Dr. L.Forbes and Sylvia Fitts Getchell

— a dedication by the New Market Historical Society – by John Carmichael

The Town of Newmarket lost a remarkable couple in 2012, a couple devoted not only to one another and their family, but they were also devoted to this town. Their mission spotlighted the rich historic fabric of this small village, and they instilled a pride in the community which had been lost for decades. “Doc” and Sylvia Getchell were founding members of the New Market Historical Society in 1966; their leadership, knowledge and energy helped create a dynamic organization which culminated in the Town’s celebrated 250th Anniversary in 1977.

Dr. L. (Leonard) Forbes Getchell passed away on May 16, 2012, and Sylvia died on November 17th.  For over 60 years they infused enthusiasm and optimism in everything they did.  And they did a lot. They were a vital force in town, serving on several town boards and commissions. For the Historic Society they continually worked to bring this town’s history to life by making it accessible and fun.  Their expertise of the town’s early Colonial Life and the Militia made them Newmarket’s ambassadors of goodwill.  They participated in events in New Hampshire, Maine, Massachussetts, Canada and France. Anyone who witnessed their programs and lectures can attest to their energetic and enthusiastic rendering of our town’s history. They will be missed.

(photo: New Market Historical Society, 250th Celebration at the Rockingham Ballroom , 1977)

Mrs. Getchell, herself a historian, genealogist and author, was the museum’s curator for many years. She would present lectures on various topics, such as New Hampshire’s cod fishing industry to several historical societies throughout the area.

Forbes was Society past president, and also one of the founders of the 1st New Market Colonial Militia which was created in preparation for the town’s 250th celebration. Both Doc and Sylvia were instrumental in the detailed planning and organization that made the celebration so successful.

The Beginnings of the Historic Society

In 1966, the old stone church and schoolhouse at the top of the Zion hill in the center of town went up for sale. The Stone Church became a restaurant and bar, and for a dollar, the 2-story 1843 stone school became home to the historic society and museum. The Getchells, among other founding members, sought out and accumulated artifacts and documents from local businesses and families. Overtime they assembled enough furniture, instruments, industrial and farming tools, and turn-of-the-century household items to fill two floors. The upstairs room is full of period clothing and military uniforms, as well as turn of the century farming tools, mechanical and household appliances.

The upstairs room is named in honor of Doc Getchell, who served several terms as past Historical Society President, and acted as tour director for several Newmarket classroom outings on many a Thursday afternoon.

Both he and Sylvia acted as “history mentors” for some of the younger townsfolk. Doc would call on the assistance of a young student, Mike Provost, to work one summer in a dilapidated shed retrieving old tools, wagon jacks, and drill presses from the “barely standing” workshop of Samuel and Adin Joy on Ash Swamp Road. Likewise, Sylvia would take a student or two to help pull an old fireplace mantle, church benches, and letters from the burnt-out recesses of the old Kimball farm. They would seek out young people involved with the Fire Department Hand Tub Association to restore original fire hose wheels which had been left in the basement of the Historic Society.

(photo: Dr. L. Forbes Getchell | Disposable Camera Tour Disposable by J. Dennis Robinson, 2001 )

Forbes was born in New Bedford, Mass., on 11 August 1919, a son of the late Prof. Edward L. Getchell and Alice (Forbes) Getchell. He grew up in Durham, N.H., attending grade school there and high school in Dover. He went on to attend the University of New Hampshire.

Then came World War II. During the war, Doc Getchell served in the US Army during World War II as a T4 Army Sgt. in the 94th QM Railhead Co. He landed in Casablanca, crossed the Atlas Mountains with the 94th, thence to Italy, later landing in Marseilles, continuing through France north into Germany.

