Lee Historical Society

The History of Lee, NH

For a map and a driving tour of Lee’s Historical sites visit the Lee Heritage Commission website

The Pre-Colonial Era: Native American Inhabitants

In the pre-colonial era Lee was home to several Native American Communities.  Evidence points to a large fishing camp, that is between 5,000 and 7,000 years old .  There is also evidence of a permanent Native-American village dating from 3000 years ago.  With the arrival of Europeans, the Native American community died out, due to diseases introduced by the colonists.  There is evidence of an ancient Pentucket Trail, which entered Lee at the Barrington line, and continued through Epping. At the southern end of the trail, near Wadleigh falls, was a village called Washucke.  In 1659 the Sagamore of Washucke sold this village and all theland between the Lamprey and Bellamy Rivers to the English.  (For fuller account see Renata Dodge, A Short History of Lee)

Wadley Falls

Colonial and Pre-Revolutionary times

The town of Lee was first settled by European colonists in 1623, as part of Dover.  The first two grants in what is now Lee were at Wadleigh’s Falls and at Newtown in North Lee in the mid 1600’s.  In 1668 Robert Wadleigh built the first sawmill at the “uppermost falls in Lampereel river.”

In Pre-Revolutionary Times Lumber was shipped along Mast Road, using teams of oxen.  They were transported to Durham, where they were floated to Portsmouth for use by the British Navy.

There were three British garrisons located in Lee.  One in Newtown in the North, one along Mast Road, and a large cellar hole still marks of the location of the third in the southwestern part of Lee, near Fox Garrison Road.

In 1732 a portion of Dover split off and was incorporated as the town of Durham.  Durham included what is now Lee and part of Madbury.  As the population grew, a petition was presented to Governor Benning Wentworth, asking for division of the town of Durham.  Governor Benning incorporated the western portion of Durham as the parish of Lee.

There are several theories about the name  “Lee.”  One is that Lee was named after a person or town in England.  Alternatively, another theory is that it was selected by resident John Cartland, who had come from the hamlet of Lee in Scotland. A third theory is that Governor Wentworth named the town for a friend and relative, General Charles Lee, who at one time was second in command to General Washington. (For fuller account see Renata Dodge, A Short History of Lee)

The Revolution

Among the petitioners who were instrumental in setting Lee off from Durham as a separate parish, many joined in the War of Independence 10 years later.  There are approximately 30 Revolutionary soldiers buried in Lee, including “Old Prince,” a black slave who attended Captain John Layn.

Before the Revolution there was a significant Quaker population in Lee, including the Meader, Jenkins, Cartland and Hanson families. The Cartland School house was originally built in 1774 as a Quaker meeting house near what is now Rte 152.  It was subsequently moved to its present location. Because of their religious convictions the Quakers refused to sign the Association Test in 1776 to oppose the British with arms.

In 1777 Captain Robert Parker, merchant and mariner, began to build the privateer “General Sullivan”  The General Sullivan was transported from Lee to the Portsmouth Shipyard. In 1778 she made her first foyage from Portsmouth armed with 14 guns and a crew of 100.  At about that time Parker began to build the Georgian-style mansion, now the Green Dream Farm on Rte 155. (For fuller account see Renata Dodge, A Short History of Lee)

The Nineteenth Century

In the 19th century Lee had a number of businesses, including grist and sawmills, a clothing mill at Wadleigh’s Falls and several tanneries and brickyards. Wheelwright’s pond supplied fish until the 1820’s.

The town had two private academies, Timothy Hilliard’s at Lee Hill, and Moses Cartland’s Walnut Grove school, in the Quaker meeting  house on Cartland road. Lee was divided throughout most of last century into seven public school districts. 

The Quaker Cartlands were fervent abolitionists, and the old homestead was a way station on the Underground Railway.  Among the well know Cartland friends who visited Lee were Frederick Douglas s and John Greenleaf Whittier (who was related to the Cartland family).

