New Boston Historical Society
New Boston, New Hampshire
Boy Scouts c.1912
New Boston Boy Scout troop, including Ted and George Fiske

New Boston in 1911 - Bill Fiske's Diary

Fiske house William Vaughn Fiske was a railroad engineer who kept a diary for every day of 1911. This remarkable diary paints a picture of daily life in New Boston over 100 years ago, documenting births and deaths, weather, gardening and entertainments.

February 2020 update:
In 2019, Dick and Deb Jardine began to transcribe sixty-two years of Bill Fiske's diaries, which he kept from 1892 to 1954. (Deb Jardine is Bill's great-granddaughter.) This is a multi-year project, as the Jardines research the many news items and other references in Bill's diaries that may not be familiar to a modern reader. They'll present some of their findings at the March 2020 meeting of the Historical Society.
This 1911-only diary webpage is my work from 2016, and the Jardines are not responsible for my errors! — Dan R., website editor

Bill Fiske (age 48 in 1911) and his wife Bertha (39) lived with their five children Arvilla (17), Dorothy (14), George (11), Theodore (8), and Charlotte (2) in a house on River Road in the village center, a short walk from the railroad depot. This is the Manna house that is next to the gazebo today.

The only photo we have of any of the Fiske family circa 1911 shows the two boys in their Boy Scout troop, camping near Scobie Pond. In the photo at the top of this page, the Fiske boys are in the front row, Ted in the center and George to the right. More recent photos of Bill and his youngest daughter Charlotte appear later on this page.

train at depot
This undated photo of New Boston depot shows a 4-4-0 steam locomotive like the one Bill Fiske drove.
The 4-4-0 has 4 small leading wheels, 4 big driving wheels, and no (0) trailing wheels.

Fiske diary To the left are typical entries in Bill Fiske's diary. He noted the Thermometer (temperature) and Weather for some days. For every work day, which for Bill included Monday-Saturday, he noted which Engines he ran on which trains. Christmas Day was a Monday in 1911; therefore it was a workday for Bill Fiske. He was paid $39/week.

Bill almost always ran Engine #234. (You drive a car but you run a locomotive.) #234 was a 4-4-0 steam locomotive built in 1870 by the Manchester Locomotive Works. The train numbers 330-901, 902-333 and 336-339 which appeared on almost every page of Bill's diary identified scheduled times and routes on the Boston & Maine Railroad timetable. We think these describe New Boston to Manchester to Milford and back again. Bill's fireman was always Proctor E. Melvin, except when P. E. Melvin was sick or on vacation.

Bill listed the maintenance he performed: "Cleaned headlight, tightened up bolt in frame, put wick in valve stem" etc. And then, in the space which remained, he mentioned something about his personal life.

If you're truly interested in wicks and valve stems you may inspect the actual diary at the Historical Society museum. However, we transcribed only the entries about daily life, about 150 of Bill's brief comments, into the document available on our "Memories of New Boston" page. A few of these diary entries were selected for this page to highlight the most interesting stories of 1911.

Everybody talks about the weather but nobody seems to do anything about it.
It is reassuring to read that the weather in New Boston 100 years ago was just as variable as it is today.
Tues. Jan. 10 (Thermometer: 22°)   The town people sliding on Meetinghouse hill - a fine night
Thurs. Jan. 19 (10°)   We all went skating this eve down to Whipple's ice pond
Tues. Feb. 7 (Ther. 10°, Wea. snow)   Snow plow up here this eve. Quite a Blizzard about 14" snow
Wed. Apr. 5 (32°)   5 in of snow fell last night.
Sun. Apr. 9 (32°)   Called on John Johnette. Snowed hard about 6" deep
Sun. Apr. 30   Bertha & I went after May flowers before breakfast. [Mayflowers and snow!]
Wed. May 3   (Ther. 36°, Wea. Snow)
Fri. May 12 (92°)   A great thunderstorm tonight. One steady stream of lightning.
Mon. May 22 (101° noon)   Planted string beans Radish & sweet-peas.
Sun. May 28 (100°)   Mr & Mrs Eames walked with us up to the farm & on top of Pin Ball.
Thurs. July 6 (108°)   Rained & hailed this P.M. Thermometer dropped 36° in 15 minutes. Lights & telephone all out in New Boston.
Fri. July 28   Mrs Foot, Bertha, Mrs Bliss & I played whist all the p.m. Rained like great guns.
Wed. Nov. 15   3" snow fell last night. Bought 8-1/4 lb of roast pork of W. Quimby

