A. Cultural History (and Effects on River Ecology)


How did Native Americans, several thousand years ago, get red ochre that came from as far away as Maryland? How did the first settlers get the pines they cut for the king's ship masts down to Portsmouth Harbor? (By 1776, a third of Britain's ships were built in America, many in Portsmouth.) How did farmers on the river get the firewood they cut in the winter downstream to the brickyards on Great Bay? How did schooners make it up the river? Could such a boat get up the river today? Why?

The NH state archaeologist's office (www.nh.gov/nhdhr), the Gundalow Company, John Adams's Drowned Valley: The Piscataqua River Basin, and a booklet by Adams, “The Piscataqua River Gundalow”, are good resources on transportation on the Lamprey River. In addition to transportation on the river, students should consider how the prominence of first railroads and then cars changed people's use and perception of the river. The present Route 125 is on the former bed of the railroad mentioned in the River Story: The Lamprey Through History film. What forms of transportation are used on the river now, and for what purposes? What problems do motor boats and jet skis pose for the river and its inhabitants? A canoe trip on the Lamprey would be a great extension of this project! Consult the Lamprey River Advisory Committee’s website, www.lampreyriver.org, recreation, for suggestions on where to canoe.


While rivers are still a major source of energy, people rarely think about how a river's energy is translated into mechanical or electrical energy. They are also generally unaware of the mechanics of the waterwheels and turbines that operated grist mills and sawmills and powered hundreds of looms in the Newmarket mills long before electricity. How did this work? You might arrange to tour the Newmarket mills (and perhaps the National Historic Park in Lowell, MA). Interested students can research the mechanics of various waterwheels and turbines (see diagrams) and might even construct a model. The history section of the Lowell National Park website has animated diagrams of hydropowered looms (http://www.nps.gov/lowe/photosmultimedia/multimedia.htm). The topic of energy lends itself well to collaboration with a science teacher.

How did canals add to a site's waterpower capacity? Durham’s Wiswall Dam has a readily visible canal. The Lowell website also discusses canals. Field trips to modern power plants (e.g., PSNH's Newington station or the gas-fired Con Edison power plant in Newington) and the remains of dams and canals on the Lamprey should be part of this project. Students can also visit PSNH's Amoskeag Hydroelectric Power Plant in Manchester. The site also includes a fish-viewing window and a small museum.

Manufacturing and business:

Students can look at the history of mills along the Lamprey and learn more about how materials such as grains or logs were processed and how products such as bricks, iron, leather, medicines, textiles, cider, leather board, or paper were made. Start with a list of questions students themselves generate based on what they learn from the film. They might consider questions such as: Where did the raw materials for these products come from? Where did the finished products go? How were they transported? How important were these products to the economies of England and America? How did industrial by-products affect the river? Why did certain industries predominate in certain time periods (e.g., sawmills in the 1600s and 1700s, textile mills in the 1800s)? Who built and operated the mills and what do we know about their lives? How are their names preserved today? (Have students list names of sites along the river and streets in the area and research where these names came from.)

Students' research can combine the particular history of the Lamprey mills with an understanding of the general manufacturing processes and their role in American and industrial history. For example, if they read a general account of the industrial revolution, they can consider how the mills on the Lamprey fit into the larger picture. Students can see the remains of industrial sites along the Lamprey (e.g., Wiswall dam, Wadleigh Falls, Newmarket mills) as part of their research. Local historical societies can share important information, maps, biographies, and photographs.

Ice cutting:

Most people take refrigeration so much for granted that they are surprised to realize that less than a century ago people needed another way to preserve food. The film answers the most commonly asked question about ice cutting: how did the ice last all summer? What other questions do students have about ice cutting and early food preservation? Students doing oral histories might find older residents who remember buying ice for their "ice boxes" or having it delivered to their homes. Students can also research the food preservation processes of pickling, salting, canning, and drying.


A group researching recreation on the Lamprey might start by considering questions such as:

How is the river used recreationally now? What institutional or commercial recreational facilities exist on the Lamprey now? How do students use it themselves: swimming? taking the first daring jump off the Wiswall bridge? ice skating? fishing? hunting? canoeing? other boating? hiking along the banks? taking photographs? enjoying the scenery? picnicking? viewing wildlife? skiing? biking? snow mobiling? riding ATVs? camping? Which of these uses would not have been considered recreational in the past? Why are they now? What is the impact of these uses on the river? How should decision-makers balance river recreation and river preservation?

Students can write personal narratives about any experiences they have had on the river or interview others about their experiences. How important do students consider these recreational uses to be compared to higher impact uses for industry or hydropower? Are any recreational uses detrimental to the river and how should these be managed? Are these uses compatible with the Lamprey River Advisory Committee’s “tread lightly” philosophy? How can they be altered to accommodate this philosophy? Should more recreational uses be encouraged? (See Section IV “Land Use Issues.) Students can draw a continuum of recreational uses of the river according to the degree of effect each use has on the river (for example, motor boats and jet skis disturb the shoreline and stir up sediment on the bottom, whereas canoes have little effect unless they are dragged up and down steep slopes.)

In a 1992 survey of landowners along Lamprey River, 65% of the respondents said they lived on the river for the "privacy and solitude of the area;" 51% named its scenic/wildlife qualities." In another question, the most common use of the river (88%) was "enjoying scenery," with "nature/wildlife watching" ranking second. Other high-ranking activities included walking (72%), canoeing (62%), swimming (58%), fishing (45%), and photography (42%). Results from this survey are published in the Lamprey River Resource Assessment (see "Resources"). Students can also consider constructing their own survey and updating this information. What questions and conclusions do these survey results suggest to students? For example, how would the responses influence decision-makers about developing or preserving the river? Would the conclusions of residents other than shoreline landowners be different? (Students can test this by conducting comparative surveys.) Who should decide the river's future? (See "Point of View" exercises, Section II-3 and "Land Use Issues" Section IV) How can river advocates educate decision-makers about the river and inspire them to protect it?

