“March Blizzard of 1888 Tied Up Coach Several Days”
The Northwood and Newmarket stage, which made its last trip more than 50 years ago, was the last of its kind to surrender to the automobile. It started its daily run back in the heydays of the stage coach, long before the advent of the railroads. It was making regular trips as late as 1888 although it was not long after that year that the old coach gave up.
One of the former drivers, the late John F. Ayer of Newfields died a few years ago at age 93 years. ** He recalled some interesting incidents of the coach just a few years before his death.
“The coach left Newmarket at mid-forenoon each day, starting from the Newmarket House which was one of the leading hosteries of Newmarket. It proceeded to Wyman’s Hotel in Nottingham for its first stage where there was a change of horses, and the passengers had refreshments. After that it started its second stage to Northwood.”
Preceding Mr. Ayer as driver was William Bor, known as “Bly” Drake, who drove through the 1870’s and 80’s. The stage was a covered carry-all style of vehicle, drawn by a pair of horses both summer and winter. In winter it was placed on runners to battle snow drifts. There only a few days when storms and snow drifts blocked the coach. However, the country roads of the 1860s and 1870 vintage were hard to travel in the winter months and harder even in the mud time of early spring.
The extension of the Boston and Maine railroad from Exeter to Newmarket in 1841 forced several of the stage lines to discontinue service.
The Boston Stage, which left Branscomb’s tavern on Main Street in Newmarket, stopping at Stimson’s Tavern near what is now Rockingham Junction, and then to Boston via Haverhill, Mass, and another going to Boston via Newburyport, ceased to roll after the railroad came to town.
But the Northwood and Newmarket stage continued, and for more than 70 years afterwards it was a landmark for the county towns which it served. It was as dependable as the grandfather clock in the kitchen of the country homes, and as regular as the coming of the cows from pasture at night. It carried the U.S. Mail and its driver delivered the pouch to the Post Office at Newmarket in time for it to be mailed to the East and West bound trains of the Boston and Maine railroad.
While the Boston stages ceased to roll after the coming of the Boston and Maine railroad in 1841, the Northwood stage operated several generations after.
In 1888, the driver was John F. Ayer, and while the exact date of its passing is uncertain there is evidence that the stage was covering the original route until the early 1890’s. It then yielded to the automobile, and the R.F.D. carriers attended to the mail service which was once the duty of the stage driver.
The March blizzard of 1888 tied the coach up. It made the run from Northwood on Monday, but on Tuesday morning Newmarket and surrounding towns were buried under two feet of damp snow, and the start was not made. For several days the stage remained in Newmarket.
In November 1888, the Northwood and Newmarket stage conveyed the election news the morning that Benjamin Harrison had been elected over Grover Cleveland as president. The newspaper headlines were elatedly shouted out by the driver, Mr. Ayer. Four years later, in 1892 the stage was running and its driver shouted the election news on a November morning that Grover Cleveland had been elected over President Harrison. Mr. Ayer was not driving then as he had previously sold his interest in the route to a Mr. Kilpatrick. The stage was taken off the road a few years later, and with its passing another old landmark was removed.
There were seldom any accidents during the long period of operation, but the driver experienced many unusual situtaions. One night late in the fall of 1865 or 1866, the driver was greeted with the weird yell of an animal which seemed to be very close. Being alarmed he urged the horses on and soon the was out of hearing of the cries. This was near the Sylvanus Tuttle farm on the northern part of Newmarket which was then thickly wooded. It later proved to be a cougar as one was shot by William Chapman, a fox hunter, soon after.
“The hunter first spied the animal crouched on a limb ready to spring, and he had only small shots to protect himself. He fired and blinded the cougar which he later shot after it had fallen to the ground.”
The driver of the coach was of the opinon that the cougar was up in one of the trees over the path of the stage ready to spring on him or one of the horses. The animal was later mounted and displayed in a Newmarket store window. Chapman was always known afterwards as “Cougar” Chapman.
There are no tangible traces of the final disposition of the old coach, but it was doubtless stored away in some building, and finally disposed of by fire or thrown away for rubbish.
** Although this newspaper article states that John Ayer died a few “years ” ago, this was a misprint. Mr. Ayer died a few “months” ago. He actually died on May 7th 1949, the same year this article was published.
In 1938 Mr. & Mrs. John F. Aye observed their birthday anniversary. They were both born on November 17th, Mr. Ayer in 1855 in Deerfield (the son of Joseph and Eunice Ayer), and Mrs. Ayer, (formerly Jennie Dudley of Brentwood), was born in that town in 1860. They married in 1884. In 1938, Mr. Ayer was assistant superintendent of the Rockingham County Farm, and the birthday press announcement stated that “over 50 years ago he was the driver of the Newmarket and Northwood stage, one of the early stages and probably the last stage route to pass from New Hampshire.”
In 1893 he moved to Brentwood and then to Stratham where he lived for 20 years and worked as a farmer and milk dealer. He later moved to Newfields where he died at his home at age 93, the oldest resident of the town. He was survived by his son Wallace Ayer also of Newfields. He died in 1953.