In January 2008, he graciously participated in the very first taping of The Newmarket Veterans Memorial Trust Committee’s “Veterans Forum” program. The four WW II veterans at this round table discussion – Herbie Philbrick, Richman Walker, Doctor Irving Brown, and Doctor Getchell have now all passed. The Veterans Memorial Trust Committee is grateful that they shared their wartime experiences in this frank, illuminating, and entertaining recollection. A replaying of this interview was done on Newmarket’s cable Channel 13 the week of Doc Getchell’s funeral as a memorial tribute. This broadcast can be viewed at the Veterans Forum section of Channel 13’s website – http://newmarketnh.pegcentral.com

Sylvia also grew up in Durham, NH, her parents were Perley and Marguerite (Marden) Fitts. Like, Doc, she attended grade school there and high school in Dover. “Syl” received a B.A. magna cum laude at U.N.H. in 1947 majoring in History. After the war, Doc received a B.S. in Bacteriology at U.N.H. in 1947. Sylvia went on to Simmons College where she received a B.S. in Library Science in 1948 – that same year the couple married in Durham. They then moved to New York City where Sylvia worked as a professional cataloger at Columbia University in NYC from 1948-51,  while Doc received his medical degree at NYU College of Dentistry in 1951.

(Getchell family photo)

That same year, they returned to the New Hampshire seacoast, and settled in Newmarket where Doc founded Newmarket Dental, setting up his practice on the second floor of 84 Main Street, above what is now Crackskull’s Coffee and Books. The practice moved next door in 1955 to its current location at 80 Main Street, a building which initially housed the Branscomb Tavern. This inn served as a stagecoach stop dating to 1832, and later was used as a shoe shop, remnant store and a physician’s office. Many current patients have been receiving their dental care here for 40 years or more!

Between 1951 and 1952, Sylvia also worked as a cataloger at UNH. She left the catalogue work to raised four children. Sylvia also worked as the Newmarket School librarian for 15 years (1970 – 1985). The family spent many happy hours together at a rustic camp on Great Bay or in the mountains of NH or Maine. “Getch” and his family sailed on Great Bay in a cat boat that he built and named the SAFEW (a combination of the first initials of his family).

As a young man, Doc was active in the Boy Scouts and was also a Sea Scout Skipper. Forbes was a Troop Leader and an Explorer Post Advisor during his adult years. Likewise, Sylvia was a both a Brownie and a Girl Scout leader. They both marched in many a Memorial Day parade with their scouts in tow.

(Getchell family photo Sylvia and Doc in Scouting uniforms)

They were both fascinated with local history. Sylvia was an active and contributing member of the Daughters of the American Revolution; and she worked for many years as a docent at the American Independence Museum in Exeter, N.H. “

They were involved with the New Market Colonial Militia for many years. The Militia travelled to events held up and down the east coast as well as a special trip to Paris, France.  Later, “Getch” and Sylvia continued to take part in the reenactments and presentations in area schools. “Doc” protrayed  an 18th century physician who demonstrated that period’s  medical techniques and tools.  Dressed in the garb of his ancestor Nehemiah Getchell, who was one of the original scouts on Arnold’s March to Quebec in 1775,  Forbes retraced taht trek in March of 1975  with the Captain  Goodrich Company. 

After Doc’s retirement in 1984, the couple enjoyed many  travels which took them across the US, Canada, and Europe, and even to New Zealand.   Each trip was an educational adventure,  whereby they enhanced their understanding of history, their own heritage, and the natural world.

An accomplished woodworker, “Doc” made good use of his skillful hands outside the dental office by creating a good deal of pine furniture for his family.  He was also well known for the miniature birds that he carved and painted, selling them at local craft fairs and donating many to the Newmarket Community Church’s Christmas Fair.

“Doc” was certainly known around town for his jaunty walk. He walked to and from his office four times a day. After retirement, he would be seen striding to a Library Trustee meeting, whistling along the way. He was also a marvelous skater and dancer.

Their  involvement with the community started the week that they moved  to town —  Doc  served  in the Community Church as a  deacon, trustee, and member of the choir; he was on the school board for nine years , was Library Trusteee for several years; and he was an active member of the Masons;  Sylvia, while busy raising four children, found the time to be a Sunday School teacher and scout leader as well as being involved with the D.A.R. and P.T.O.   They both were instrumental in the Town of Newmarket’s  250th Celebration.


The following is  from the 1997 Newmarket Town Report:

1997 Town Report Dedication:
Dr. L. Forbes Getchell & Sylvia Fitts Getchell

“Though Forbes and Sylvia Getchell grew up in Durham, they have lived in Newmarket long enough to feel like natives.
Forbes was in the Army in WWII, a Sgt. In the 94th QM Railhead Co. (African campaign, Salerno, Anzio, So. France and Germany). He arrived home in 1945 and they both finished UNH in 1947. Then while he started Dental School at N.Y.U. Sylvia got her graduate degree in Library Science at Simmons. They were married in 1948, spending three more years in the big city. In 1951 they settled in Newmarket and he began his 33 years of dental practice here.

