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Pottersville Historic District


House in the Pottersville Historic District, Harrisville, NH

Photo: House in the Pottersville Historic District, Harrisville, NH. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Photographed by User:Magicpiano (own work), 2012, [cc-by-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed August, 2014.

The Pottersville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Pottersville Historic District survives into the late-20th century as a cohesive upland New Hampshire village which includes 20 historically and/or architecturally significant buildings and at least four important early industrial (archaeological) sites. Its current configuration, a linear grouping of residences along western Brown Road making a southerly curve onto Chesham Road at the Baptist Church, continues to reflect the modest scale and moderate density of its period of significance: 1765-1923. Its visual integrity of location and setting is echoed in the substantially wholesome survival of its individual resources as well. Primarily residences now as well as in the past, they share considerable integrity as well as consistency of design, materials, workmanship, feeling and association. They are complimented by the survival of the community's church (the Baptist Church, 1797) and School (1840), each one of the oldest in Harrisville.

There are very few non-contributing structures in Pottersville and only one intrusion.

Set in rolling terrain between Minnewawa and Pratt Brooks along the western and northern overlooks of Russell Reservoir, Pottersville continues to reflect its historic geographical character. The boundaries, except in the case of the easternmost line which was extended to include the important Russell pottery site, of the Pottersville Historic District are clearly visible along the road as the point where the preponderance of cleared land gives way to natural woodland. Mature hardwoods and conifers interspersed with hedgerows and fences continue to line the roadway in front of houses of moderate and approximately even setback.

Pottersville is now as it has always been predominantly residential. Its buildings continue to reflect a full range of living patterns basic to the history of upland New Hampshire as well as a glossary of simple vernacular interpretations of popular styles of the late-18th to the early-20th centuries. Structures modest to moderate in size, they are worked out in local materials, almost always wood. This village contains outstanding as well as representative buildings knit into a fabric which continues to reflect the responsiveness to topographical considerations which was the major factor in the choice of initial as well as subsequent settlement location.

Pottersville's earliest houses are all small center chimney Cape cottages except one, the 1779 Farnum/Upton House (on the south side of Brown Road), a 2-1/2 story late Georgian Farmhouse which can be compared in basic form to the Abel Twitchell House. They share the additional common characteristics of white clapboarded exterior wall treatment, simple central doorway with 3- or 4-light bar transom but no sidelights, narrow windows (9/6 or 6/6) and an attached ell or shed. They range in date from 1765-1807. The Rollins/Phelps House (on the south side of Brown Road, west of the Cornelius Towne House) is reputed to be the oldest house in Harrisville (1765), an honor which further research may require it to relinquish to the Benjamin Mason House in the Harrisville Rural District.

These houses are all located at the eastern or Brown Road end of the Pottersville Historic District. They were dwellings on the homesteads of early hill farmers (similar to Silver Lake Cottage, the three early homesteads in Eastview, and several in the Harrisville Rural District) and represents a valuable surviving example of that important yet ephemeral period of New Hampshire history. The Baptist Meetinghouse was built in 1797 across Brown Road from in a traditional form and a style which has since been obscured by several major remodellings.

The first quarter of the 19th century, the height of the pottery manufacturing activity from which this area derived its name, was the first period of architectural diversity in Pottersville. The Jedediah Kilburn Southwick House (c.1808) on the west side of Chesham Road, home of a prominent potter, is the village's only extant contributing brick building. Built of bricks made of locally dug clay, it stands out as a premier and exceptionally early example of the "chaste Neoclassical style of early 19th century New England so beautifully preserved at Harrisville."[1]

Only three other houses from this period survive, all directly associated with pottery manufacture (Aaron Smith House, Worsley/Russell House and Josiah Lewis House). The first, the Josiah Lewis House of 1824 continues to reflect Federal style proportions unusual in Harrisville but more common in neighboring Dublin. The Aaron Smith House (1822, west side of Chesham Road) is the earliest surviving example of Pottersville's most popular style: Greek Revival. It shares with other local examples its wood frame construction, clapboarded exterior, its orientation (gable-end-to-the-street or temple form), and its side-hall plan. It is, however, distinguished by its deeply recessed doorway with transom, sidelights and surround embellished with reeded molding and corner blocks, and its excellent state of preservation.

Pottersville's Chesham Schoolhouse located on the northwest side of Chesham Road at Brown Road (1840, once Dublin #7, later Harrisville #2), surviving although unused since 1950 also reflects Greek Revival influence through its corner pilasters and projecting box cornice.

Greek Revival continued to be the style of choice during the second quarter of the 19th century, a period of declining pottery production but increased woodenware manufacture. Four surviving examples (the Jonathan Russell, Jr. House of 1832; the Luther Carlton House, c.1836; the Morris Heath House of 1849; the Calvin Smith House of 1849) demonstrate a range of sizes from modest to fairly generous plus considerable variety of interpretation representing local vernacular tradition. Note especially the use of the partially recessed first story at the Jonathan Russell, Jr. House, which can be seen as a simpler version of the fully recessed porches of the Monadnock Hotel and the Milan Walter Harris House, Harrisville Village. The very broad, gable-end-to-the-street or temple form 1849 Calvin Smith House with its shortened side walls is Harrisville's best example of a vernacular variation found primarily along the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border (in the Chesham Village Historic District and the M.K. Perry House, in Harrisville House, in Harrisville Village). The Calvin Smith House survives in equally outstanding condition, A full 1-1/2 of its 2-1/2 stories are incorporated into its broad gables, its five-bay facade enlivened by a center entry identical to that of the Aaron Smith House except unrecessed. The property is complemented by a handsome and original barn.

