Site No. 27. The Durgin Block and the Haley/Priest Building
In 1880, 18-year-old Frank Durgin and his brother John bought the old wooden tenement building that was here, and opened their grocery. In 1893, another grocer, Ernest Boisvert sold his stock to the Durgin Brothers and began clerking in their store. He would work here for the rest of his life.
In March 1894 a fire in one of the upstairs apartments quicky spread to the back room of the Durgin store. It ignited some boxes of ammunition, and the explosion destroyed the building and some tenements out back. It also destroyed B.F. Haley’s wooden building next door where James Caswell had his Fancy Goods Shop.
After the fire, John Durgin left the business, and Frank hired builders Gilbert & William Proctor. They completed this three-story brick building in six months—and at the same time, they worked on B.F. Haley’s new structure next door. When they laid the bricks, they continued nonstop from Durgin’s right across the front of Haley’s building.
Frank Durgin’s new grocery store must have been impressive. Described in The Newmarket Advertiser as the most modern in Rockingham County, it featured plate glass windows, glass-fronted cabinets and a refrigerator. It was Durgin’s Groceries until 1919, when Leo Turcotte bought it. Ernest Boisvert continued as manager, and the store became the A & P.
Those were tragic years for the Durgin family: Frank’s son Robert died in 1918 during the Great War. Newmarket’s American Legion is named in his honor. Frank Durgin died in 1920, leaving his wife Mattie and two surviving sons. Mattie continued active in town organizations for many years.
In the 1960s Charles and Mary Labranche bought the Durgin Block. They said that the upstairs hall had not been changed since it was built in 1894. In the 1970s, other businesses came in, like Durgin’s Lunch and the Millview Function Center—later known as Mike’s Function Room. Problems arose in 2000 when an illegal rooming house was discovered on the third floor. There were rooms without windows and just one bathroom. The only escape ladder was stashed in an interior room.
Now Haley’s building next door was never called “Haley’s”. As soon as it was built, B.F. Haley leased it to Albert Priest, whose clothing store was here for nearly 40 years. So the building was known as “Priest’s”. After that it was called Novels — after the next store owners. When Evelyn Labranche took over in the 1960s, most people called it “Evelyn’s”.
Both of these 1894 buildings have had major renovations; and two thriving businesses continue here: The Oak House Restaurant is in the old Durgin Block, and the space next door once called “Priest’s” goes by a new name: Good JUJU by Ceci.
Site No. 28 is next door—the brick building with the arched entry.
END OF AUDIO TEXT. See below for photos and more information.
Earlier on this spot there was an old wooden tenement building owned by Lewis F. Hanson. In 1880, brothers Frank and John Durgin moved from neighboring Lee to Newmarket and purchased the building from Hanson. The younger of the two, Frank was 18 years old and he ran the small grocery store on the bottom floor.
(photo taken before March 11, 1894. The old Durgin Brothers Store. Frank is standing street level on the left with cigar in hand.)
In January 1893 Frank bought out Ernest Boisvert’s the grocery business down the street. He removed the stock to his own store and leased Boisvert’s old building to use as storage. He then hired Mr. Boisvert to clerk in the new store, which ran two delivery teams and employed four clerks.
On March 11, 1894 at 5 a.m. a major fire broke out from an overturned lamp in an upstairs tenement apartment. It soon spread to the back room of the Durgin Brothers store where boxes of ammunition ignited, causing a massive explosion that destroyed the building. The explosion also destyroyed the adjacent wooden buillding owned by B.F. Haley and which housed James Caswell’s Fancy Goods Store. The fire caused some damage to the adjoining Bank and to the Barnard buildings on either sides of the store. The fire also destroyed the wooden tenements in the back of the Barnard Block displacing several families, as well as burning Mrs. Walter Wiggin’s home and a shed.
What was left of the building had to be demolished. Frank decided to rebuild; however, his brother John did not take part in the rebuilding, and Frank eventually purchased John’s interest in the company.
