Dams and mills were tremendously important to the people of the Lamprey River. Most of the structures are gone now, but evidence of their presence abounds. As of 2012, three big dams and sections of breached dams remain on the lower Lamprey. The McCallen Dam in Newmarket is the highest dam and is a prominent feature of downtown Newmarket. It has had a fish ladder for many years. The Wiswall Dam in Durham creates a drinking water reservoir for Durham and the University of New Hampshire. A fish ladder was completed here in 2012. The dam at Wadleigh Falls in Lee is breached, but it is still a formidable structure that most migrating fish cannot get past. The Bunker Pond Dam at Folsom Falls in West Epping was removed in 2011.
Dams are important in local people’s memories and add to their sense of time and place. They require maintenance and can sometimes contribute to environmental problems, such as blocking fish passage. They also can be dangerous to people if and when they fail during flood conditions. The owners of dams, often towns, must weigh the costs and benefits of keeping or removing dams. Whenever a dam is repaired, replaced, or removed, significant considerations must be made to accommodate human safety, environmental effects, and historic value. To view a kiosk panel at Wiswall Falls that describes some of these issues, click here.
Photo by Jerry & Marcy Monkman, Ecophotography
Like dams, mill sites often are important to local history. Visiting an old mill site and thinking back to the “old days” when life was very different from today can be a great learning experience. Life then was not perfect, however. Mills were often loud, dangerous places to work. They poured their wastes into the river, significantly degrading water quality downstream and into Great Bay. Sediment cores taken from Great Bay show evidence of massive amounts of sawdust that were carried downstream of the many sawmills that dotted the Lamprey and other rivers. Other wastes from tanneries or foundries have accumulated behind dams and on former mill sites.
Today’s river, mostly forested and clean, has not always been this way. Through several cycles of clearing and reforestation, pollution and recovery, the Lamprey’s landscape has changed. The passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the designation of the Lamprey as a Wild and Scenic River, and the inclusion of the river in the NH Rivers Management and Protection Plan have all contributed significantly to the current state of the river. The river’s good condition is also the result of wide-spread and on-going efforts by people to protect the river’s assets, through local planning boards and conservation commissions, state and federal regulatory oversight, volunteer clean-ups, fundraising, education, and a balance between the needs of nature and the wants of people. The future of the Lamprey is largely dependent on how people recognize the past and use it today.
History repeats itself because no one was listening the first time.