NH News
7:00 am
Tue November 26, 2013

Sandwich: 250 Years In The Making

Benning Wentworth was not only the longest serving Provincial Governor of New Hampshire but of any colony in British North America and that’s because he knew how to make people happy.  

And one way he did that, was by naming many of the towns he granted around the time of 1763 in honor of influential men back in Britain.

And so that’s why Sandwich was named after… you guessed it, John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich. But Montagu was more than just a guy who decided to one day put a slab of meat between two slices of bread, according to Plymouth State University History professor, Marsha Schmidt Blaine, at that time he was a considerable influence on our state

Archive photo of John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich
Credit Archive

“Sandwich was someone who over in England who would make sure that New Hampshire would get preferential treatment, when necessary got the laws that they needed. New Hampshire had, as all colonies did, lobbyists who tried to make sure they pleased certain people; well the Earl of       Sandwich was one of them.”

But Wentworth knew how to make his friends in New Hampshire happy as well.  So when he granted the land for Sandwich to a bunch of influential Exeter proprietors, he gave them more than the typical 6 mile by 6 mile plot of land.

“They said all we have are stones and high rocky cliffs that it’s not arable land and so he made the town larger. So, I can imagine these Exeter proprietors must have been some men of note and they got not just a larger town, they got a humongous town 10 by 10 miles.”

And so Sandwich became one of the geographically largest towns in New Hampshire.

But the town wasn’t just big, by the early nineteenth century; it was the 6th largest in population.  Joan Cook is a lifelong resident of Sandwich who’s written several books on the town. She says the town grew for two reasons: decent farmland and the Sandwich Notch road which opened a trade route through the White Mountains.

“It was the major North /South highway from Canada to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. And they’d come down through with great loads of produce. There were talks of turkey drives, they’d roost in the trees at night and it must have been quite a sight.”

Because of this road, Sandwich became a thriving agricultural and industrial community, so much so, that it was nearly considered to be New Hampshire’s state capital. But by the mid-1800s, Sandwich took its first major hit. There was a new form of transportation shaping the state, the railroad. When officials began laying track routes up north, Marcia Schmidt Blaine says, Sandwich was bypassed

“Imagine yourself as a farmer during that time. You are now going to have a much greater expense in getting your goods to market. As a matter of fact, the agricultural products coming from the Midwest cost less in Boston than goods from Sandwich. So we’re looking this town, not knowing what to do at that point They had been a major trade route and now suddenly they’re not. So that’s the beginning of the big change for Sandwich.”

The town needed to reinvent itself.   Although the railroad had taken away Sandwich’s agricultural vibrancy, residents say it left the town strikingly unspoiled. Plus, they had Squam Lake and it was close enough to the White Mountains. And those giant farmhouses could hold a lot of people.

“And so farmers began renting their bedrooms out they began to serve milk on a regular basis, give fresh produce. So they began to feed the tourist and house the tourist and then gradually the tourist began buying up the lands that they were around, building new houses, buying up old farms.”

Soon Sandwich would become a summer mecca for travelers from all over the Northeast.  Then more reinvention came through an effort led by Sandwich resident Mary Coolidge. Mrs. Coolidge noted that many of the women in town were particularly skilled in certain crafts from hooked rugs, to woolen sweaters, to fancy pottery. According to New Hampshire historian Stuart Wallace, Coolidge saw the tourists as a perfect way to capitalize on these crafts

Sandwich Home Industries

“And so what she did was she actually started to put these on display and created something called the Sandwich Home Industries which ran during the summer. And it was really just a way for local people to show off their wares and to sell them to the tourists. You could come up and spend a delightful summer in NH and by the way take home one of these wonderful hooked rugs, a way to make a little extra money”

Later, Mary Coolidge would team up with a silversmith from Wolfeboro named A. Cooper Ballantine and form the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, an organization that in part, got its start in Sandwich.

Crafts from the window of the Sandwich Home Industries
Credit Keith Shields, NHPR

As the town moved toward its future as a tourist destination, it worked hard on maintaining its past. Sandwich Historical Society Director Adam Nudd-Homeyer says townspeople began to do annual excursions. A tradition upheld every Old Home Week.

“They started doing essentially auto tours around town going through, all the old houses, all the old cellar holes and people would cue up at places around town and go out and visit these different sites and there was a guide to go with it and then it was later chrono-logged in what was known as a bulletin and that’s now for 94 years been a tradition.”

This creation has resulted in one of the most diligently researched towns in New Hampshire with nearly eight thousand pages written about Sandwich from these bulletins alone.

The town’s 250th celebration is just as extensive. There’s a year’s worth of activities, keepsakes that range from T- shirts to commemorative coins,to a pewter holiday ornament.

Commemorative 250 coin for Sandwich, NH
Credit Keith Shields, NHPR

At the beginning of the year, a time capsule from the bicentennial was unearthed and this December 28th, a new time capsule will be buried for future residents to dig up in another fifty years.

There’s no central theme to the sestercentenial and it seems like the organizers of Sandwich want it that way. After all, the town has not had one central theme; it’s changed with the times. And when the times change, the citizens adapt and find their place… and idea that Adam Nudd-Homeyer refers to as the Sandwich vortex        

“It pulls you in and when coincidences start happening, just pay attention because in Sandwich it means something and you just follow it. It’s happened to so many people I couldn’t count them off. It’s just the story of people going with the way the world works and making it work in Sandwich”

For New Hampshire Public Radio, I’m Keith Shields