[John, his wife Martha and young daughter Abbie moved to Haverhill, MA where John found work as a merchant. Both John and Martha died young of consumption—John at age 33, and Martha at age 35. Orphaned by the time she was 12, Abbie was cared for by her mother’s family. In 1900 the 16-year-old was living with her maternal aunt Martha Buzzell, a schoolteacher in Manchester, NH. Abbie likely went to school there, perhaps getting some further education and/or teaching experience before her stint in Newmarket at the South Primary School (Site No. 10). She taught Grade 1 there for two years before marrying the brother of fellow teacher Adeline Varney. Both Fred and Abbie Varney are buried in the Durgin family plot in Riverside Cemetery.]
Frank contracted local builders Gilbert H. Proctor and his son to construct the entire three-story brick building. They started the basement in the first week in May and finished the entire project the first week of October. The foundation for B. F. Haley’s new building was set at the same time; and it is likely that the Proctors laid the bricks for both exteriors at that time. They apparently didn’t bother to show where one building ended and the other began between the two buildings.
In September 1894, The Newmarket Advertiser described Durgin’s new grocery store as the most modern in Rockingham County. The article listed what the building interior looked like and gives us a detailed look at the workings of an 19th Century grocery store.
“After the fire, the old stock was disposed of, and an entire new block built in its place. It measured 69 feet long x 23 feet wide. With cemented cellar for storage. The front is almost entirely plate glass. Large double doors of hard pine, natural finish with elegant brass trimmings, open on a level with the sidewalk, and the interior finished in hard wood throughout.
“Under the shelves on one side are rows of drawers, and under those on the other side are closets for the reception of barrels. On one side are tobacco cabinets, with glass fronts, decorated spice drawers, decorated tea and coffee caddies., etc.
“On the right side is a handsome hard wood counter, on the left side are two 18-foot bin counters which are constructed of oak and cherry, with numerous bins extended the entire width, the contents of which can be reached from either side. A glass top in the front shows what each bin contains.
“New and attractive show cases will adorn these counters. Nearby on the center of the store on the right is the office which contains a large new safe and a National cash register of the best pattern. The rear of the store will be used for flour, molasses, and other heavy groceries. The hogshead of molasses will be kept on Weaver’s patent barrel trucks, which is also a new thing in Newmarket. A large and handsome refrigerator occupies a prominent position on this part of the store.
“The store will be heated by a kerosene furnace, lighted by lamps, and the store will be connected to the town waterworks as soon as they are completed”.
By 1898 The upper floors housed the Pioneer Lodge No. 1, Knights of Pythias; and the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) met here upstairs as well.
Less than five years later, on Nov 15, 1899, another fire broke out in the store, but luckily it was saved by the fire department prior to any explosion. A male patron yelled “fire” from the back of the store and ran out of the building. The clerk H. H. Knowlton tried to put out the fire which started in the sawdust sprinkled around a pump that drew oil up from the tank in the basement.
The patron who ran from out back had been smoking and it was thought that he threw a match or dropped a live ash on the sawdust, which was saturated with oil and blazed up quickly. Mr. Knowlton was not injured except for having his eyebrows and mustache singed. A fire for any business is a financial setback; however, Frank had just received quite a large stock of canned goods for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays; now that stock was ruined.
Durgin’s Groceries survived the fiery decade of the 1890s, with Ernest Boisvert, who had been hired in 1893, continuing as store manager. (He must have been good at his job; when the store was sold to Leo Turcotte in 1919, Mr. Boisvert stayed on here—as the manager of Newmarket’s new A & P Store.)
Frank Durgin (1863-1920) was the son of Greenleaf Durgin and Mary Jenkins. He was born and spent his early years in nearby Lee, NH. He lived in Newmarket from 1880 until his death—nearly 40 years. In 1888 Frank married Mattie (Martha) Slater of Attleboro, Mass. Both Frank and Mattie were active in town affairs.
Frank held several local offices, including selectman, town treasurer, representative to the General Court, and State Senator (1898-99). He was clerk of the town water commissioners. He served in two capacities for the Newmarket National Bank—on the Board of Directors and as President. He was also president of the Rye Beach Realty Company.
