WHO WAS JAMES E. HENRY?
Lincoln’s history books do not name J.E. Henry as the founder of Lincoln. Properly speaking, this is correct. (The town was granted by Benning Wentworth, New Hampshire’s Royal Governor, in 1764.) But it’s certainly correct to say that without J.E. Henry, Lincoln would not be what it is today.
When he, his family, and employees arrived in 1892, the town we know today did not exist. Where today we have numerous homes, a shopping center, condominiums, hotels, and a prosperous ski area, in 1892 there was not much more than trees. The town’s population at the time was about 110. (It was 22 in 1790, just a few years after it was chartered.) The town, at that time, existed along the road through Franconia Notch. When J.E. came to town, he slept on the floor of the simple shelters he and his men built, along with his men. His wife and family stayed with the Pollard family, who at that time, were accommodating travelers. A large, modern saw mill was built, along with homes for the workers, a well stocked store, and, as time went on, a school, a hospital, a jail, a post office, a hotel, boarding houses, churches, and perhaps most importantly, he built a logging railroad that would survive and operate for nearly a half century. It had more track than any of the other logging railroads, and ran longer than any other. When he died in 1912, he was a wealthy man. When his three sons, who were his partners, sold the company (and the town which was owned by the company) in 1917, they received $3,000,000 (that’s equivalent to about $45,000,000 in today’s economy).
Henry Family Home, c.1920, from Family Album, UPHS
James E. Henry was born in 1831, in Lyman New Hampshire, not far from the Connecticut River. He was the oldest of six children, and they grew up on a farm. Farming in the 1830s in Northern New Hampshire was not an easy way of life and most farmers of that time did more than just farm. Many worked in the woods during the winters. There was little farm work to do, and with the ground frozen, winter was the preferred time of the year for logging work. It’s quite possible that J.E. had first hand experience working in the woods at an early age. (Landaff, the next town over, had at least 5 saw mills in 1850, Littleton had several, and Bethlehem had 4.)
Henry’s father died in 1845 and support of the family became his responsibility. He farmed, drove a freight wagon through Crawford Notch to Portland, 110 miles distant, and probably was cutting timber for sale to local mills. Freighting was also primarily a winter occupation. Frozen roads were more easily used than the muddy roads prevalent at other times of the year. In 1854, he married Eliza Ann Ide of Waterford, Vt. Their first child was born in 1855, a girl, and there would eventually be five children. Three were sons who worked in the family business as they came of age.
(Unusual for the time, all five children grew to maturity.)
In the early years of married life, the Henry family moved several times, but most always stayed in the Connecticut River area, sometimes in Vermont and sometimes in New Hampshire. That Henry had entrepreneurial drive is clear. He invested, with little success, in businesses outside his area of expertise. Other writers, state that he invested in the oil business, and later in a wheat farm in Minnesota. Family tradition states that Henry had difficulty providing for his family during the early years of his marriage. This may be true; or it may be family tradition. He obviously had the funds to try other investments, and clearly, when these did not work out, he returned to the business he knew well: logging.
Correspondence and business records in the UPHS show that James Henry was active in the lumber business, at least from 1872 on. It would appear that Henry was cutting trees and hauling logs to local saw mills where lumber was cut to his order. He was selling dimension lumber to a number of customers in Massachusetts and elsewhere. An invoice from C.M. McCoy, (one of the mills that cut lumber for Henry) shows that in Oct. 1872 Henry was shipping lumber to Massachusetts and Rhode Island customers. (An intriguing, but thus far unexplained, entry on this invoice shows that on Dec. 13 Henry shipped himself 11,500 feet of “drest” pine boards in Holyoke, Mass.) A July 9, 1873 invoice shows that he had delivered to a customer in Providence, Rhode Island, 11,500 feet of pine boards at a price of 23 cents a foot. The same invoice shows that two days earlier, the same customer was billed for 8,000 feet of spruce at 15 cents a foot. The records of these particular sales show that Henry sold on credit, accepted notes in payment, and that he sometimes had difficulty collecting. (1873 was not a good year for American business, in general). An 1872 document shows that Henry was also selling horses. In addition, at this time, he was running a store, near Fabyan’s, and several receipts exist that show he was selling flour and other supplies. In fact, a trade card advertising “Forest Flower” Cologne, states that J.E. Henry was a dealer in “Dry Goods, Notions, Boots, Shoes, Provisions, Groceries, Etc” from his store at Fabyans.