Only one house (the Merrill Russell House, 1859) survives from the third quarter of the 19th century, the period during which Pottersville's population was exceeded by that of Harrisville village. It is the latest Pottersville example which can be called an adaptive survival rather than a revival of the Cape cottage, a manifestation of the persistence of colonial imagery and identification with the town's early settlers.

The Baptist Church's (on Chesham Road, just south of the schoolhouse) current configuration also represents a remodelling from this period (1867) as well as one of 1910.

The multiplicity of post-Greek Revival styles seen in other communities is not represented in this remarkably homogenous district. As an alternative, the Greek Revival idiom persists in Pottersville to an extremely late date as reflected in the unpretentious Baptist Parsonage (1886) on Chesham Road just south of the Church itself.

Another very late example of its style is the 1897 Edward G. Russell House, a picturesque rural cottage suggestive of the Downing tradition of mid-century. The man who built the Russell House, attracted to Pottersville by family ties to the owners of the large and active Russell woodenware mill was initially a summer residence.

The first quarter of the 20th century would see a marked interest in Pottersville sites as summer vacation retreats. Locations on Brown Road, probably named for a c.1910 owner, the Cornelius Towne House were especially prized for their view of Monadnock.

The Mary Bush House (1906, north side of Brown Road) with its suburban quality and sleeping porches, and the Margaret Bush House (1910, on the north side of Brown Road similar enough to the Sherman Thayer House to suggest the same architect, are solid examples of Shingle style summer residents' houses. They represent the latest period of Pottersville's significance and a revival of interest in its original settlement location. The culmination of this movement was the use by landscape artist William Preston Phelps of the oldest house in Pottersville and possibly Harrisville (the Rollins/Phelps House, on the south side of Brown Road, west of the Cornelius Towne House) and his own birthplace as his residence, with studio across the road, during his most productive period.

Pottersville survives as a catalogue of vernacular interpretations of a very limited number of conservative styles through which its development from an area of hill farms to a village supported by small industrial enterprises to an artists'/summer residents' colony can be traced.

Significance

Pottersville is a well-preserved upland New Hampshire village with good surviving examples of late-18th to early-20th century vernacular architecture. Its historical and architectural significance, both local and regional, is focussed on three issues:

1. It is the location of the first non-native settlement in Harrisville and contains Harrisville's oldest church and school, and one of the community's two oldest surviving houses.

2. It is a locally important and unusual example of a linear community settlement pattern. A sense of visual architectural cohesiveness and/or identity persists in Pottersville (now commonly referred to as Chesham, a late-19th century designation) which survives essentially intact so that its development can be traced through its standing structures. Like the Rural District, there is considerable evidence of the responsiveness of built resources to topographical considerations.

3. It is the site of an early regionally, if not nationally, significant pottery manufacturing center.

The Pottersville Historic District presents an extant visual record of upland New Hampshire settlement patterns from the late-18th to the early-20th centuries. Its significance thus derives from its display of an entire range of representative as well as outstanding resources in which the entire picture is more important as a whole than the sum of its individual components. Further, it contains the home and studio site of a nationally known artist (William Preston Phelps) that of an important poet (Nathan Comfort Starr) and has been the home from the earliest settlement period of several families which have made major contributions to the civic, economic and social history of Harrisville (cf. the Bemis and Russell families).

In addition, sites in Pottersville have already yielded information pivotal to the early history of pottery manufacture in the United States and it is certain that there is more information yet to be uncovered.

Although it is unlikely that any permanent Indian settlement was ever established within the present day boundaries of Harrisville (or Pottersville), one trail, the Nebinasok, crossed directly through Pottersville on a path which appears to correspond to Chesham Road. The earliest settlers of English descent were emigrants from Massachusetts who began road work in Pottersville c.1762. One dwelling, one of Harrisville's two oldest, survives from this period (Rollins/Phelps House, 1765). A small center chimney, center entry frame Cape cottage, it bears a marked resemblance to other houses of the period and location along the ridge which carries the lower road between Harrisville village and Dublin. These Capes, dwellings of upland hill farmsteads, represent Harrisville's best surviving group of standing structures from the hill farms' period of self-sufficiency. The Baptist Meetinghouse built among them in 1797, is the earliest extant church in both Harrisville and Dublin. Its many remodellings and two subsequent moves enhance its importance to the community's history as a highly visual demonstration not only of changing architectural taste but also of the village's linear settlement pattern which began at the eastern end of Brown Road and travelled west then turning south on Chesham Road, eventually filling out as far south as the early industrial sites on Pratt Brook.

