Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: Bride Hill Sawmills

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Bride Hill Sawmills

A glance at the map will show where the Bride Hill mill-stream, which rises in the "Old Swamp," enters Taylor's river, the general direction of the stream and the location of the two sawmills. The history of these mills is involved in some obscurity, though they do not appear to be very ancient. They are not marked on the plan of the town, made in 1806; but the following year, Capt. Samuel James bought of James Leavitt one share in the LOWER MILL.

Originally, the property of each mill was divided into eight shares; and this arrangement still holds with regard to the lower mill, the present shareholders being: Elias D. Elkins, three shares, George N. Batchelder, Mary C. Chase, Norman Marston, Ralph S. James and John A. Towle, each one share. The mill has been silent for two years; but is now about to undergo repairs, and be restored to its former activity.

In course of time, all the shares in the UPPER MILL came to be owned by two men, namely: John Dearborn, six shares, and Stacy Towle, two shares. Subsequently, Jonathan Philbrook, of North Hampton, owned all the shares; and of his heirs, Walter L. Drake bought the whole property in the fall of 1870, since which time this mill has been generally known as DRAKE'S MILL. Mr. Drake owns the adjoining pastures, and therefore has the right of flowage.

Marston's Gristmill

Cornet David Marston built a gristmill, at an unknown date, on an elevation at the lower end of his pasture in "Isaac's Swamp," on a small stream, running into the Bride Hill mill-stream. A cart path, beginning on the North Hampton road, a little north of David A. Marston's present homestead, led to the mill, which stood not far from the town line, on the Hampton side. The property descended to David Simon Marston, son of the former owner, and he finally took down the mill. The sills still remain.

Little River Mills

Peter Johnson's Gristmill

February 17, 1672: The town granted liberty to Peter Johnson to set up a gristmill upon the Little river, above the meadows, near to the Barren Hill, [Barren hill is just above the present middle mill site, on the north side of the stream.] in the most convenient place, where the said Peter Johnson shall choose; and the like liberty is granted him to set up a fulling-mill and a turning-gear, if he see meet, and upon this condition: the said Peter Johnson doth relinquish his right of a grant formerly granted to him at Nilus river (of an unknown date).

This is very nearly the site of the present middle sawmill, owned by R. L. Moulton, and built over in 1855.

The Upper Sawmill

A company, consisting of James Johnson, Josiah Sanborn, John Hobbs, John Dearborn, Sen., Samuel Dearborn, Caleb Marston, Thomas Roby and Samuel Roby, was formed -- probably in 1692 -- for the purpose of building and operating a sawmill on Little river, above the site granted to Peter Johnson for a mill, more than twenty years before. They built a dam, and made preparation to erect a mill the next summer. As yet, however, they had not received any grant from the town. The case was brought up and acted upon in town-meeting on the 24th of March, 1693. The proceedings of the company had evidently been irregular, and all the members were regarded as trespassers and ordered to desist, unless they should agree to such terms as should be proposed; and the town chose Capt. Henry Dow, Lieut. John Smith, and Lieut. Christopher Palmer, a committee to draw up articles of agreement to be assented to, and subscribed by the members of the company. The terms were agreed upon and the names subscribed September 4, 1693.

The town granted to the members of the company the benefit of the water-power and a suitable mill-yard, to be held by them, their heirs and assigns, so long as they maintained a mill there, and also guaranteed that no dam should be built between their mill and Peter Johnson's old grant. In consideration of this, the grantees agreed to give the town eight thousand feet of merchantable pine boards out of the first ten thousand feet that should be sawed, and to deliver the boards at the Meeting-house Green, on or before the last day of May, 1694.

The mill-privilege here granted -- where the upper sawmill on Little river stands -- has been occupied by a succession of sawmills from the date of the grant till the present time.

The mill has long been owned by Nathaniel B. Marston; but this year, 1892, he sold it to John F. French, fourth son of Rev. Jonathan French, D.C., more than fifty years pastor of the church at "North Hill." [North Hampton].

An Ancient Site, and the Present Lower Mills

The same day on which the articles of agreement about the upper mill were signed, the town granted to another company, on nearly the same terms, a sawmill privilege on the same river, about three-quarters of a mile farther down. In the record it is described as being "below Peter Johnson's grant." The mill built by this company was on land belonging to the Lamprey farm, now owned by Charles Preosehold. The mill has long been gone, but a part of the old dam is still to be seen. A new one was afterwards built farther up the stream, where the present Daniel G. Moulton saw and grist mills stand.

John Smith's Mills

At some time, date not known, Lieutenant John Smith had undertaken to build a fulling-mill; but, after expending a considerable sum, he had found that the mill would fail to meet his expectations. In 1693 therefore, on the 24th of March, he asked and obtained liberty to remove it to such a place as he might select on Little river, above his sawmill, at the end of "The Beech Neck," and to make a dam at the place selected, for the benefit of the mill, on condition that the water should not be kept back at such times as, by a former arrangement, it was to be drawn down at the sawmill below. It was also agreed that whoever might own the fulling-mill, he should "full this town's cloth before strangers' cloth." The Beech Neck, mentioned in this grant, is a point of land, near the bridge which spans the river at A. T. Brown's, said to have been formerly heavily wooded, probably with beech trees. The sawmill site is well known, some of the old timbers having remained within the memory of men now living.

The fate of the proposed fulling-mill is not known.

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