Two daughters and two sons later they’re ready this year to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. In the meantime they’ve been noticed here in town. Forbes served for nine years on the School Board and during those years the large wing was added to the High School. 

They were a Scouting family for years. Forbes’ local Explorer Post climbed lots of mountains, canoed in the Auigash, went on dozens of camp-outs, and even took a trip to NY City. He climbed all of the “Over 400’ peaks” in New Hampshire!

Both Forbes and Sylvia have taken turns as President of the New Market Historical Society. Sylvia has been Curator of the Stone School Museum since its founding in 1966 and has written a history of the town. He was Chairman of the town’s wonderful 250th celebrations in 1977.  They’ve both been active in the programs of the Newmarket Community Church, and he has been a loyal member of Rising Star Masonic Lodge in its many services to the community.  Forbes served on the N.H. Board of Dental Examiners and the New England Regional Board of Examiners and was also a clinical instructor at the Dental Hygiene School in Concord. Sylvia was the Librarian at the Newmarket Schools for 15 years.

We all know that Forbes’ skillfully carved and painted miniature birds are enjoyed all over the seacoast. Their deep interest in history has made them both active members of the 1st New market Colonial Militia. They take part in the colonial “encampments” at area schools, talking about 18th century medicine and home life. 
These are two people who care deeply about their adopted town.”

Sylvia, publishes Town Maps

In 1977, Sylvia Fitts Getchell published a map of Newmarket showing sites of garrisons, locations of old roads and homesteads and mills. The historical map covered Newmarket and Newfields and parts of the surrounding towns of Durham, Lee, Epping, Exeter and Stratham.

Newfields was a part of Newmarket from 1727 until 1849 and so the histories of the two towns were intertwined for many years. In 1849 the southern portion of the old town was separated to become South Newmarket (later called Newfields).
Depicted on the map are the sites of several Indian raids: the site of the Hilton massacre of 1710 is included as is the site of the 1690 massacre on Fowler’s Hill in Newfields, and at the first falls of the Piscassic where the old Taylor - Rollins homestead stood which figured in Indian raids in 1704 and 1723.

Also shown are the location of the old silver mill which stood at the first falls of the Lamprey, this was before the Newmarket Manufacturing Company came to town in 1823 and began construction of the mills. There were mills also at the first falls of the Piscassic, where the old water works now stands, and also at Crow and Eagle Falls and at Hall’s Mill on the Piscassic.

Included with the new maps, was her earlier published pamphlet called ‘Lamprey River Village - The Early Years’ (c.1976) which was sold during the town’s 250th celebration. She generously donated all sales proceeds to the New market Historical Society. The pamphlet is currently available at the Newmarket Town Library.

Other books she has written “The Tide Turns on the Lamprey, Vignettes in the Life of a River, A History of Newmarket, N.H. (1984); “Marden Family Genealogy” (c.1974); “The Berrys by the Beach, One of New Hampshire’s First Families” (c.1980).

A Google search finds several articles about Doc and Sylvia—

The History of Newmarket Dental, can be found at www.newmarketdental.net/history.htm.

 A visit to www.seacoastnh.com/dct/newmarket.html is a story and photos by J. Dennis Robinson written in 2001 corncerning the founding of the New Market Historical Society.

Elementary school lessons which Sylvia helped create on the history of the Lamprey River watershed  are at http://www.lampreyriver.org/education-and-outreach-curriculum-resources .

(photo: from the Epsom NH Historical Society website of Sylvia during her lecture on the History of the NH Cod Industry)

The site http://unhmagazine.unh.edu/sp09/birds.htm takes you to : “Strictly for the Birds”, an article published in the UNH Alumni Profiles, Spring 2009 edition, written by Newmarket resident Suki Casanave.   The following is an exerpt from that article:

“Forbes Getchell ‘47 sits at his work bench, tweezers in hand, eyeing a bit of 18-gauge wire no thicker than a strand of heavy thread. Gently, slowly, he crooks it just so, putting the  finishing touches on a tiny four-toed bird’s foot. Then he reaches for another bird, its 2-inch wooden body still in progress, and shares his sanding secret: Just run your thumb along the surface of the bird, and you’ll be able to tell what still needs work. “Birds don’t have any flat places,” he says, chuckling. 

