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Temple

The hunt for history

Residents, archeology students participate in archeological dig at historic glassworks factory site

  • Archeologist returns to the site of Temple Glassworks to give a talk on the history of the site and lead residents on a mini-dig in search of glass remnants.
  • Archeologist returns to the site of Temple Glassworks to give a talk on the history of the site and lead residents on a mini-dig in search of glass remnants.
  • Archeologist returns to the site of Temple Glassworks to give a talk on the history of the site and lead residents on a mini-dig in search of glass remnants.
  • Archeologist returns to the site of Temple Glassworks to give a talk on the history of the site and lead residents on a mini-dig in search of glass remnants.
  • Archeologist returns to the site of Temple Glassworks to give a talk on the history of the site and lead residents on a mini-dig in search of glass remnants.
  • Archeologist returns to the site of Temple Glassworks to give a talk on the history of the site and lead residents on a mini-dig in search of glass remnants.
  • Archeologist returns to the site of Temple Glassworks to give a talk on the history of the site and lead residents on a mini-dig in search of glass remnants.

For a long time, the site of the former Temple Glassworks factory sat unused and overgrown, until a stroke of chance got a group of archeologists from Boston University interested in the site in the ’70s. Back then, crews spent several weeks each year for three years excavating the site, looking for links to the past. A few plots of earth were still left unexplored, however, giving a group of residents the chance to unearth little bits of brick and small remnants of glass on a mini-archeological dig Saturday, led by the same man that headed the ’70s dig, Dave Starbuck.

“This is one of the most distinctive places I’ve worked on in my life,” Starbuck, a professor of archeology at Plymouth State University, told a group gathered on Saturday at the site of the old glassworks. “A little site, out in the woods, but these are the sites that stay with you.”

Temple Glassworks dates back to 1780, when Boston entrepreneur Robert Hewes decided to establish a glassworks factory on Temple’s Kidder Mountain . Why he chose that location, when his main market was likely in Boston is still something of a mystery, Starbuck told residents. Perhaps it’s because New Hampshire is rich in the sand, pot ash and wood fuel needed to make the product. Whatever the reason, Hewes’ glass factory is notable for several reasons.

It was the first factory in the colonies to make “crown” glass — quality, clear glass, rather than the opaque, lower-quality glass often used in windows at the time. His first foray into glassmaking ended almost immediately when the newly established Temple factory burned down in 1780, but Hewes rebuilt on the same site, starting up production again, which continued until 1782.

Hewes’ glassmaking efforts in Temple ultimately ended when he borrowed a sum of $3,000 pounds from the town for financial necessities associated with glassmaking . A lottery Hewes organized would have paid back the money borrowed — except the lottery tickets were purchased with “new emission money,” a short-lived currency. When the currency fell through, so did the lottery, and the glassworks failed shortly thereafter.

Hewes and his glassworkers were promptly warned out of town. Hewes went on to have other successful glass ventures in Boston, but the debt to Temple was never repaid. In 2011, an anonymous donor gave the town several artifacts from the glassworks, including chestnut bottles and vials, on the condition that the contribution be considered payment of Hewes’ debt, which the 2011 Select Board granted.

One of the most interesting things about the site, said Starbuck, wasn’t just the industrial factory, but the three cabins built immediately around it, which housed glassworkers and their families.

While unverified, town lore claims some of the workers in the glass factory were Hessian soldiers in the British Army, who were captured and released after the Battle of Saratoga, after promising not to return to the fighting. Some settled in Boston and worked with Hewes, and may have given him the idea to go into glassmaking. The best glassmakers of the day were German, said Starbuck, but it was a highly specialized and prized skill, so it’s unlikely anyone beyond an apprentice level would have been in the army. However, in the sites of the workers’ cabins, the ’70s dig turned up British Army buttons, so perhaps the story does hold some water, Starbuck said.

Since the ’70s dig, there was a long stretch where nothing at all was done to the site and the trail leading up to it, said Starbuck. But a recent resurgence in efforts by the Temple Glassworks Committee — a subcommittee of the Temple Historical Society made up of Dave Repak, Tom Hawkins, Phil Lauriat, Rose Lowry, Gary Scholl, Starbuck, George Willard and John Keiley — saw the trail cleaned up, new signs detailing the site put up, and events like Saturday’s planned. The effort to get the site back up to snuff has really occurred in the last year, said Lauriat on Saturday at the Temple Glassworks site.

“We thought this was something important, said Lauriat, president of the Temple Historical Society. “It was important to get people up here and using the site.”

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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