cribbage board made by Bill Fiske Moving pictures, whist, and chestnutting.
Bill Fiske and his family liked evening entertainments, card games, and calling on their neighbors.
The projection booth for moving pictures may still be seen upstairs in the New Boston Town Hall.
Fri. Jan. 6 (snow)   Bertha the girls & I went to social this eve in Valley Hall [above Dodge's Store]
Sat. Jan 21   Played cards with Dick Melvin. Bertha & I called on Mr & Mrs Shedd this eve.
Tues. Jan. 24   Bertha, Arvilla, Dorothy went to the Fire Co Ball tonight.
Thurs. Feb. 23   High School entertainment tonight.
Wed. Mar. 29   Bertha the girls & I went to Town Hall to a play given by Goffstown talent.
Fri. Mar. 31   Bertha the girls & I went to Town Hall to a Whist party.
Sat. May 20   Bertha, Dorothy & the boys & I went to town hall to a show.
Fri. Sept. 15   Mrs. Foot, Bertha & I went to Town Hall to moving picture show.
Sat. Sept. 30   Clarence Fox, Ed Rose & I went coon hunting up in Dane swamp.
Sun. Oct. 8   Bertha & I went chestnutting in the Dickey pasture. Got a lot! Bottled up the wine.
Sat. Oct. 28   I went coon hunting with Ed Rose & Chas Kidder up back of Joes Hill. No luck.
Wed. Nov. 8   Bertha & Dorothy went to Social & Supper in town hall.
Sat. Dec. 23   Father, Bertha, Dorothy, George, Teddy & I went to Dog show at Town hall.
Sun. Dec. 24   We had turkey for dinner.

The automobile.
The Fiskes had a railroad pass, and Bill's family often traveled to Manchester or Boston on a day-trip. To visit their friends in Francestown (which is a town next to New Boston), the Fiskes could either take the train from New Boston to Manchester to Milford to Antrim as they did in May - a roundabout itinerary of over sixty miles each way - or they could rent a team of horses at The Tavern stable and drive themselves, as they did in July.
Bill Fiske made several entries in his diary about his friends' automobiles, which certainly were more convenient than horses or trains.
Fri. Mar. 10   P.E. Melvin & I went to Boston. We went to the Auto show in eve & staid at the Y.M.C.A.
Fri. May 12   Bertha & Charlotte went to Francestown via Manchester, Milford & Elmwood [Hancock NH] to Antrim.
Tues. May 30   Mr Mrs Farmer & Mr Mrs Martin called on their way home to Newton with Autos.
Fri. June 2   Bertha went to Dublin with Mr Mrs Reed in George Marden's Auto.
Sun. July 16   Got a team at the Tavern. Bertha all the children & I went up to Mrs Foot & spent the day. Left New Boston at 6.25 am. Arr 8.20 pm.
Thurs. Aug. 3   P.E. Melvin bought a Stanley Automobile.
Sun. Aug. 6   I went to Mt Vernon, Milford, Amherst & home in Auto with Geo. Dennison.
Sun. Sept. 24   Bertha, Dorothy, Charlotte & I went to ride in Jim McLane's auto with Mr. & Mrs. McLane.

1908 Stanley Steamer
This Wikipedia photo shows a 1908 Stanley Automobile under full steam.

1914 Firestone tire ad By 1911, people in New Boston and across America had begun their love affair with the automobile. There were 200,000 motorized vehicles in the U.S. in 1909 and ten times that many by 1916.