Getchell is perhaps better prepared than most to pursue his passion for carving. Before he took on birds, he worked on teeth, developing a steady hand during his 30 years as a dentist in Newmarket, N.H.

When he retired in 1981, his local celebrity continued as he expanded his carving career. In his workshop, tucked into a tiny room at the back of a low-ceilinged 18th-century home he shares with his wife, Sylvia Fitts Getchell ‘47, Getchell brandishes a small knife he once used for making wax teeth molds in dental school. Today, its familiar handle worn smooth by more than 40 years of use, the knife creates delicate wings and tiny feathers…”

The following exerpt was from the Atlantic News in 2Aug 17,2007 written by Aubry Bracco


Dr. L. Forbes Getchell is living proof — you are never too old to be young”

“… a Christmas fair at Hampton Academy or Newmarket Community Church isn’t complete without Dr. L. Forbes Getchell, his wife, Sylvia, and their collection of homegrown art.  Regardless of what he has been in your life, or even if you never have had the opportunity to meet him, the 88-year-old Newmarket resident can teach us all a lesson about the power of fun, curiosity and staying young at heart.

(Getchell family photo of Doc and his carved bird collection)

Getchell still spends his spare time in his bird-carving workshop, whittling wood into miniature avian models, just as he has since 1969. Dr. Getchell said he has always enjoyed working with his hands. While in dentistry school at NYU, he said he had to carve models of teeth and form porcelain jackets as part of his training. And when he opened his own practice in Newmarket in the early 1950s, he had plenty of hands-on experience.

Though Getchell always liked birds as a child, he said he began to pursue his unique hobby when Sylvia, a painter and author of numerous histories and genealogies, purchased him the book, “The Art of Bird Carving” by Wendell Gilley, as a Christmas present “I read that thing from stem to stern,” Getchell explained. Though Getchell started with Gilley’s patterns, he creates his own now, doing “what I jolly well feel like doing,” he said.… Getchell generally makes a pattern, which he uses to cut a block of pine wood into the silhouette of a bird. Then, he carves and sands his creation before applying a coat of gesso (a primer), painting the miniature figure and mounting it on driftwood. Dr. Getchell’s technique varies from bird to bird and he often likes to experiment with different stances even within a similar species. While some blue herons fly, others stand on a marshy shore eyeing unsuspecting prey.

Getchell said he enjoys the smell and feel of the process and does “a lot of experimenting.” Getchell molds and bakes tiny creations such as toads and mice as food for his birds of prey and has even used the hairs of his own beard as whippoorwill whiskers. “I’ve developed things as I went along,” he noted. “I like when I get hold of something new. That’s kind of fun to do.” In case he nicks himself during his long hours in his workshop, Getchell always keeps a package of Band-Aids close by. “I come prepared,” he said.

…Getchell wishes more kids would pick up a hobby like his own and have fun getting to know their artistic talents. “You’ve just got to remember people have a tremendous ability if they learn how to use it,” he said. Too often, he added, kids are glued to video games, television and the telephone and don’t take the time to slow down, pick up a new hobby like bird-carving, get to know the world or learn about their own histories. “It bothers the living daylights out of me. So many kids could have this to do,” he said, pointing to his workbench. “I wish they could get out and do things … I wouldn’t want to be connected that much. I want time to read. I want time to talk….”

Seacoast Militia Brings History To Life,

Elkin’s Company Colonials Ever Ready, By Paul Wolterbeek,

Staff Reporter Rockingham County Newspaper — July 8, 1988

The entire article can also be found on line at www.hampton.lib.nh.us/hampton/history/…/page_16.htm

“…One of the more colorful aspects of Hampton’s 350th anniversary celebration has been the occasional appearance of Winnacunnet militia members, who recreate Seacoast military companies of the Revolutionary War era. The militia was present for a musket salute and remembrance of war dead at Hampton ceremonies marking the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution last fall. And militia members camped at Marelli Park over a spring weekend to mark the 350th anniversary of the town.