Trade card for J. Henry's Store at Fabyans. UPHS
Prior to owning his own mill, in 1874 Henry entered into a contract with Streeter and Eaton, manufacturers of bobbins and spools, in Franconia. Henry agreed to provide saw mill equipment, including a 50” circular saw, belting etc. and Streeter and Eaton agreed to cut logs Henry brought to the mill. It appears that this lasted about 1 year.
Examination of deeds from Grafton and Coos counties seem to indicate that his first direct interest in a saw mill came about when he purchased a half interest partnership from Charles Joy in January of 1875. Joy owned wood lands and a saw mill in Carroll, in the general area of Fabyans, but this was probably not the location later to become Zealand. Henry had partnerships with several men over the next few years and these partnerships had interests in at least two saw mills, one of which was in Nash and Sawyer’s Location.
The deeds show that Henry did business as a partner in the following firms: Joy and Henry; Libbey, Joy, Henry, and Baldwin; Henry, Joy and Baldwin; and possibly as Henry, Joy and Benton. Over a period of years, each of these partners was bought out, until by 1881, Henry owned 100% of his business. The final buy-out of A.T. Baldwin’s interest took place on July 4, 1881. There were also several transactions with other men, with whom Henry had working relationships, primarily Reuben Colburn and R.D. Rounsevel. The first mill that Henry had an interest in had been purchased by these two men from John Leavitt, in Carroll, c.1866, and eventually sold to Charles Joy (or at least a part interest was sold to Joy). Many of the deeds show that partial interests were sold back and forth between partners: perhaps a 1/3 interest, or a 1/6 interest, and sometimes land was sold back to a previous owner with certain exceptions. The records are complicated and incomplete. Records of these partnerships exist only in the deeds recorded in Coos and Grafton counties. No records have yet come to light to shed light on the actual day to day business affairs of these firms. A few freight records exist for the shipping of lumber, charcoal, and manure. Charcoal was a major product for Henry. There were eventually 5 charcoal kilns at Zealand, and there was a ready market for much of it, to local hotels. The 1880 Industrial Census shows that the firm of Henry, Joy and Baldwin sold $75,000 worth of charcoal and $25,000 worth of lumber. Henry also had charcoal kilns just slightly to the east of the Stickney Chapel., on lands he eventually sold to the Mt. Pleasant Hotel Co. (He also owned some of the land on which the Mt. Washington Hotel now stands.)
Some of the surviving documents show that, as legend has stated, Henry was a good businessman, concerned with cutting costs wherever possible. One 1877 item indicates that the “the best rate” that could be had for shipping charcoal from Fabyans to Worcester would be 4 cents a bushel. Another indicates that low cost telegrams were being used that were not double checked by Western Union. Apparently, settling for this level of service reduced the cost by half.
By the early 1880s Henry was operating in Zealand and in business for himself. In 1885, he signed an agreement with the Boston and Lowell Rail Road for track, switches and other equipment and thus was born the Zealand Valley Rail Road. The initial agreement called for track to be laid 2 ½ miles into the woods from the Zealand station of the Mt. Washington Branch of the Boston, Concord, and Montreal Railroad. Over the next few years, a village with homes, a store, a post office, and the mill buildings, grew at this location and was home to many of the 300 or so employees working in the mill and the woods.
