler Cemetery, just up the hill from the bridge over the Contoocook River.“ 

A number of historic themes are at play in this tragic story from Hillsborough’s past.“  Joseph Bixby arrived in New England as part of the Puritan migration of the 1630s which established Boston and the Massachusetts Bay Colony.“  Later that century, the indigenous peoples, including the Wampanoags and Nipmucks fought a bloody war with these settlers to defend their land and way of life.“  Later still, descendants of these settlers, including Thomas Bixby, fought a successful war of independence against Great Britain.“  By that time settlers had moved into the river valleys and hill country of New Hampshire and established farms and towns clustered around meeting houses.“  Even later, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, large numbers of immigrants, many from Eastern Europe, arrived in New Hampshire to work in the mills that had developed along the rivers tumbling out of the hills.“  By the 1930s, however, these mills were suffering and closing during the Great Depression.“  The snow trains of the early 1930s pointed at New Hampshire’s future as a destination for outdoor enthusiasts eager for a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.“ “ “ 

Sources: “ 

Annual Report of the Town of Hillsborough, NH For the Year Ending January 31, 1933.

Browne, George Waldo“  The History of Hillsborough N.N. 1735-1921, Volume II

Biography & Genealogy“  Published by the town, c. 1922“  pp. 69-70

The Concord Daily Monitor “  2/25/ 1932 p. 1, & 2/26/1932 p.1, & 2/29/ 1932 p.5.

The Hillsborough Messenger “  12/31/1931 to 3/17/1932“ 

(Key articles are from 2/25/1932 p.1 & 3/3/1932 p.1).

“  “  History of Francestown, NH by Cochrane & Wood, c 1895 (p. 517 & p. 521).

The Manchester Union Leader “  2/25/1932 p. 1, 2/26/1932 pp. 1 & 3, 2/29/32 p. 1 & 3.

“ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “  The Snow Train, Boston and Maine Railroad publication, 1934.

 

 

News

Sap’s Running – The Sweetest Season

By Cynthia Van Hazinga

It’s a timeless tradition.

Sugaring Always Makes News in Town

For 33 years the Hunt family in Hillsborough Upper Village has carried wood, fired up the boiler, and turned clear-as-water maple sap into sweet, golden syrup. Charles Hunt, Sr., (with his son Charlie) owns the sugarhouse at 28 Gleason Falls Road and is the chief operator. He and his wife Teresa started with 10 buckets and a little shed; last year they bottled 600 gallons of syrup. “I’d love to make 1,000 this year,” he told us in late January, soon after Hunt’s product was rated “Best of the Year” by the N.H. Maple Producers Association. Making maple syrup is an amazing process, but it’s not easy and a lot of it is beyond human control. The most important single factor in sugaring is the weather. This year, Hunt is looking forward to a cold, sunny February – and, of course, March.  He started tapping trees in late January, waiting for the weather to be just right.

“ January 16, 1896 – “Harold and Frank Harvey tapped some sugar trees the last of December and sugared off January 1st, and from personal knowledge, the flavor of the syrup can be highly praised. We never tasted any that was nicer.” — Hillsborough Messenger

“ “The better the weather, the sooner we start,” Hunt says. Sap runs need long, cold springs to set off the contest between frost and the sun. An ideal day for collecting sap? “I’d like to see 27-28 degrees at night, then 34-35 degrees at 9 a.m. with bright sun and a blue sky.”

Like many sugar producers, Hunt thinks the first run of sap is the best. “If you miss it, you’ll never get it back – it’s gone,” he says.

The precise origins of sugaring are lost in time, but it’s certain Native Americans made syrup and solid sugar, and the earliest European settlers were quick to follow the practice. During the American Revolution, maple sugar was touted as a patriotic and moral alternative to sugar cane produced by slaves in the British-controlled West Indies. Ever since, most farmers tapped nearby trees and boiled enough syrup for family use and a little extra income. Old-time sugar makers trudged through the snow, hung covered buckets over hand-carved or metal taps, and used oxen pulling a sled to collect sap. Traditionally, tapping started after Town Meeting.

