General History of Cheshire County NH

GILSUM lies in the northern-central part of the county, in lat. 43° 1′ and long. 4° 50′. In outline it is similar to that of a carpenter’s square, bounded north by Alstead and Marlow, east by Stoddard and Sullivan, south by Sullivan and Keene, and west by Surry. It was originally granted, under the name of Boyle, to Joseph Osgood and his associates, December 30, 1752. No settlements were made under this grant, through fear of the Indians, until so late a date that the charter was forfeited But notwithstanding this, in March, 1761, Benjamin Bellows bought of Rebecca Blanchard, widow of Joseph Blanchard, of Dunstable, Mass, the “Rights he had in Boyle,” for £67, 10s. ” sterling money.” This deed conveyed twenty-six rights, and also mentions the names of their original owners. Four days after, March 28, 1761, he also bought of Theodore Atkinson, of Portsmouth, for £60, 15s. sterling, twenty-seven rights more. On the 1st of May, 1761, he sold 18,000 acres for £1,350, “lawful money,” to Samuel Gilbert, Esq., Josiah Kilburn, Thomas Sumner, Jonathan Smith and Joseph Mack, all of Connecticut. These five men doubtless sold shares to those who subsequently became associated with them as proprietors of Gilsum, though no record of such sale has yet been found. Thomas Sumner, it ” behalf of himself and other proprietors in the town of Boyle,” petitioned Gov. Benning Wentworth for a new charter of the township, January 24, 1763. This petition was favorably received, and a new charter was granted. changing the name of the township to Gilsum, on the 13th of the following July. This charter granted a tract of 25,340 acres, bounded as follows:

“Beginning at the southeasterly corner of Walpole, thence south 78° east two miles and 104 rods to the northeast corner of Westmoreland; thence south 620 rods to the north line of Keene; thence north 84° east six miles and 224 rods to a stake and stones ; thence north by the needle four and one-half miles, to a stake and stones; thence west by the needle eight and three-quarters miles and fifty-two rods, to the easternmost line of Walpole ; and thence south two miles and z88 rods by Walpole to the place of beginning.”

These bounds, it will be seen, gave the township a much larger territory and a far different outline from what it now has. Upon the back of the charter was drawn a plan of the town, of which the following is a fac-simile. except the dotted line, which will be spoken of later, the scale being nearly two miles to an inch. The corner marked “B. W.” is Governor Wentworth’s usual share of 600 acres, reserved for him in all the townships he granted.

The name Gilsum, tradition says, was given in settlement of a dispute as to whether the town should be named Gilbert or Sumner, after the respective proprietors thus named. The first syllable of each of the names were united, forming Gilsum, as a compromise.

It was found that the easterly part of the town extended over the Mason “curved line,” which passed through the town about as represented by the dotted line in the accompanying plan, identical with the present boundary line between Stoddard and Marlow and between Gilsum and Stoddard. This led to a long controversy between the proprietors of Gilsum and the Masonian proprietors. On June 20, 1797, a bill was passed by which Gilsum lost all the territory east of the line, which was made the boundary line between it and Stoddard. The natural features of the town, as originally chartered, were such as to render a division necessary. Scarcely a year had elapsed from the giving of the charter, when, in the call for a proprietors’ meeting, July 16, 1764, was inserted an item “to see if said proprietors will vote and set off the west end of said town of Gilsum as far east as the top of the mountain.” This mountain is now called Surry mountain, and lies on the boundary line between Surry and Gilsum. A petition was presented the legislature to have a new township formed, July 4, 1768, which was granted March z, 1769, and on the ninth of the following month Surry was incorporated. Eighteen years later the township lost another large tract, from its southeastern corner, which left it with its present angular outline. On the 22d of August, 1786, a petition signed by a number of residents of Keene, Stoddard and Gilsum was presented to the legislature, praying that portions of those towns and of Nelson be formed into a new township. This petition was also granted, and on the 27th of September, 1787, the township of Sullivan was incorporated. No changes have . been made from that time except in 1893, when a few acres from the north side of the river were taken from Sullivan and reannexed to Gilsum. so that the south bank of the Ashuelot now forms the town line, from a few rods below Collins’s factory till it strikes the west line of Sullivan. It now contains about 9,400 acres.