There was an Automobile Show in Mechanics' Hall on Huntington Avenue in Boston each year, and this is where Fiske and Melvin went in March. (See the Firestone tire advertisement for the 1914 Boston Automobile Show, right.)

A prospective motorist in 1911 could choose a new automobile with a silent electric motor, or a gasoline engine which was noisy but provided a greater range, or a powerful steam engine. It might take 45 minutes to build steam on a cold New Boston winter morning, but it's not surprising that P.E. Melvin, who was the fireman for Fiske's steam locomotive, chose a steam-powered Stanley Automobile.

We don't know if Bill Fiske realized in 1911 that someday cars and trucks would replace railroads like the Boston & Maine for most transportation needs.

Railroad turntable
A railroad turntable - George Lane's father took this photo somewhere in NH in the 1930s.

The turntable.
Bill Fiske's diary contains several entries which refer to a railroad turntable in New Boston:
Mon. Aug. 28   Construction crew commenced work on turntable foundation this PM.
Thurs. Sept. 28   Work train up. Put track into turntable.
The turntable was used to turn the locomotive around for the return trip to Parker Station and Manchester. Howard Towne and Jim Dane remember the turntable just east of the New Boston railroad depot; all that remains today is a section of concrete abutment. A 1918 Boston & Maine inventory of turntables indicates that New Boston had a sixty-foot diameter turntable made of wrought iron and turned by hand. It may have looked something like the turntable in the Lane photo above. David Woodbury told me that a locomotive could be turned by 2-3 men, and the crowd scene in the photo doesn't represent "best practices" for any safety-minded railroad company. David suspects that the men in the photo were railroad enthusiasts working with one of the last steam locomotives to run on that line, wherever it was.

banquet in the Cement Barn A busy week!
On Thu. June 8, 1911 Bill Fiske's diary notes that two extra passenger trains came up from Boston "with Hotel men 5 cars each to J R Whipples farm". This was in preparation for a big event in New Boston history: on Friday, June 9th, the Boston hotel-owner J. R. Whipple hosted a banquet for the dedication of his modern dairy barn in New Boston. All the cows were shooed out and long tables were set with white cloths for 500 guests. Hotel waiters served softshelled crabs, salmon, young pig, lobster salad and mince pie.

Curiously, the Fiske diary records nothing about the banquet itself, although many New Boston residents attended. Bill Fiske may have had other things on his mind, because on Tues. June 13 he recorded: "Arvilla gave birth to a baby girl 7:30 a.m." Arvilla was Bill's oldest daughter, and Olive his first grandchild.

Bill Fiske 1942 The Fiskes after 1911.
William Vaughn Fiske (1863-1955) retired from the Boston & Maine Railroad and continued to live in New Boston after his wife Bertha Mary Ball Fiske (1872-1939) died. The Images of America New Boston history book has a photograph (left) of Bill Fiske in 1942.

We don't have photographs of Bertha Fiske, or the oldest Fiske daughter, Arvilla, whose descendants (children of Olive V. Hill Bullard) gave us Bill's diary, or Arvilla's sister Dorothy, who was three years younger. The Fiske boys, Ted and George, appear in the 1912 photo at the top of this page.

The youngest Fiske daughter, Charlotte, married Lawson Smith. In 2005 Charlotte Fiske Smith received the Boston Post Cane as New Boston's oldest citizen.

Charlotte was a benefactor to the New Boston Historical Society and she enjoyed travelling with the New Boston senior group. In the photo below, Charlotte is the laughing lady in dark blue behind Betty Poltrack in the yellow coat. They're visiting the Conway Scenic Railroad.

Charlotte Smith
Charlotte Fiske Smith and friends

When she was 96, Charlotte was interviewed by Marie MacDonald for the New Boston Bulletin. This 2005 interview is available on our "Memories of New Boston" page.