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Historians share facts on local economy in Derry

Union Leader Correspondent

September 27. 2013 9:42PM
Speakers Peter Griffin, right, and Richard Holmes answer questions from the audience Thursday during a presentation at the Robert Frost home in Derry. (HUNTER McGEE/Union Leader Correspondent)

DERRY — Two speakers took listeners on a retrospective journey Thursday from a time when the local economy was tied to agriculture to the transformative impact of Interstate-93 on the region.

Held at the Robert Frost Farm, "Business, Industry and the Local Economy" was the first of a three-part series by the Greater Derry-Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.

Historian Richard Holmes of the Derry Historical Society presented some farm implements from the period to the audience. He also explained the creative ways some people used a device known as a "bee box" to turn honey into cash.

The small box was several inches long with a glass window. It would hold several bees that were captured earlier and were marked with colored chalk, Holmes said.

"You would shake them up," Holmes said, drawing some laughs from the audience as he added, "you now have very angry bees."

A bee was released with the hope that it would fly straight back on a beeline to the swarm. Because bees were marked with chalk, they could easily be identified from the other bees, he said.

But it didn't always work out that way as it sometimes became difficult to follow a bee, and the trail would be lost.

"Now, if you ran out of bees you'd mark where you were, go out and get some more bees, shake them up and let them out, and that's how you would get your honey," Holmes said.

It could take a day or even up to three days to find a swarm. But when it was found, a single swarm could yield up to 100 pounds of honey and as much as $12 cash, which represented a fair amount of money for the period.

Peter Griffin of the Windham Heritage Commission discussed how the area was dramatically affected in the mid-1800s by the development of a transportation network. The rail line was key to the state's tremendous growth and at one point, there were 20 points of access to rail between New Hampshire, the neighboring states and Canada. Today, there is only one point of access in the eastern part of the state.

Trolleys came along and also helped the area expand. The shortest trolley ran just 7.25 miles from Derry to Chester, existing from 1896 to 1928. The Manchester to Derry trolley, also servicing Londonderry, ran from 1907 to 1926.

"The trolleys in particular, and with rail, made anywhere accessible," Griffin said.

Dense downtown areas developed in Derry and Salem and, to a lesser degree, in parts of Londonderry. These areas had churches, fraternal houses, retail stores, movie theaters and pubs that were accessible by public transportation, Griffin said.

"So in other words, you could go shopping on a Saturday afternoon, go carousing on a Saturday night and go to church for redemption on Sunday morning," Griffin said, drawing some laughter from the audience.

Griffin explained how the opening of Interstate 93 in 1963 had a profound effect on the way of life in the area by providing greater accessibility to Boston. Because of the dramatic expansion, Southern New Hampshire is officially recognized by the federal government as being part of the Greater Boston Transportation District.

Business History Derry Londonderry

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