(photo: 1908 published Granite Monthly)
He was a past master of the Masons, Rising Star Lodge, past chancellor of Pioneer Lodge Knights of Pythias, past president of the Swamscott Lodge of Odd Fellows and the Pascatoquack Club; and he was an active member of the Grange.
Mattie was active in town organizations—especially the Newmarket Woman’s Club, The Legion Auxiliary, the Lamprey River Grange, The Woman’s Relief Fund of the G.A.R., and the local chapter of the American Red Cross during both world wars. Mattie was also on the Newmarket Bank Board of Directors for 25 years until her passing in 1957.
The couple’s three sons—John, Robert and Elmer—all grew up in Newmarket and graduated from high school here. And all pursued higher education.
Born in Attleboro, MA, Robert came to Newmarket when a few weeks old, and was a resident ever since. He graduated in the Class of of 1908 from Newmarket High School and from Dartmouth College with honors in the Class of 1913.
All through high school and after his college graduation Robert worked with his father in the grocery store on Main Street. He was very well liked in the community, a personable young man who was planning his future. He was a member of Rising Star Lodge, No. 47, a past Chancellor of Pioneer Lodge, Knights of Pythias, and a member of the Pascatoquak Club.
He enlisted as a private in the Exeter Company of the Coast Artillery soon after the U.S. entered the war. He was assigned to Fort Stark, Newcastle, with his company. In January 1918 Robert attended an officers’ training school at Fortress Monroe, Va., and received his commission as 2nd Lieutenant the following April.
He took great interest in military affairs and was an efficient officer, earning the respect and admiration of his fellow officers and the enlisted men. Stationed at Newcastle until September 18th, Robert was then deployed to Camp Mills, NY where he sailed for overseas Sept. 23rd.
He had no opportunity to send word to his family after Sept. 23rd at sea headed for the French front. September 1918 was the height of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, Robert died of pneumonia following an attack of the influenza and was buried at sea October 4th.
On December 16, 1919 Newmarket veterans established the Robert G. Durgin, Post # 67, American Legion. Robert’s family donated money in his memory to buy a building, but that didn’t happen until after another world war. In 1948 the brick Creighton Block on Main Street became the home of the Robert. G. Durgin, Post # 67.
2nd Lt. John Frank Durgin (1896-1968) who was named after his uncle, enlisted during WW I in the National Guard; and by the war’s end, he also had been commissioned to 2nd Lieutenant with the Army Air Corps, spending his duty teaching recruits in Washington State. John graduated from NH College in Durham, June 1919. Mill Agent Walter M. Gallant hired him to work in the new silk department of the NMCo, and in 1924 he married the boss’s daughter, Eudora Gallant. John and his wife moved to Lowell prior to the strike. They had two children: a son Frank H. Durgin II (1926-2016) who served in the US Army during WW II; and a daughter Mary (Mrs. Harry Kline).
Elmer Durgin (1901-1962) graduated from NHS Class of 1919 and entered New Hampshire College, and then Dartmouth. He married Amy Taylor (1904-1991) who was born in England to William and Catherine Taylor. The Taylor family had immigrated in 1909 to Newmarket where Amy’s father was employed in the silk mill. Amy was a clerk in the Post Office. The couple married on Nov 1, 1926 in Los Angeles, CA. where Elmer operated a retail business furniture store there. They had a daughter Alice. Elmer remained in California until his death.
In 1919, the year after his son Robert’s death at sea, Frank sold his grocery store of nearly 40 years. And the following year in December, 1920 Frank died at age 57 of pernicious anemia. Burial was from his home on 85 Exeter Street with ceremonies under the charge of the Masons. After Frank’s passing Mattie continued her active role in the community. She replaced her late husband on the Newmarket Bank Board of Directors for 25 years until her passing in 1957. She was visiting her son Elmer in Los Angeles at the time of her death. The Durgin family is buried at Riverside Cemetery except for Robert who was buried at sea and Eudora who requested that her ashes be scattered in Great Bay.
