The Early History of the Laconia State School Property

By John A. Hopper

At its peak, the campus of the Laconia State School was comprised of some 328 acres. The large parcel was pieced together by the State of New Hampshire between 1901 and 1911.  Today that campus is divided in two large parcels. The School lands amount to c. 200 acres, and Ahern State Park consists of 128 acres. The acreage had some interesting historical roots. Most of its history was dominated by the single, extended family of Revolutionary War veteran, Joshua Crockett. For more than 120 years, it was the homestead farm of four generations of Crocketts.

The acreage was part of a newly created township that was granted to a group of 62 Seacoast colonists by the Masonian Proprietors in 1748. At that time, the future town was uninhabited. The earliest people living in the township region, the Native American Abenakis, had been driven out of New Hampshire during the previous decades as a result of colonial wars between England and France, the Abenakis having aligned with the French.

Shortly after receiving their grant, the group of colonists, known as Township Proprietors, undertook the preliminary steps for habitation of their grant. In 1750 they commissioned a survey of the southern-most section of the township, the area that now includes all of Laconia.  It was laid out in 82 defined lots of land consisting of 100 acres each. Ownership of each lot was then allocated by a blind drawing (a ‘lottery’) to the Masonian and Township Proprietors. This area became known as the First Division of lots in the new town.

But after this and a few other crucial steps, the development of the new town was halted for nearly a decade. A fifth Anglo-French war, which began in the mid-1750s, caused the stoppage. At the conclusion of the war, in 1762- 1763, the Township Propiretors took up the process again. Roads were cut to get there; a saw mill was built at Meredith Bridge; and encouragement was given for settlement.  By 1765, there were a dozen nascent farms underway in the First Division.

The acreage belonging to the Laconia State School was in the heart of the early settlement area. The 330 acres were part of four of the original 82 lots, located in the southernmost section of the Division. They were part of a subsection of the Division designated as the Point. Of the 14 Point lots, the School lands included all of Point Lots One and Two and parts of Point Lots Three and Four.

Point Lot 2 abutted the homestead of township leader, Ebenezer Smith, who became justifiably recognized as the founding father of Meredith. He built his home on Point Lot 10 at the head of Lake Opechee (then called Round Bay). A widely cited oral tradition holds that Smith and five others led a scouting party into the region around 1761. Separate versions of further hold that one of the five with him was either William Crockett or Joshua Crockett. The two were brothers. It goes on to say that the other four men fairly quickly returned to the Seacoast while Smith and Crockett stayed to pick out their future homesteads. They were said to have become the first settlers to build houses in the new township.[1]

While the oral tradition is almost certainly true as it pertains to Ebenezer Smith, the role of the Crockett family member is subject to doubt. Circumstantial evidence suggests that it was William who first moved into the new town. It is possible (perhaps even likely) that he also accompanied the early scouting party. But later Proprietor reports make it clear that William was not among the first settlers to set down roots in the new township. In September 1765, his name was not included among the first dozen settlers who had occupied the township.

It appears that William moved to the new town in 1769. In January 1770a visiting Masonian Proprietor reported that William was a recent settler who had just begun to clear trees off of the land of Point Lot Two, but he did not have a house. Nine months later, in November 1770, a report from Ebenezer Smith indicated that William had built a log house on the land.[2] Regardless, William Crockett did not have a long stay in Meredith. He either died or left town before the Revolution. Moreover, he never owned the property upon which he built.

Point Lot 2 was originally drawn to the Right of Samuel Palmer. Palmer died in 1763, having never visited the township nor had much of anything to do with the development of the town. Palmer’s ownership was purchased by Ebenezer Smith, although the details are not clear. This was one of numerous lot purchases made by Smith as part of his efforts to develop the town. In his desire to attract settlers to Meredith, Smith often encouraged people to occupy his lands free of charge with the understanding that they could develop the parcels, in some cases for many years, before having to buy them from him or sell them (splitting the proceeds). In the case of William Crockett, it is possible that William joined Smith on the early visits to the town; helped Smith clear his own lands first; and then began to develop Point Lot 2 for his own benefit.

It was around the time that William had built his log house that he was apparently joined by his brother, Joshua Crockett (1737-1815).  Unlike William, Joshua put down deep roots and became a prominent member of the Meredith community. He accumulated much of the land that is part of the Laconia School grounds. In his most recognizable role, Joshua was made Captain of General Joseph Badger’s Fourth Company (Meredith) in 1776 at the outset of the Revolution. Ebenezer Smith was a Colonel and second in command to Badger. In 1777, Joshua agreed to serve for three years in the Continental Army. After the state governor requested that Meredith contribute a quota of eight men to the Continental Army, Joshua accepted responsibility to raise the contingent and join him in that service. He was known as Captain Joshua Crockett thereafter.