In 1814 a library was incorporated, accumulating about 100 volumes by the end of ten years. The current library building was established in 1892

In 1842 Elizabeth Hale Smith, wife  of the Honorable Jeremiah Smith of Exeter, settled permanently on  the Lee farm with her son Jeremiah.  Te two participated in the founding and development of the present-day Lee Congregational Church.  Mrs. Smith was a fervent abolitionisht who, at the time of the Civil war took Lavinia Halloway, a Black girl who was brought north in 1860, and became one of the 14 charter embers of the Lee Congregational Church.

At the beginning of the century, the stagecoach era brought prosperity to the town.  In 1874 The Nashua and Rochester Railroad provided an additional source of commerce.  With the introduction of special excursion trains during the summers, a new industry, the tourist trade, was born.  (For fuller account see Renata Dodge, A Short History of Lee)

The Twentieth Century

The railroad continued to serve Lee until 1934 when automobiles predominated and train service was halted.  Electricity came to the town in the late 1930’s.

In the 20th century, the town saw a shift from an agriculature way of life, to a more “suburban” lifestyle. According to the census data, the population expanded by a factor of 8, from 545 in 1900 to 4145 in 2000. The local mills of Wadleigh’s Falls were no longer active.  Many citizens found their occuptaions outside the town.  The rapid increase in the size of the University of New Hampshire in nearby Durham led to major changes in the community.  Many old farmsteads were convered to housing developments.

In 1954 Lee joined the Oyster River Cooperative School District.  The fire department began in the 1940’s and in the 1950’s the town voted to fund the operational expenses of the fire department.  A regular police force was established in 1938.  (For fuller account see Renata Dodge, A Short History of Lee)

 The Cattle Passes

Before the Nashua and Rochester Railroad came through Lee in 1874 there was some disagreement between local farmers and the Railroad. The proposed route of the railroad ran through many farmers’ fields thereby cutting off access for ranging cattle. The farmers didn’t like this so during the sales negotiations to purchase land to construct a railroad the farmers insisted that some mechanism be created to remove the barrier. As in earlier cases the railroad suggested putting in “cattle passes”. These would allow grazing cattle to pass safely under the tracks as they moved from field to field. In Lee, a total of five such cattle passes were negotiated and constructed.

One of these passes was located between the current Route 125/Route 152 intersection and the Lee-Epping town line in South Lee. This cattle pass was for B.Y. Piper who owned the land on both sides of the proposed track in this location. The original cattle pass was described as 4’3″ wide and 6′ high and about50′ long. The cattle pass was “rectangular in form, with side walls made of large granite blocks measuring approximately 1 1/2 – 2′ high and 3-4′ long. Initially dry laid the walls now have concrete mortar”. This description was taken from the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources report prepared in 2006. When Route 125 was constructed in 1937 along the old railroad bed the covering stone slabs were removed and replaced with concrete. The cattle pass was also widened by 30′ on the east end and 20′ on the west end to accommodate the new wider Route 125.

Unfortunately for people wishing to view this cattle pass, it has been removed by the State of New Hampshire Department of Transportation. You may, however, still view some of the granite blocks removed from this cattle pass. They are located at Little River Park to the Northeast of the Randy Stevens pavilion.

The photos on the right show a map of where this cattle pass was located and a few internal photos of the cattle pass before it was removed. They show the reduced size of its ends with added culvert extensions. Contributed by Scott Bugbee

The Lee Traffic Circle

The current land being occupied by the McDonalds and the Sunoco Gas Station was previously Antonio’s Drive-in. You could get ice cream and various food items. Across the Circle currently is Wendy’s restaurant. Previously this was home to Harley’s Diner and the Lobster Pool. The diner was owned by Harley Knox and served the best corn bread, western sandwich, and onion rings ever and don’t forget about the fried tripe!
Just north on Route 125 on the same side of the road is Walgreens Pharmacy. Before that, the Gateway Restaurant was there.  This is the area where the Krazy Kone used to be located. . An ad for the Krazy Kone Restaurant shows what we are missing.
These are just some of the businesses that are no longer around and are missed by their customers. if you have any memories of these businesses, please share them in a comment below.  Contributed by Scott Bugbee, with thanks to Donna Eisenhard for the use of some of these photos.