When Judi Tatem and other members of the Unity Historical Society started going through historical photographs in their collections, they noticed that a record of the last three or four decades was entirely missing. “There were no snowmobiles or boats out on the lake [Crescent Lake],” said Tatem. “We need those photographs to keep our record of history going.”
Tatem and her husband moved to Unity in 1995 from Newport, where they had run an inn for a decade. Tatem then worked at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish as a ranger. Her husband still has a gun shop called the Stone Eagle in Newport. While she was still working at Saint-Gaudens she didn't get that involved in the community of Unity, although she knew there were networks of communication through her attendance at the West Unity Community Church. After retirement though, she joined the historical society and found a new network of connections, and she found plenty of projects too.
“I'm supposedly the archivist,” she laughed. “Because I had worked at Saint-Gaudens, I had people that I can talk to.” One project that Tatem took up was chronicling the built structures of the town. This culminated in a 2014 publication called “Old Homes and Places of Interest in Unity, Hampshire: 250 Years and Counting.” The historical society produced a limited run of 300 copies.
“Years ago when I lived in Connecticut, I discovered that by using old maps I could find the discontinued roads that made wonderful trails to ride my horses. I passed cellar holes and would come home to look up the names of the people who lived there ...,” Tatem wrote in her introduction to the book. “I have enjoyed exploring Unity the same way, using old maps and finding cellar holes.”
Tatem's book is a collection of historical and modern photographs of the old homes of Unity. True to her claim, however, none of the historical photos appear to be from the 1960s or '70s or more recently. To remedy this situation, the historical society will set up a table at Unity Old Home Day on July 21. They will have some of their old photographs out on display, but would also be happy to receive any that date from the 1960s to the present. They are able to scan hard copies and return the originals to owners.
Tatem also encourages Unity residents to join the historical society. There is more to it than collecting old photographs. Last year at Old Home Day they presented a “Unity Cane” to Norma Dombroski, the oldest resident of the town. This local variant is in reference to a publicity campaign by the Boston Post newspaper, which circulated through all of New England between 1831 and 1956. In 1909 the newspaper had 700 ebony-shafted, gold-crowned canes made and contacted selectboards all around New England and asked them to have ceremonies and present the cane to their oldest male resident. Women were included after 1930. The cane is passed to the next oldest resident when the oldest passes on.
The historical society is also interested in the town's natural resources. For much of its post-settlement history, Unity was a farming community. The railroad, Tatem said, was through along the Connecticut River and never went through Unity. Manufacturing consequently never developed on a large scale. But there was an extraction industry. Tatem said there were eight mines in the town.
Mining historian Jim Pecora of the New England Mineral Museum in Alstead was intrigued by Tatem's information about the Unity mines and would to explore the town to locate them. “They are all on private land,” Tatem noted, “so that will take some doing.” When the Eagle Times inquired about “Mica Mine Road” in Unity, Tatem said that mine is actually in Claremont.
Those interested in more information about the society can visit unitynhhistoricalsociety.org. The society's offices are on the second floor of the Unity Town Office at 13 Center Road in Unity Center.
-- BILL CHIASSON