The surface of the town is rough and uneven, the lowest point being where the river enters Surry, 618 feet above tide water, and the highest point in the east end, near the Stoddard line, about 1,480 feet above the ocean. The summit of the hill east of the town line, near the south end of Surry Mountain, is nearly the same height, and the top of Mansfield hill and the height in C. B. Haywood’s pasture, southeast of the Converse place, do not fall fifty feet below the west line of the town, crossing the line near the foot-bridge below William Kingsbury’s, runs along the eastern slope of Surry mountain, passing a little west of the summit at the south end. This mountain we describe in the sketch of Surry. Near the east line of the town, next to Sullivan, is a remarkable ledge facing the west, called Bearden. From the perpendicular, and in some places overhanging, ledges at the summit, some tremendous force has rent huge masses of rock and thrown them one upon another in every conceivable form of disorder. Under and upon these rocks are numberless holes and dens, some of considerable size, now populous with hedge hogs, but formerly furnishing shelter to wolves and bears, especially the latter. The rocks are mostly irregular in shape, as well as in size and position, but in some places are wedged together almost like masonry. One obelisk, some twenty feet long and three and one half feet square, and nearly as regular as if wrought by a stone-cutter, was apparently caught while falling, and remains with one end held fast by overlying rocks, while the other extends some twelve feet horizontally, almost like a beam projecting from the side of a building. Huge rocks of hundreds or even thousands of tons, are found with the shelving under side hollowed into countless cavities, with the appearance of having been long subjected to the action of falling water. At the foot of Bearden lies a small swamp, the principal source of Beaver brook, which runs thence in a southerly direction through Keene. About forty rods southwest from the Bearden ledges, where precipitous rocks rise on either hand, it falls over beds of green moss, forming a beautiful cascade. Along the banks of this brook, and in some other localities, are gravelly ridges of an artificial appearance, called “kames,” and are supposed by geologists to have been dropped by melting ice. The Ashuelot river enters the town from Marlow, in the northeastern part, flows a southwesterly course, then a northwesterly into Surry. It has many tributaries from the north and south, and affords some good mill privileges. Hemenway brook, one of the tributaries, about a mile from the village, affords another handsome waterfall.

Scattered over the surface of the town are many remarkable boulders, relics of the drift period. The largest of these is called Vessel rock, and lies near the center of the town. It is forty-five feet in length, thirty-two in breadth, and twenty-five feet in height. Its name is derived from its resemblance to a vessel. On the hill northwest of the old Ballard place are several of remarkable size, the largest being fifteen feet in length, thirteen and onehalf in breadth, and thirteen high. The soil of the town is mostly rocky and heavy, strong to produce grass-like crops, but not well adapted to corn and the higher kinds of cultivation. It abounds in the usual varieties of vegetation found in granite regions and damp soils. It is probable that the fauna and flora are quite rich in the number of species, as the limit of white oak touches the southwestern corner, and the boundary between the Canadian and Alleghanian fauna passes through the town. The territory was originally covered with a heavy growth of hemlock, beech, birch, maple, spruce, ash, poplar, bass-wood or linden, and a sprinkling of red oaks and large white pines. Geologically, Gilsum was formed in what Professor Hitchcock calls the “Atlantic, or Gneissic Period,” and suffered no special change till the “Mica Schist Period,” when the eastern half was covered with a new formation. The scratches of the “Glacial Period,” lie in a southeasterly direction. Like other hilly regions, it is not wanting in variety of minerals. The prevailing rock is a coarse granite, interspersed with smaller specimens of the stones common to such a formation. Crystals of tourmaline and quartz are frequently met with, and occasionally small specimens of beryl. Garnets are abundant. After a shower, the village street, as well as many other roads, noticeably red with innumerable garnets of the finest quality, but so minute as to be unavailable for the jeweler. Mica has been extensively quarried a short distance north of the town line in Alstead. Hornblende and actinolite are not rare. On the “minister lot.” in the south part of the town, is a large quartz ledge, from which fine specimens of rose quartz have been taken. Other smaller “white ledges” are found in several parts of the town.

In 1880, Gilsum had a population of 664 souls. In 1884 it had seven school districts, and seven school buildings. There were 159 pupils, fifteen of whom were pursuing the higher branches, taught by one male and eight female teachers, at an average monthly salary of $30.00 for the former, $25.60 for the latter. The entire amount raised for school purposes during the year, was $1,127.00, while the entire expenditure was $1,124.81, Samuel W. Dart, superintendent.


Hurd, Duane Hamilton. History of Cheshire and Sullivan counties, New Hampshire. Philadelphia: J. W. Lewis. 1886.

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