In the spring of 2008, while still on staff with Kleinschmidt Associates, I received a request from Public Service of New Hampshire to assist with a dam removal in Bristol, NH. PSNH was coordinating the work for the owner of the dam, the International Packing Corporation. The dam had been damaged in a flood two years before, and was unstable enough to threaten the Village of Bristol, which lay a mile or two downstream. I was brought in to handle the cultural resources aspect of the project, including consultation with the New Hampshire SHPO. I ended up covering nearly the entire range of the Section 106 process–evaluation of NRHP eligibility, assessment of effects, agreement document, and HABS/HAER documentation. It was an exciting project.
Former dam site
As I carried out my research, I realized that this was the earliest extant hydroelectric complex in the State of New Hampshire. The Village of Bristol had had an electric generating station from the early 1890s, using a steam generator located in the downtown area near the falls of the Newfound River. The Bristol Electric Company decided to expand its operations and generating capacity, and purchased the water privileges and facilities of the former Rollins Sawmill further upstream, just below the outlet of Newfound Lake. They built their hydroelectric complex in 1900. It was a technologically sophisticated development at the time, and continued to serve the Village for many years. It was eventually acquired by the International Packings Corporation, which opened a factory in Bristol, to serve as a source of electricity for their plant. The successor company, Freudenberg-NOK, stopped generating electricity at this small hydroelectric plant in 2002, just over a century after was built.
After carrying out my research, I recommended that the complex, consisting of the dam, the powerhouse, the bypass channel and gates, and the impoundment, were eligible for the NRHP as a district. It was significant as the earliest extant example of a hydroelectric generating station in New Hampshire, and had retained a high level of integrity. The NH SHPO concurred. The loss of the dam, which was unavoidable for reasons of public safety, constituted an adverse effect to the entire district. I thus carried on the process with the documentation of the entire complex according to HABS/HAER standards, including extensive large-format photography. An interesting twist, I had a chance to document the process of demolition.
For a more extensive discussion of the history and significance of this remarkable site, here’s the Area Form which I completed: Bristol Dam Area Form