The local company is officially known as Elkins’ Company Winnacunnet Guard Colonial Militia, after Henry Elkins. Elkins was an Exeter Road resident charged with raising the militia in 1775. Modern militia members recreate the lives of Elkins and other actual members of the original militia. Marelli Square was safe from invading hordes of French soldiers, Indians and redcoats that May weekend — at least as safe as 17th-century technology would have allowed.

The First New Market Militia Company, with strength of nearly 25, camped at Marelli Park May 14 and 15, displaying weapons of the revolutionary period and the ways people of the period would pass the time between battles. The group includes members from Hampton, Newmarket and points between, and has a full strength of more than 100.

(photo: Dr. L. Forbes Getchell, a retired dentist, portrayed a doctor for Hampton’s May reenactment of the 1st New market Militia and Company. Staff photo by Paul Wolterbeek)

‘Doc’ Getchell, a retired dentist from Newmarket who portrays a doctor of the Revolution, commanded much attention with his well-stocked doctor’s kit and instruments. “I would have been called a doctor, but I would actually have been trained by other physicians,” says Getchell. He says the only formal schooling at the time was in Philadelphia and in Europe, and that most doctors would have been apprentices.

Formal training didn’t necessarily mean that a doctor knew more than the Colonial apprentice doctor, says Getchell, but a formally trained doctor would have had exposure to a wider range of diseases and practices. He says doctors of the day treated people partly by applying the theory that maladies arose from imbalances in the body — too much blood in the system or an excess of bile, saliva or other fluids. This theory gave rise to the practice of bloodletting and the use of leeches. According to Getchell, George Washington lost nine pints of blood through this practice.

Getchell says a doctor was also a chemist in those days, and would have gathered bark and other ingredients for his remedies. Not surprisingly, many of these are still used in some form today. The acetylsalicylic acid in certain bark is the active ingredient in aspirin, and rhubarb is well-known as a purgative.

His instruments, however, would make modern-day doctors and patients wince. They include a battered copy of “Warren’s Household Physician,” a rusty hammer for removing limbs, and an enema syringe he made of wood. “It was still too early to realize the full importance of cleanliness and hygiene,” says Getchell. Getchell also stocks a set of wood-carving tools for his hobby of whittling birds while awaiting patients.

Militia members live as true to the period as possible, making most of their own uniforms, clothes and tools, and following the recipes and style of cooking of the period. Getchell’s uniform is one of his own tuxedos, converted to revolutionary garb over the course of a year by his wife.

The Arnold Expedition 1975

Doc Getchell,  a member of Arnold Expedition Historical Society, of Gardner, Maine, was personally connected to the Benedict Arnold Expedition, as he was a great-great grandson of Capt. Nehemiah Getchell, Arnold’s Chief Guide on the Expedition to Canada, 1775.

(photo: Getchell family photo of Doc guarding the bridge in 1975)

He presented to the Arnold Expedition Historical Society a copy of “Arnold’s Campaign against Quebec” - Eyewitness Accounts of the American Revolution. This is a reprint of John Joseph Henry’s Account, published by Joel Munsell in 1877 by the Arno Press in 1968, and contains various footnotes, an interesting “Preliminary” and Appendix and an Index. On the flyleaf of this reprint, Mr. Getchell included a genealogy of the Capt. Nehemiah Getchell family. Mr. Getchell also presented a replica of the Map of Arnold Expedition Route, like the map Natanis left, showing the way across the Carry Ponds to the Dead River, through the Chain of Ponds, across the Height of Land, past swamps to Lake Megantic, P.Q. This is sketched on birch bark and will be framed for preservation.

In the late 1970s Dr. and Mrs. Getchell presented a historical presentation of their Arnold Expedition to Quebec at various Historical societies throughout the state. Dr. Getchell would wear a reproduction of the uniform, and Mrs. Getchell wore Colonial garb. They recalled their actual march in Cambridge, Mass., beginning on September 21, 1975 when, with the militia, they trekked to Newburyport, Mass. There they boarded sloops and sailed to Maine for the overland journey. The 600 men used bateaux on lakes and rivers, waded through swamps and were carried by National Guard trucks between the towns where they marched.