Prior to his Revolutionary involvement, Joshua was very active in town affairs. He was voted a Selectman (1771 and 1776); auditor, surveyor and tithing man (1772); and deer keeper (1774), assessor (1775 and 1779), auditor (1778), and constable (1781). He was also voted to the committee to build the first meeting house in town in 1778 as well as being appointed to the Committee of Safety the same year.

Joshua built his homestead on Point Lot One, bordering Lake Winnisquam. He was the first settler on the lot. But he lived there for many years without actually owning it.[3]  Point Lot One was originally drawn in 1750 to Jotham Odiorne, one of the Masonian Proprietors. He died in 1751, and the lot became mired in the hundreds of other Masonian properties that comprised his estate. Disposition of the estate among Odiorne’s children was not finally resolved until 1780 when Point Lot One, among various other parcels, was inherited by Mary Odiorne Pearce and her husband, Peter, of Portsmouth.[4] The prolonged ‘orphanage’ of the lot probably accounted for Joshua’s ability to avoid purchasing it when he settled there. Joshua was undoubtedly supported in his occupancy of it by Ebenezer Smith. In 1791, however, ownership of the lot became an issue. A fellow Meredith townsman, Joseph Perkins, purchased Point Lot One from Peter Pearse. The dialogue between Perkins and Crockett is not known, but finally in 1795 Crockett purchased the lot from Perkins for $330.[5]

Captain Joshua Crockett lived on his homestead farm until his death in 1815.[6] Prior to his passing, he expanded the acreage under his ownership, bounded on the east by Lake Opechee and on the west by Lake Winnisquam and including in parts of Point Lots 2, 3 and/or 4. Following the Captain’s demise, 100 acres of the farm and the main house were inherited by his son, Samuel (1779-1854) who was one of Joshua’s eight children.[7] By 1828, Samuel’s land holdings had increased to 250 acres, with the heart of the farm being the grounds occupied by the Laconia State School.[8]

             Colonel S. Frank Crockett

On Samuel’s death in 1854, the ‘Joshua Crockett farm’ passed to his oldest son, Seldon Frank Crockett, who had long since left Meredith for Massachusetts. Known as Colonel S. Frank Crockett, by 1854 he had already become widely known as the proprietor of the Bromfield Hotel in Boston.[9] Nevertheless, ownership of the farm remained in the his hands until his death in 1868. It passed to his seven children who apparently owned it jointly into the 1890s. But by then, all of them had moved away from Laconia, well dispersed around the country: two were living in North Dakota; two others were in Massachusetts; two in Pennsylvania; and one in Minnesota.[10]

Over the years, they had sold off pieces of the farm, and the process culminated in 1894 when they agreed to sell the core of the old Crockett farm to John D. Cruikshank of Laconia.[11] He became the first non-Crockett to own the land in something like 120 years. Soon after, Cruikshank sold it again. The farm then moved through several owners until 1902 when it was sold to the state of New Hampshire, ultimately becoming the Laconia State School.[12] The state added other parcels to it over the next few years, culminating in a 70 acre purchase in 1911.[13]

[1] See, for example, The History of Merrimack and Belknap Counties, pp. 827-828; Meredith Parade by Carl Blaisdell, pp. 6-8; and Meredith, N.H., Annals and Genealogies, arranged by Mary E. Neal Hanaford, p. 170.

[2] See, State Papers, volume XXVII, pp. 489 and 895.

[3] Town records indicate that his status as occupant (rather than owner) was well known.

[4] Belknap Registry of Deeds, on-line database, B/P 9002/120-124.

[5] See B/P 9001/674 Pearce to Perkins and then 9002/411 Perkins to Crockett.

[6] Captain Joshua Crockett’s grave is located in the Round Bay Cemetery on Parade Road. Ebenezer Smith is buried there as well.

[7] NH Wills and Probate Records, 1643-1982.

[8] Meredith Inventory and Tax Records, 1828, Meredith Historical Society Archives.

[9] The History of Merrimack and Belknap Counties, Hurd (1885) pp. 827-828.

[10] B/P 92/441.

[11] B/P 92/441 and B/P 92/426.

[12] B/P 93/556; 103/481;108/13; 108/14 among others.

[13] B/P 131/145.

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