April 17, 1916, “Maple sugarmaking has commenced. Perley Crane is assisting A.E. Follansbee in making sugar. James Knight will tap about four thousand trees.” –

“ March 6, 1916 – “George Clough from the Lower Village is helping Elmer and Kenneth Crane during sugaring. Those who have tapped, report a good run of sap.” — Messenger

Sugaring has always been a family business and is today. Charles Hunt, Sr. works with his son, whose taps are on the old Crane farm off Route 31; his wife Teresa does the business bookkeeping. Teresa (Crane) Hunt grew up in the maple sugaring business. Her father, Robert Crane, was a farmer and sugar maker as well as the road agent for the town of Washington.“  Her great-uncle Richard Crane (auctioneer, raconteur, and 101% rebel during the nuclear dump resistance in the mid-1980s), boiled syrup in the Upper Village from the 1930s till his death. And patriarch Perley Crane, Teresa’s grandfather, started his sap-to-sugar operation in the teens of the 20th century and made syrup every year of his life.

 

February 9, 1976,“  “Sugar makers are clearing roads and yards around the sugar houses. Donald Crane is the new president of the Maple Sugar Association. How proud his father would be! Sugar making comes down a long way in the Crane family and it looks as if it would continue, for Bobby thinks it is the best time of the whole farm year!”“ 

March 13, 1976, “Dimp Crane and his men are busy making maple syrup. They report a fine run of sap as do others who are thoroughly enjoying the results of a good sugar season.” — Messenger,

The maples – sugar and some red – the Hunts tap grow on almost 100 acres in the Upper Village and nearby Washington, some acres family-owned and some rented. The sugarbush is carefully managed according to a forestry plan. Every tree gets visited multiple times, inspected, trimmed, and set up with a connection to the miles – (about 5 or 6 miles) – of food-grade plastic pipe. All the pipes have to be carefully inspected and upgraded when needed.

Sugaring is not a seasonal occupation. The Hunts work at it year-round. They burn wood, the traditional fuel for the fire. “It takes all year to get everything ready,” Charles Hunt told me. The goal is maximum production with maximum efficiency. Cutting and stacking the wood is a months-long process. Hunt burns about 11 cords of wood in a sugaring season and cuts wood a year ahead.“  (His neatly stacked wood sheds are a sight to admire.) It’s about 99% pulp pine – wood otherwise destined for chips or pellets. To boil sap efficiently, the wood has to be cut the right size, and it has to be dry. Hunt sees to this himself. “Every stick has to be just right – no fooling around.”

March 26, 1914, “Spring was snapped on us last Saturday, but the fellow who was handling the thermometer forgot to turn on the heat.” –“  “The snow is quite deep in the woods with a crust as strong as ice.”–“ 

April 9, 1914, “The last week has been reported as an excellent sap week and Wednesday of last week was reported by some as a record-breaker.” past week.” — Hillsborough Messenger,

At Hunt’s Sugar House, boiling syrup takes at least three well-trained workers, as well as grandson Brayden Hunt, an entrepreneur who’s already making and selling maple cotton candy. One man, usually brother-in-law Guy Eaton, tends the fire and keeps it going. Another key player, often son Charlie,“  monitors and tests the syrup as it thickens in stainless steel evaporating pans on the steel and masonry arch over the fire, and tests it for density using a hydrometer. At 219 degrees, it’s syrup, but the Hunts, using a hydrometer, start to test it at 211 degrees and draw it off at precisely the right density to be filtered and graded by color.

Then comes bottling, dealing with sales, and keeping up the stock of syrup, maple candy, maple cream, and dry maple sugar. Here’s where the visitors come in – hordes of them – to watch, taste, and buy. In one good night, the Hunts may process 40 gallons of finished syrup.

That’s a staggering amount of maple syrup, and it’s made possible by many technological advances in sap collection and processing. Hunt calls those he enlists“  “enhancement opportunities.” An important one is reverse osmosis, which concentrates sap by pulling it through sensitive membranes, greatly reducing water content before boiling, even up to 25% of volume. Hunt uses a modern evaporator and a timer that buzzes every 7 minutes to signal reloading to keep a constant heat. He uses forced draft burners, steam hoods, a defoamer, a hydrometer, and a finishing pan. Automatic draw-off monitors the temperature in the syrup pan. And electric modulating draws off liquid by density.

Sugar making is clearly a New Hampshire tradition, good business, carbon thrifty, and great fun to watch. Maple syrup is a unique product, made in small batches on a small portion of the globe. Its market is practically guaranteed.

There may even be a trickle-down profit.

April 9, 1901–“  “Maple syrup labels are now in order. We print them; get our prices.”– Hillsborough Messenger,