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Historic trough in Pembroke to get a new home

Last modified: 9/25/2014 1:02:00 AM
A 130-year-old trough in Pembroke has seen a lot in the years since horses stopped visiting it.

At the intersection of Pembroke Hill Road and Route 3, it first saw carriages replaced by automobiles. Then it started to see car accidents, including one that took the life of 81-year-old Avis Davis in 2003. Then it saw planners and engineers trying to sort out the problem.

But it doesn’t look like it will still be there to see what townspeople have asked for since the 1990s: a traffic light.

Work on a project at that intersection will begin soon. It will realign a road across the street to create a four-way signaled intersection in an area that has seen dozens of accidents. The utility company wants to move a telephone pole that’s affected by the project into its new home before the ground freezes this year. And that means the trough will be moved from the corner where it has sat since 1885.

“In order to auger that hole, they need more space and the trough would have to move,” Don Lyford, the state Department of Transportation’s project manager, said in a phone interview.

Lyford said the state understands and respects the history of the trough and will pay for it to be moved. Although Lyford thinks the trough could be shifted 20 or 30 feet to the side, Town Administrator David Jodoin said he hopes it goes somewhere it will stay forever. He has suggested the lawn in front of the town hall.

After all, it was voters at that town hall who authorized the selectmen in the early 1880s to provide “suitable places for good drinking water for man and beast,” which led to a $123.34 order being placed with C.A. Bailey’s granite quarry in Allenstown.

Until that time, the town was paying farmers like Pembroke’s Daniel Merrill $3 a year to keep watering troughs on roads for public benefit, according to information researched by Jim Garvin, a former state architectural historian who also wrote a book on horse travel in the 19th century.

Burt Whittemore, president of the Pembroke Historical Society, said he can remember people on horses coming into town to buy milk and salt, and the horses using watering troughs. But even he didn’t know much about their origins.

“A lot of people who would know the answers are all dead,” he said.

But thanks to old records and Garvin’s research, their importance has been recorded.

The watering trough on Pembroke Hill Road, which today is used as an ornate flower box, were vital for horses’ well-being, Garvin said.

“Facilities for horses were highly important and they were looked upon as sort of a public service that communities were expected to provide for the benefit of travelers passing through,” he said.

There’s another trough on Buck Road and several more that have disappeared, Garvin said.

Garvin measured the watering trough and, knowing the weight of local granite to be about 165 pounds per cubic foot, estimated it to be about 6,300 pounds.

Garvin said the quarry workers would have used a derrick, which is a crane-like hoisting machine, and teams of oxen to bring the 8-foot-long stone from Allenstown to Pembroke. A man named Thomas Welch was paid $1.25 by the town for providing the team of animals that moved the stone and a bronzed drinking fountain that went along with it. Garvin said a day’s labor at the time was worth about $1.

These days, the town doesn’t have the equipment to budge a stone of that size. Jodoin is seeking bids to move it down the street to the town hall and will submit them to the state when they’re received.

Brian Ahern, a retail manager for Concord-based Swenson Granite Works, said a team would have to dig under the bottom of the trough and lift it out using heavy machinery to move it.

If all goes according to plan, once the move is complete, the trough would continue to watch over the town from its new and prominently placed home in front of the town hall.

“That sounds good to me,” Garvin said. “A lot better than having it smashed up or pushed aside in a ditch somewhere as part of this operation.”

Road construction at the intersection begins in earnest in 2015, though preliminary work requiring the removal of the trough will take place soon.


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