Finally, students can research past recreational uses of the Lamprey River such as the Lone Tree Boy Scout camp in Deerfield and the summer resort, Highland House, in Durham. The nationwide, turn-of-the-century "back to nature" movement exemplified by these two institutions caused a new tourist industry, the grand hotel era, and the formation of clubs such as the Scouts, the Sierra  Club, the Boone and Crockett Club, and the Audubon Society. What reasons can students give for why this movement occurred at this time? The excellent video "The Wilderness Idea: John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and The Great Battle for Wilderness" (1989, Florentine Films, Direct Cinema Ltd. P.O. Box 1003, Santa Monica, CA 90410) presents the end of the frontier and the railroads as two reasons for America's new appreciation for nature around 1900. The book Mountain Summers by Peter and June Rowan, and the film, The White Mountains, Place and Perceptions (UNH Media Services), describe tourist activity in New Hampshire in the 1800s and early 1900s. The University of New Hampshire currently owns Highland House and is trying to decide what to do with it. Students interested in Highland House and its future can interview Richard Lord, Lamprey River Advisory Committee member and president of the Durham Historic Association.

The Camp Hedding property in Epping was established as the site of a religious summer retreat. Camp meetings in 1864 and in 1881 had so many daily visitors (up to 18,000) that a branch railroad was built to the site. What else can students learn about Camp Hedding? What exists on the site now? Was this camp unique or part of a larger national movement?

Lamprey Mysteries:

Students can consider questions historians still puzzle over:

An old mast serves as a newel post in a house near Wadleigh Falls. Another mast can be found in an attic in Newfields. Where did these masts come from and how did they get where they are? What ships were they on? Who built them? Sharon Meeker (659-5441) can arrange for students to view these masts.

Where did the Lamprey get its name? In 1652, it was referred to as the "Lamper Eel River," in 1655 as the "lamperele." Did the name "lamprey" originate in Europe or America?

In 1655, Valentine Hill received permission to build probably the first canal in New England to carry water from the Lamprey (at the Moat near Packer's Falls) to his mill on the Oyster River. Was the canal ever completed? No one is sure. Is Longmarsh Brook the remains of his canal? Students can visit the area east of Rte. 108 between Bennett Road and Durham Point Road, then follow the water along Rte. 108 south of Bennett Rd., and draw their own conclusions.

Students can look at pictures of artifacts found at Wadleigh Falls dating from 7,000 to 8,000 years ago (tools, reptile bones, animal remains) and consider how they got there and how they were used. Students can get resources from the Lee Historical Society and the state archaeologist. Do not encourage students to visit this fragile site.

Oral History:

Starting with the historical profiles in the back of the elementary portion of the curriculum (Lesson 5, "People of the River,") and the families introduced in the film, students might be inspired to interview people who currently have a connection with the river or know its history well. Students should first decide what they want to know. They can then locate good subjects to interview through local historical societies (see resources in the elementary portion of the curriculum), state and local conservation organizations, and members of the Lamprey River Advisory Committee (see "Resources"). They can interview the videographers who made River Story and other Lamprey River videos to learn how they tracked down their sources. They can also contact people who live on the river and use its recreational resources. Any of the projects on transportation, manufacturing, wildlife, or energy can incorporate oral history as a research tool. For example, a wildlife group could interview local people who bird watch, fish or hunt.

Cautions and suggestions:

Most students are reluctant to call adults they do not know. A letter of introduction written by the student along with a form letter from the teacher and an initial call from the teacher can help to break the ice. Students might feel more comfortable doing interviews in pairs. A few may only go if an adult accompanies them.

Interviewing the subject:

Students often go into an interview with no planned questions or a list of questions they stick to so rigidly that they never build on the responses of their subject. Start by asking students to brainstorm a list of things they want to know and to frame these points as questions. Talk about the difference between "yes/no" questions, questions with one-word answers, and open-ended questions. (E.g. “Do you like living on the Lamprey?” versus “What are the benefits and drawbacks of living on the river?” or “What are your concerns about the future of the river?”) Caution students to avoid asking leading questions that result in a particular answer. Talk about active listening as the most important part of interviewing -listening for interest, not just note-taking. Model a good interview in class by interviewing one of the students or another adult yourself. How did the interviewer draw out the speaker? What happened if the speaker answered with "yes" or "no?" Did the interviewer start talking about his or her own experiences? Then have students do a practice interview. You might invite a Lamprey River guest to class to be interviewed by the group.

Getting the information down:

Students can take notes or use a tape recorder or videotape. Audiotaping requires transcription later and taking notes can detract from natural conversation. One solution is to jot down quotable phrases and hard-to-remember facts such as names or dates during the interview, but to wait until immediately after the interview, while the conversation is fresh, to write a detailed summary.

Sharing the information:

Sharing can take many forms. Students can write a lively paper profiling the person they interview. They can do an oral presentation accompanied by visual material such as a timeline or poster. They can impersonate the person they interviewed and speak in the first person. Students who videotape could work together to create a documentary about the river, using the interviews as connecting material (audio tape and quotes from papers could be included as well). A panel of speakers might be invited to class. Students can pool what they learned from the interviews on a class map or on a large timeline about the Lamprey's history.