By Brian P. Wiggin

Few teachers or students are aware of the importance of this individual for whom our institution of higher learning was named. Are you?

crosby

 

Alpheus Crosby Kennett was born in Madison on July 27, 1859, just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. He was the son of William Kennett of Madison and Sarah E. Russell of Conway. He attended schools in Madison and New Hampton.

As a teenager, Kennett enjoyed driving the stage to Ossipee; he learned telegraphy in the process. He also loved the woods and eventually acquired a keen interest in the lumbering business. He bought much land in Passaconaway from the local merchant, Elijah Burbank Carlton. (Carlton was the original trustee of the Conway Public Library.)

This would be a fortunate investment, as the forests yielded a constant supply of wood for his future businesses. At one time, Kennett owned 70,000 acres of land in the tri-state area.

In 1888 Kennett bought the spool mill on West Main Street from Henry Metcalf. Up to 50 men were employed. A million board feet of white birch was annually used in the factory. The power was produced by a 125-horsepower steam engine. Up to 2 million feet of wood was sawed in one winter.

The daily product of finished spools was 1000 gross, or up to 500,000 gross annually. Most were shipped to the middle and western states, Canada, and the Mile End Spool Cotton Factory of Newark, N.J. which was the largest thread and silk factory in the world. Of course, it was the largest employer of Conway.

Kennett was also in charge of the Peg Mill and was for many years in the early 20th century the superintendent of the F.W. Myers Hell Mill.

In 1897, Kennett opened the Box Factory, where boxes of all sizes and kinds were manufactured. Up to 3 ½ million board feet of lumber were used each year. Twenty-five people were employed in this establishment and 75 more lumbered in Albany to supply the necessary raw materials. Seven portable sawmills were needed to supply operations.

Also in 1897, Kennett helped form the first Electric Light Company, which was chartered in 1909.

The Town Reports of the time are full of details of the involvement of Kennett in many ways. In 1915, for example, Kennett had the 202 foot covered bridge replanked with hard pine boards (for $40.04!).

He helped to provide fuel for the schools. In 1916, he helped to maintain the state highway and repair the Cotton Mills (Conway Lake) Bridge and to break new roads.

The political arena interested Kennett as well. He served as a member of the State House of Representatives from 1892-93 and again in 1895. He served also on the Republican State Committee. He distinguished himself statewide as a counselor to Gov. Nahum J. Batchelder (1903-5).

The Kennett family was also strongly involved in the affairs of the community. Mrs. (Lora) Kennett joined the Second Congregational Church in 1904 and she and her husband helped in the construction of the “Brown Church” in 1906. He was a member of the building committee. Theirs sons, Robert Harmon and Frank Edson, would both join on April 15, 1923 and become valued members.

Kennett was an early trustee of the Conway Public Library, following in the footsteps of his mentor, Carlton. He was Chairman of the Trustees during the World War I years and served until his death.

As early as 1916, Kennett was a member of three of the “Special Committee of Litigation” along with John H. Garland and James Gibson. The trio looked in to the feasibility of establishing a town high school.

The spot finally selected as the site for the high school has a history of its own. According to personal notes from the late George T. Davidson, it was the scene of Thomas Abbott’s Tavern, and later was enlarged to the Adams Hotel, which was sold to Colonel John Hill.

It became known as the Pequawket House, where notables such as Daniel Webster, President and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln and sons, Lord Talleyrand, General John Stark, Horace Greenley and Mrs. Grover Cleveland stayed. Rates were $6 to $9 a week. It was a stop on the stage route from Boston. John Shorey was the final owner and it was ultimately run as a boarding house for Polish mill workers before being razed.

Kennett died at age 58 on December 5, 1917. His wife, Lora, herself the owner of an antique shop, offered to contribute funds toward the construction of a high school. The only stipulation was that it was to be named for A. Crosby Kennett.

On April 25, 1922, the Town of Conway accepted the gift. Opening day in 1923 saw 130 students with a staff of nine teachers.

Editor’s note: Brian P. Wiggin is a Kennett High graduate and retired teacher and loves to write about local history.

 

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