Other occupations and industries in addition to farming played an early and important role in Pottersville's history. As is common in upland farming communities, a sawmill (c.1790 of Moses Adams) at the outlet of Russell Reservoir and a c.1796 grist mill (of Moses Whitaker at approximately the same location) were early necessities. By 1800 a sawmill operation was established by Eli Greenwood at Russell's Mill (on Pratt Brook) which would see considerable growth and diversification (including a wheelwright and carpenter's shop, and a grist and a starch mill).

Other early occupations included blacksmithing, cabinetmaking and boxmaking. Several early Pottersville residents fought in the Revolution as well.

Pottersville's major contribution to manufacturing history derives from its role as "the most important community of clay workers in southwestern New Hampshire,"[2] according to recognized authority Lura Woodside Watkins in Early New England Potters and Their Wares. David Thurston, one of a number of potters who emigrated to Pottersville from South Peabody, Massachusetts, had established a pottery shop there by 1795. The industry reached its height locally during the War of 1812 when as many as 12 shops, supplied with clay from an area which is now at the bottom of Russell Reservoir, were operating. Prominent potters included Jonathan Flood Southwick, his son Jedediah Kilburn Southwick, William and Daniel Greenwood, Aaron Smith, and Osgood N. and his father Ebenezer Russell, the last potters, whose Dublin Earthenware Manufactory had succumbed to competition by 1861. Most of these sites operated during the mid-19th century when dairy, storage and food preparation wares were in great demand. The community of clay workers at Pottersville supplied these wares to the New Hampshire, Vermont, and western Massachusetts markets.

The limited testing and surface reconnaissance conducted at the Russell and Wight sites verified the presence of large numbers of wasters related to pottery manufacture. No indications of the workshops or kilns were verified at the Wight pottery, although discussions with the property owner did identify an undisturbed area of the yard as the workshop site. The Russell pottery also produced large quantities of wasters. At this location, there were also indications of a structure which may have functioned as a workshop. Cultivation has disrupted any surface remains.

While no positive indications of the buildings that housed the pottery operations were identified during the archaeological investigations, the limits of the associated waster dumps were defined. It is within these areas that a large collection of wares were discarded for reasons of imperfection or the potter's personal preference. The range of vessel forms identified at both sites includes: cups, bowls, milk pans, crockery for dairy goods and other storage, jugs and flower pots as well as other kiln furniture. Many of these vessels demonstrate poorly manufactured glazes, while others were apparently fired improperly, flaws which disqualified them for market sale.

The materials located in these waster dumps provide a good indication of the variety of ware being produced by Pottersville potters. It can be anticipated that the full range of production wares will be better represented in these dumps than adjacent to the kiln and workshop sites. The recovered materials demonstrate problems encountered in manufacturing and it may be possible to determine how these problems were overcome or avoided as the production process evolved. The integrity of the waster deposits at both the Wight and Russell sites are of major importance in identifying the varieties of wares being produced and their methods of production, This understood, it should be possible to define the changes which occurred over time in the production process and to identify which potter was producing which materials. The extent of the Pottersville potters' trade networks should also be determinable. Note that the precise locations of other principal elements of the Wight and Russell operations are still being refined.

The social and commercial life of the village began to quicken in the late 1830s, a parallel development to that which was occurring in Harrisville village. A store, the first in Harrisville, was established in the house of Levi Willard. A second church, the Methodist Episcopal, was built in the lower village near Pratt Brook. Unfortunately, it only survived to the early 1860s. In 1844, the Baptist Church was moved to the northeast corner of the intersection of Brown and Chesham Roads and was remodelled. It was moved to its present location in 1867.

By 1870, outside influences began to leave their mark on the history of Pottersville. In that year Harrisville declared its intention to become an independent town, taking with it two ranges in Nelson and three in Dublin, including Pottersville. The issue over which the division was made, the railroad, would have a marked influence on western Harrisville but only indirectly on Pottersville in that the station was located to the north in the Chesham District.

In the late 1870s, Frances Willard, cousin of the Rev. Elijah Willard and international president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, visited in Pottersville. Shortly thereafter, an influx of summer visitors, attracted to all of Harrisville's scenic locations but later and in fewer numbers than in neighboring Dublin, was spurred on by the completion of rail service. The Mary Bush House (north side of Brown Road) and Margaret Bush House (on the north side of Brown Road just west of the Mary Bush House) are examples of dwellings which illustrate the period's new reorientation toward the landscape for its mentally and physically therapeutic qualities. The culmination of this trend was the professional residency of nationally known landscape painter William Preston Phelps in the home of his birth, the Rollins/Phelps House, one of the two oldest houses in Harrisville.

Endnote

  1. Pierson, William H. Jr., American Buildings and Their Architects; Technology and the Picturesque, the Corporate and the Early Gothic Styles (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1978), p.82.
  2. Watkins, Lura Woodside, Early New England Potters and Their Wares (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950), p.113.

† Marcia M. Cini, Historic Harrisville, Inc., Chesham Village District, Harrisville, NH, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Pottersville Historic District Map

Street Names
Brown Road • Chesham Road

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