In 1891, J.E. Henry incorporated the Little River Railroad, presumably to cut timber on land he owned just to the west of the Zealand enterprise. Apparently he decided moving to Lincoln would be more profitable, and so in 1892 he sold the Little River holdings to George Van Dyke, a major figure in the lumber industry with whom Henry had many dealings. Part of this transaction included leasing the Zealand mills to Van Dyke. Van Dyke rented track and equipment from the Boston and Maine Railroad and built the Little River Railroad. He most likely rented his locomotive from Henry’s Zealand Valley Railroad. This railroad hauled logs out of the Little River Valley. The log trains moved over the 4 miles of B and M track, to the Zealand Mill, where the cutting took place. This arrangement worked until 1900, by which time Van Dyke had removed all the worthwhile timber, and the Boston and Maine terminated their agreement with Van Dyke in 1900. (Not really part of our story, but Van Dyke sold the
cut-over land in 1910. Logging (but not using a railroad) continued under various ownerships until the land was finally acquired by the Forest Service, partially in 1915, and fully in 1932 and is today part of the White Mountain National Forest.)
In May of 1890, J.E Henry transferred 1/3 ownership of all his New Hampshire properties (with minor exceptions) to each of his two oldest sons, John and George. The company was now owned equally by the J.E. and his two sons. His youngest son, Charles, would become part of the company later. In 1892 the move to Lincoln was made, and the rest, as they say, is history. The East Branch and Lincoln Railroad was built to haul timber to the Lincoln mills. It survived for over 50 years and was regarded in its day as one of the best built of the logging railroads. The railroad grading was superior, his track was heavier, and the old railroad grades are still in use as hiking trails today. In 1902, the company started to produce paper, and this eventually become the major product. A mill at Livermore Falls was used to grind pulp and trains ran over Boston and Maine tracks between Lincoln and that mill. When the company installed electric power in the mills, they also supplied electricity to the town of Lincoln, and later to parts of Woodstock..
The two books mentioned above, by Belcher and Gove, ably and in detail, chronicle the growth of the business in Lincoln.
James Henry had other business interests along the way. Of local interest, he and his son owned Thayer’s Hotel in Littleton for a short time. He leased it for $1,000 to another to run in 1901. The deeds show he made little money from the buying and selling of this property. He invested in wheat farming in Minnesota. He invested in lumbering properties in California, and real estate ventures in Florida and Georgia. He built a hotel in Lincoln, and operated a company store that supplied most of the everyday needs of people in town. He built, and rented to his workers, homes in Lincoln. Souvenir post cards of Lincoln exist that say “Published by James E. Henry”. Both of his logging railroads ran excursion trains into the woods for visitors.
James E. Henry died in Lincoln in 1912. His three sons continued to run the business, which by then included the paper company, until they sold it to The Parker Young Company in 1917 for $3,000,000.
J.E. Henry, along wth his wife Eliza are buried in Littleton
History has not been kind to James Henry and his sons. Aside from a gravestone, the name Henry is nowhere to be found in Lincoln. The sad remnants of the paper mill will shortly become another large hotel. It won’t be long before visitors to Lincoln will have nothing to remind them of what once was. That’s unfortunate. The Henry family built a large, successful business. Yes, it owned every building in the town at one time but it provided good jobs to hundreds of families for generations. The Henry family made a lot of money in their day, but, in the context of their time, they took care of their employees. At Thanksgiving time, employees received turkeys. Fifty cents a month deducted from employee paychecks paid for health care at the Hospital the company built, and the doctor the company paid. Henry’s widow and oldest son, George, supported Boston’s Morgan Memorial. Eliza Henry bought and donated to them a six story apartment building on Yarmouth Street, in Boston’s Back Bay. George’s obituary states that he donated generously to Morgan Memorial, Tilton Academy, Boston University School of Theology, the Methodist Church, along with other churches, and more.
Forestry, as a science, was virtually unknown in the early years of the 20th century, and the cutting methods used by the Henry family were strongly criticized at the time-and since. As did most of his contemporaries, Henry practiced clear cutting techniques. And the slash he left behind burned in forest fires that left scars on the region for years. He was called a “woods butcher” by his critics. The popular outcry against his way of doing things eventually helped secure passage of the Weeks Act, in 1911, and the subsequent creation of the White Mountain National Forest.
James E. Henry was a product of his times. He was born with little, created much, and died knowing he could be proud of his family and accomplishments.