Leo Turcotte, the new owner of the building, continued selling groceries on the south side of the building under the franchise of A&P with Mr. Ernest Boisvert as manager. Ernest remained with the A&P until the store closed.
In the 1960s Charles and Mary LaBranche purchased the building from Charlie’s aunt Nelda Turcotte, Leo’s widow.
In October 2000, Newmarket Fire Chief Richard Swindell was checking the building’s fire alarm system in connection with a safety code check for a restaurant getting ready to open on the first floor. He made an unsettling discovery. On the third floor was an illegal eight-room rooming house with only one escape ladder, and that was located in an interior room. All the roomers shared the same bathroom, kitchen, living and dining room; and there were no windows in five of the rooms. He and State Fire Marshal William Clark found violations in several other areas as well.
Swindell and Clark issued a cease-and-desist order to building owner Deno Girard of Lee, a trustee of the DGS Realty Trust. Swindell drew up the order to vacate, which was served to Girard by the Newmarket police. After Girard had been served with the vacate order, Newmarket police escorted Swindell up to the third floor to evacuate the roomers. The fire chief stayed until the last resident left, making sure that each one had somewhere to go. He returned to the building Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to let the roomers get their belongings. The order further stated no one would be allowed to return to the rooming house unless Girard brought it up to code. (The residents said that Girard had turned the floor into a rooming house two years prior.)
A party function room on the second floor of the building also failed to meet safety codes. It had no occupancy permit from the Fire Department, which would have determined seating capacity based on life safety codes.
Michael and Cheryl Hoffman purchased the Durgin Block (#110-112 Main Street) in 2005 and restored the storefront façade in 2006. The second floor was the abandoned function hall, which still had food product in it and decorations from the 2000 New Year’s celebrations! As the life safety codes were never updated, the upstairs had remained vacant since 2000.
The Hoffmans remedied the numerous code violations and converted the top floor to a single, very large (over 2,000 square foot) 4-bedroom apartment. The second floor was converted from a function room with commercial kitchen to mixed commercial use in 2006. The bottom floor restaurant has kept the old tin ceiling.
More recently, opening in 2015 the Oak House Restaurant has successfully survived the 2020 Covid Pandemic. Co-owners are Jack O’Sullivan, Eric Greenler and Tyler McDonald.
In 1849 brothers Samuel and Benjamin F. Haley purchased a two story wooden tenement building from Richard ands Edna Furber. Here they leased the first floor to James Caswell who operated his Fancy Goods Store from 1880 until the fire of 1894 which started in the adjacent Durgin Block and destroyed both wooden buildings. Almost as quickly as Frank Durgin rebuilt his Durgin Block, B.F. Haley started rebuilding his block as well. The fire was in March, 1894, by April all the debris was cleared away, the excavationof the cellar was done in conjunction with Durgin in May, and by October 1894 The Newmarket Advertiser announced that “a new sidewalk was laid in front of the new brick Haley Building”.
When Caswell decided not to reopen his store, B. F. Haley offered a ten-year least to Albert M. Priest who had been in business in Town since 1876. Priest moved his store to the new brick building in 1894 where he operated Priest’s Clothing and Department Store until his death in October 1917.
In 1894 Samuel Haley died, and his brother Benjamin settled his estate and became sole owner of the building. In December 1897, the B.F.Haley Manufacturing Company announced it was closing its operations in Newmarket and moving to Boston and New York. It would take be six months to close down the Newmarket plant. To that end, Benjamin starting liquidating his large real estate holdings in Town with a huge Real Estate Auction in December 1898. At the estate sale Charles A. Hill of Northwood purchased the building and kept Priest’s Clothing House as a leased buisness.
After Albert M. Priest’s death, his son Albert A. Priest remained selling men’s clothing downstairs, and his other son Thurmond A. Priest moved upstairs for the Ladies department. In May 1918 the following announcement appeared in the store windows and newspaper:
Priest Clothing Co. announces that —
commencing May 8th, owing to WAR Conditions, all goods will be sold for CASH ONLY. Rapidly rising markets on all our merchandise, and our low selling prices, have forced us to make this decision.
