Current Events



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.




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,




History Alive! – Winter 2022

News from History AliveRandom baseball and railroad photos

We’ve prepared a lot of interesting events for the History Alive weekend.“  Steve Taylor is our Project Advisor for our theme of Travel/Transport thru the Centuries. Sherry Gould is our Abenaki advisor (Most Abenaki events will happen at Kemp Park).“ “  We have two specific requests:

  1. Are you a railroad buff? History Alive needs someone who loves railroads to help pull together the photos that are in the Museum. We had Charles Martin, author of Rail Trails in NH ready to come speak, but he is very sick, so we need someone who already knows other railroad buffs in NH to help us find a good alternative speaker. None of us on the HA steering committee have expertise in this area.
  2. Are you a baseball buff We need someone to pull together the photos and other paraphernalia of baseball from years ago. Since the Essex Vintage Team that came last year can’t come due to a national gathering/competition of vintage baseball teams scheduled in Providence, RI the same time as History Alive, we’ can’t get a vintage team to come. Joe Clement from Henniker, who used to be a pro player in Houston Astros, suggested we could gather alumni or former players from Henniker versus Hillsboro to have a fun game this summer instead. Contact Marian or Laurie if interested in helping us.
  3. On July 11th at 7 PM at Fox Forest, we’re planning to have Sherry Gould come to speak on what is known of Abenaki history in Hillsboro and Washington. Washington Historical Society is willing to co-sponsor this event with HHS or History Alive, as a precursor to History Alive. Anyone who has any artifacts, or has ideas of possible rock formations that might be of importance to Abenaki history are welcome to bring photos with them.