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Home | Looking Back with Aurore Eaton

Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: Frederick Smyth's grand ideas brought his mansion - The Willows

Special to The New Hampshire Union Leader

February 25. 2013 5:38PM

In 1866 Governor Frederick Smyth bought a 10-acre lot from the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company on the corner of Salmon and Elm streets. This wild stretch of forested land included a ridge that overlooked Amoskeag Falls. Frederick hired prominent architect Gridley J. F. Bryant of Boston, and the two men reshaped the landscape. They kept some of the original trees, and planted others, including spruces along the borders of the property. A swamp was drained to form a small pond, and the hilly areas were graded. The sandy soil was improved so that grass and shrubs could be planted. Where the granite of the underlying ledge was exposed, creeping vines were planted to add visual interest.

The solid granite foundation of the planned 50- by 500-foot structure was built, and was left to settle for a full year before construction started. Much of the wood for the interior finishes was lumbered from Smyth family lands in Frederick's hometown of Candia. This included birch, butternut, maple and cherry. Also, black walnut, oak and pine boards were obtained from other sources.

The imposing three-story brick mansion, with a mansard roof and 80-foot tower with expansive views, was completed in 1872. The house was thoroughly up to date with hot and cold water running through tin-lined brass pipes to all floors, and a central hot water heating system. The basement included a wood and coal room, a laundry, a milk room, a vegetable storage room, and a summer kitchen connected by an elevator to the first floor. The top floor contained a museum-style gallery where the ancient Indian artifacts that Frederick had uncovered on his property were displayed, plus historical relics of Candia and personal archives.

Interesting mementos of Frederick and Emma's many travels were on view in the gallery and scattered throughout the house. Smyth's biography lists, ".photographs, guide-books, prints, maps, and paintings.also stones, fragments, pottery, curious bits of glass, of marble or of cement." Frederick enjoyed giving tours of the mansion. He would show off the souvenirs, and tell amusing stories of his and Emma's travels.

The mansion's grounds were frequently open to the public. Visitors could either drive their carriages over the concrete paths, or take a stroll. According to Frederick's biography, "Many pieces of classic and modern statuary are placed in favorable situations, fountains play to cool the summer air, and rustic seats invite one to rest under wide-spreading willows." A genuine Indian canoe floated on the pond, which was stocked with fish. A tall windmill pumped water to irrigate the vegetable garden and pear orchard. A large stable housed fine horses and Jersey cows.

Emily (Emma) Lane Smith died in January 1885. In 1886, Frederick married Marion Hamilton Cossar, an immigrant from Lanark, Scotland. He and Marion traveled extensively until a stroke slowed Frederick in 1894. He died in 1899, and Marion in 1946. Frederick, Emma and Marion are buried in the Valley Cemetery in Manchester, in a magnificent tomb shaped like a Greek temple.

In around 1881, Frederick Smyth bought and restored the dilapidated one-room school house in Candia where he had studied as a child. You can visit this school house today on the grounds of Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. In 1932, Marion Smyth donated the building for the public library in Candia as a memorial to her husband. The Smyth Memorial Building is no longer in use, and the Candia Heritage Commission is working to convert it into a community center. In 1949, the Frederick Smyth Trust was founded with funds bequeathed from Marion Smyth's estate. It sponsors concerts, scholarships and music education in Manchester and the region.

The Smyth mansion was torn down in 1970 by the American International Group to build a parking lot. At that time the company was adding a tower to the 1951 New Hampshire Fire Insurance Company building at 1750 Elm St. (now the Brady Sullivan Tower). One half of the mansion's front door is on display in the Manchester Historic Association's Millyard Museum. This organization also owns Frederick Smyth's amazing collection of Indian artifacts, his papers and personal objects, including a handsome statue of an Indian that once stood on the mansion grounds.

Next week: The story of the New Hampshire Fire Insurance Company.

Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at

History Manchester

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