New Boston Historical Society
New Boston, New Hampshire
wagonload of soapstone A wagonload of Francestown soapstone approaches the Central Square bridge in New Boston.

A Wagonload of Soapstone
C.H. Dodge and a Francestown quarry

One of my favorite old photos shows a team of six horses pulling a wagonload of soapstone into New Boston village, some time before the Fire of 1887. Not one of the buildings in the above photo stands today, and the bridge has been replaced at least twice since the photo was taken.

Main Street bridge
The same view today. Dodge's Store is the large red building visible beyond the white TD Bank and the Garden Center.

wagon photo withh labels

Let's look at the old photo again, before we get to the soapstone story.
Across the bridge you can see three steeples belonging to the Baptist Church and the Town Hall, both of which burned in the Fire of 1887, and the Church on the Hill, which burned in 1900.
To the left of the wagon on this side of the river is the Columbian Hotel, later called The Tavern.
I have searched mightily for information about the business of "M.M. Hanberry, Carriage Painter" next to the bridge, to no avail.

Crane in quarry
Soapstone quarry on Bible Hill Road
(Photos courtesy of the Francestown Heritage Museum)

Soapstone is a relatively soft rock which can be cut into thin slabs with a saw. The stone is valuable for making woodstoves and bed warmers, because it retains heat, and for use in kitchen sinks. The soapstone in the wagon came from a quarry on Bible Hill Road, which was once considered the source of the finest soapstone in the world.

Before you write to tell me that Bible Hill Road is in Francestown, please note that a large part of Francestown was originally part of New Boston, including Bible Hill and Scoby Pond, too. A few years before the American Revolution, the residents petitioned the Royal Governor to separate the "Francestown addition" from New Boston, as it was too far for them to go to church in our meetinghouse, seven miles away. Prior to this successful petition in 1772, New Boston's western-most boundary was what later became known as Mill Village in Francestown.

Where was Mill Village? Drive west from New Boston to Francestown on Route 136, and you'll pass a historic marker labeled "Soapstone" after you cross the Piscataquog River, just before Francestown center, and that was Mill Village. There's still a soapstone saw-mill there, as of February 2020, but it may not survive the next big snowfall.

soapstone quarry
Soapstone quarry in the 1800s

soapstone quarry
Soapstone quarry today - that water is very, very deep!

Bible Hill was part of Francestown by the time David Fuller discovered a rich vein of soapstone around 1800. Fuller was plowing his field one day when he hit an outcropping of an unusual soft stone, or maybe he dropped an axe onto it, depending on which version of the story you believe. The Francestown farmer, who was nearly broke when he stumbled across the soapstone, became a very wealthy man.

John R. Schott wrote in his 1972 history "Frances' Town" that after the Civil War, "Four six-horse teams running continually all summer long conveyed twenty tons of [soapstone] to the Boston market daily."

Eventually the soapstone quarry was 134 feet deep — imagine if you will the height of a 13-story building, underground. After the best stone was hauled away by horses and oxen, it became less economical to operate the quarry. The last man to try to make the business profitable was a New Boston storekeeper named Clarence H. Dodge.

Clarence H. Dodge, storekeeper
Dodge's Store 1897 Clarence Dodge 1904
C.H. Dodge's first store in New Boston, across from The Tavern, and the storekeeper himself in 1904.

Do you remember the photo of New Boston village at the top of this page? If the unknown photographer had looked over his or her shoulder, he or she would have seen a brick building, which was C.H. Dodge's first general store. Who was Clarence H. Dodge, and what has he to do with soapstone?

Four generations of Dodges have owned a general store in our town: Clarence, Ben, Homer, and Josh. A fifth generation Dodge worked in the store as a young man, but he declined the opportunity to own it. (It was John William Jenkinson who lent me the photo of his great-great-grandfather Clarence H. Dodge.)

Clarence Dodge was born in New Boston in 1848, and he'd been a storekeeper for two years by the time he married Jennie Smith in 1874. Now, everyone in New Boston knows Dodge's Store, the general store in our village center which was built after the Fire of 1887, but that was actually Atwood's Store at the time of our soapstone story. Clarence Dodge didn't buy that building until 1920; his first store was located in the brick building opposite the Columbian Hotel / The Tavern / TD Bank. It's now a private home at the corner of Clark Hill Road and High Street. (You can read more about New Boston's general stores elsewhere on this site.)

In 1906, when Clarence Dodge was 58 years old, he and his partners formed "The New Francestown Soapstone Company" to operate the Bible Hill quarry. Why did this successful storekeeper decide to go into the soapstone business? I don't know!

In May of 1912 Clarence decided to blast open a new vein of soapstone across Bible Hill Road from the old quarry, which had filled with water. Alas, Clarence used too much dynamite — all of the Soapstone Company's buildings and two of the neighbors' farmhouses were demolished by the blast! There are no reports of death or injury, but the lawsuits which followed put an end to soapstone quarrying in Francestown, which is why wagons laden with stone no longer rumble through New Boston village.

saw mill
The soapstone saw-mill in Mill Village several years ago, when its walls were vertical.

The up & down saw once was powered by a waterwheel.

I thank the Francestown Heritage Museum for their photos and soapstone information! — Dan R.
P.S. If you'd like to receive their free monthly e-newsletter, email the FHM curator/editor Bill McAuley