They camped on the lawn of the State Capitol in Augusta, Maine, and their pattern continued with displays and drills for school children. After arriving in Quebec, Canada, companies took part in battle enactments, which was followed by a colorful reception. The Getchells displayed maps and slides of the Expedition, and stated that the nine day trip was three years in the planning.

The Getchells and Gundalow Histories

The “LAMPRELL,” the gundalow built and sponsored by the New Market Historical Society, was launched at the Newmarket Town Boat Landing at 2:00 p.m. August 17, 1974. Forbes sailed the vessel , and as Museum Curator, Sylvia was given the honor to christen it.

(photo: Getchell family photo of Tommy Mitchell and Doc  at the Town Dock)

The Gundalow is a vessel unique to this area - the bay and its tributaries. The earliest gundalows to set sail were open boats with square bow and stern. Sweeps (large oars) and or poles propelled the boat thru the water on the outgoing and incoming tides. They were used to take cargoes from the larger sailing vessels in Portsmouth Harbor to points up river such as Dover, Eliot, Berwick, Durham, Newmarket, Exeter and Greenland. In time, the open boat was decked over and the load was carried on the deck where it was easier to load and off-load. Around 1840 or 1850, a lateen sail was added to make it easier to move. This type of sail, with its short, stubby mast, allowed the boats to get under the various bridges they encountered going and coming from the towns.

The cargoes carried on these vessels were many and varied. Cordwood, bricks, stone, hay and cotton are only a few. Going with the wind and tide, the fastest recorded trip by gundalow from Newmarket to Portsmouth and back was six and quarter hours. These boats were often built by farmers in the winter.

The plans for the New Market Historical Society’s one-quarter scale model were taken from “American Ship Models and How to Build Them” by V.R. Grimwood. His plans are from plans drawn by D.F. Taylor. Mr. Taylor took the lines and measurements from the Fanny M., an old gundalow left rotting at Dover Point. Mrs. Ralph Waugh enlarged the plans from Grimwood, and the actual ship, the “Lamperill”, was built by Tom Mitchell and Doc Getchell.

The next public appearance of “Lamperill” was at the New Hampshire celebration of the raid on Fort William and Mary on Saturday, October 12th 1974 in New Castle. Exhibits were being housed in the Recreation Hall on the Great Common, New Castle.

Middlesex Canal Restoration Project

Doc’s naval notoriety soon got the attention of Lt. Colonel Wilbar Hoxie at the Middlesex Canal Restoration who asked him to be an active participant. On October 19, 1974, he acted in the Dedication of the Wilmington Restoration Project. Guests of honor had been escorted to the canal waters’ edge by the Clan Macpherson Bagpipe Band.

Following a resounding cannon salute by the Lexington Minute Men, the first barge in over a century to navigate the waters was launched — manned by Dr. L. Forbes Getchell, of Newmarket, NH. The barge was towed by Sabra, the mule, and her owner, Paula Young, to the accompaniment of the MacPherson pipers.

(photo: The first boat to travel on the Canal in over a century, steered by Dr. L. Forbes Getchell and towed by Sabra, ridden by her owner, Paula Young. Photo by Wilbar M. Hoxie)

Following the ceremony, everyone adjourned to a reception in honor of the publication of Mary Stetson Clarke’s book “The Old Middlesex Canal”.  Ross Holland, of the new North Atlantic Region of the National Parks Service and Hon. Charles H. W. Foster, Secretary of Environmental Affairs of the Commonwealth, both of whom expressed enthusiasm about the day’s events and hope for greater things to come.

Colonel Hoxie recalled the history, past and present reconstruction of the Canal:
“The Middlesex Canal - gleaming silver thread of great hopes and dreams for sixty years lay quietly waiting, unused until our time, when writers repeatedly put in their articles “Today no trace of it remains”. This was not so, due to the affectionate attention given by a few visionaries who wrote of its life…or  photography recorded for all time much of what remained from its great days. Development in all our Canal towns during the 20th Century filled the lock chambers, raised embankments for new roads, built houses and shops on the very center line of the Canal. Both steam and electric railroads built tracks beside its channel. …Your Association was formed … for preserving memory of the Canal, and for encouraging such restoration as becomes possible. Appreciation for its activities has been shown by similar groups who have shared in our events and then acted upon our ex-ample by establishing Societies to safeguard Canals in their areas.”

                                                     (Getchell family photo)