Women's History Commemorated in Grafton


Submitted a year ago
Created by
Andrew Cushing

New Historic Markers are Grafton's First

Two new state historic markers were installed in Grafton on Thursday this week. Both signs were nominated by the Grafton Historical Society after the organization recognized that the town lacked any markers explaining interesting aspects of the town’s past.

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Since history on sticks can only go into so much detail, fuller accounts are provided below.

The marker commemorating Dr. Jennie Sarah Barney stands at the future site of the expanded Grafton Public Library. Dr. Barney was born in Grafton in 1861 to one of the town’s earliest and most prosperous farming families. The only readily available job for women at the time was teaching, and so Barney attended New Hampton Literary Institute (today’s New Hampton School), graduating in 1882, and Plymouth Normal School (today’s Plymouth State University), graduating in 1890. After years of teaching in the area, she decided her calling was in medicine – unheard of for women in rural New Hampshire at the time.

Dr. Barney. Courtesy Grafton Historical Society.

Nevertheless, she graduated from Boston University in 1896 with degrees in medicine and surgery. Not only that, but she graduated one year early and as valedictorian of her class. Upon returning to New Hampshire, she came to establish her own practice on Central Street in Franklin and helped found the Franklin Hospital. Many women’s suffrage programs – both in New Hampshire and nationally – list Barney as a speaker and active member. She practiced medicine in Franklin for over fifty years.

Dr. Barney is buried in Franklin with her partner, Abbie Gale, who was a masseuse. She was 94 when she died.

Dr. Barney, pictured fourth from left, stands with her family at their Breezy Nook Farm, 1888. Courtesy Grafton Historical Society.

The other marker, located at the town hall on Turnpike Road, recalls East Grafton’s earlier sobriquet – Bungtown. East Grafton was the town’s industrial center. Entrepreneurs harnessed the power of Mill Brook as early as 1772, when Joseph Hamilton built the first sawmill in town. By the mid-1800s, mills were producing a variety of goods: coffins, bobbins, boxes, carded wool, axes, sleighs, harnesses, wagons, boards, shingles, cider. These industries created a need for nearby markets and amenities, and East Grafton soon had boarding houses, stores, blacksmith shops, a schoolhouse, a church, and some of the town’s nicest homes.

Darius Martin's Mill in Bungtown. Courtesy of Grafton Historical Society.

While at first “Bungtown” may seem like a derogatory name, its origins are more innocent, and perhaps funny. Ada Tinkham, a merchant assistant in a village store, wrote in a 1901 letter, “As a man was coming down one of the hills near the village, with a load of barrels, the bung came out of one of the barrels and let the contents free. From that time until now the village has been known as Bungtown...” Whether it was a joke or not, people didn’t like the name. According to an 1877 Canaan Reporter article:

“The people of Bungtown became dissatisfied with the name of the place and have changed it East Village…This is quite a thriving village, consisting of one hotel called Pleasant Valley House, two blacksmith shops, one shingle mill, one clapboard mill, a threshing mill, two cider mills, one grist mill, one harnesses, a paint shop, one woolen mill, one carriage factory.”

Optimists in 1877 thought they had won. There was “much rejoicing in the fact that it is to be called Bungtown no more, but is now and forever to be called East Village,” stated the newspaper article. Unfortunately, Bungtown persisted.

Bungtown, c.1900. East Grafton Union Church in background. Courtesy Grafton Historical Society.

Today, East Grafton retains much of its historical integrity and offers an interesting array of architectural styles. The Historical Society is busy restoring several buildings in the village, including the East Grafton Union Church, its parsonage, and the carding mill.

For information on nominating a state historic marker, visit here.

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