Priest Clothing remained at this location until 1935 when Thurman moved the store down the street beside the old Star Theater building.
This spot was then taken over in 1935 by Novel’s Women’s’ Apparel, managed by Mr. Meyer Kurtz.
Hyman Novels (1892-1945) and his wife Sarah (1891-1941) were Russian Jews who immigrated from the Chernobyl area of Russia (today’s Ukraine) to New Jersey. They moved with their family to Haverhill, Mass, and then to Exeter and Newmarket NH. Hyman was the proprietor of a meat market in Haverhill, and operated three dry goods stores - one in Exeter, one in Newmarket, and later he opened a store in Durham.
When they first opened Novels in Newmarket in 1918, their shop had been at the corner of Main and Water Streets. He and Sarah, their daughter Ida (Novel) Kurtz (1917-2003) and Ida’s husband Meyer Kurtz (1914-1985) had been living on Church Street since 1930. After Sarah and Hyman died, the store was run by their son-in-law Meyer who later sold the store name with its stock in 1951 to Eddie LaBranche of Newmarket. Meyer Kurtz found work with an engineering firm, and his family moved to California.
When Novels came to town, the first clerk they hired was Miss Helen M. Clements (1879-1953). She had moved to Newmarket in 1893 when she was 14 years old and began working in the shoe factory. She joined Novels in 1919 and remained until 1951 when the store closed. She shortly thereafter entered a convalescent home until her death. She is buried in Calvary Cemetery.
Eddie LaBranche and his wife Evelyn bought out Novels in Dec 1951 and Evelyn ran the store under the Novels name. Eddie worked at Rockingham Shoe Company and died suddenly at age 51 in 1953; his wife remained the proprietor of the store, and although the store sign remained as “H. Novels”, everyone in town knew it as “Evelyn’s”. Evelyn later retired and married widower Adelard Beaulieu of the Corner Store Market in New Village.
When Evelyn closed the store, the building remained vacant and was used as storage for Charlie LaBranche’s News Stand.
In the 1960s Charles and Mary LaBranche purchased the building from Charlie’s aunt Nelda Turcotte, Leo’s widow.
Then in the early 1970s, Newmarket native, Alan Smith, after being discharged from the US Marine Corps came back to town. He first invested in the Stone Church, but sold his part ownership and began managing many of the musicians he had met while working up on Zion’s Hill. He rented space here and called the business New Sound Productions. The actual sound recording studio was in Hampton Falls, and this Main Street location became a stereo store called Audiophile Studios. Alan sold the store sometime after 1975.
In October, 2002 The Asia Café Restaurant, run by the Lin family opened downstairs at # 108 Main Street.
(Staff photo by Sarah Zenewicz, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Before opening his restaurant in Newmarket, Thomas Lin worked in Dover and spent 15 years in Chinese restaurants in the Boston area. He opened the Asia Café here with the help of his family, including his wife Mei Lian and brother-in-law Hong Lian. ,Asia Café offered three types of cuisine - Chinese, Japanese and Thai, tapping into Lin’s culinary training in Hong Kong and the United States. ,Unfortunately, a kitchen fire in December 2006 put the family out of business.
After the December kitchen fire of the Asia Café, Ms. Carolyn Rogers-Flynn (owner of the building) battled the insurance company for about a year and her building sat dormant. During that time, with the urging of the Hoffmans, she contracted Brian Smith to remove the old aluminum siding from that section of the building, restoring the storefront to match the south side of the building and as it had looked when it was Priest’s Clothing.
The main entrance restoration now mirrors that of the Oak House.
In 2011 Terry Bolduc opened Good JuJu specifically focusing on artwork made by local artists. She sold the business in 2014 to Carmen Villaseca-Crosbie “CeCi” who has continued the shop as Good JUJU by CeCi.
CeCi opened the back of the store as an art and handicraft area where various local artitsts continue to give lessons. CeCi carries works of more than 40 local artisans whose products range from natural soy candles and pottery to local books and handmade jewelry.