Historical Tour: Wells River

The history of Wells River has been one of mercantile, milling, and transportation activities due to its proximity to the junction of the Wells and Connecticut Rivers. The village is blessed with an abundance of water power, and the early settlers wisely utilized the natural resource in a number of profitable ways.

Paddy Acre

On the east side of US Route 5, at Elm Street, is an underpass beneath the railroad tracks. Going under the railroad tracks leads to a cluster of houses constructed for the Irish workers who built the railroad.

Continue north on US Route 5 a short distance.

Wells River Congregational Church

This church was built in 1840 and is currently the home of the North Country Chorus.

Old Schoolhouse

Adjacent to the church on the north side is the former village school. Though now in commercial use, this imposing building was built in 1874 as a schoolhouse. The legend is that when the proposal was made to build the school, one citizen was so opposed he offered a ridiculous amendment suggesting that the walls should be three feet thick and the ceilings made seventeen feet high. Imagine his surprise when the amendment was adopted and the school built.

Oldest House in Wells River

Next to the school stands the oldest house in Wells River, built circa 1792.

Spear House

On the opposite side of US Route 5, built circa 1835, this house is owned by the Oxbow Senior Independence Program. The newer buildings comprise the Spear Apartments, which received an award for architectural excellence when they were built in the 1980s.

Rowe House

Just north, on the same side of the street, Rowe House (circa 1830) fronts the Wells River Clinic and is the home of the many-times honored Doctor Harry Rowe. Dr. Rowe’s wife, Mary, conducted the North Country Chorus for more than 50 years.

Heritage Commons

Continue north to where, opposite the intersection, on the left is the Heritage Commons Building. Originally built as two buildings (circa 1871), with the Hale House behind, they were later combined. Restored by the Wells River Action Program (WRAP) and Housing Vermont, the complex now houses apartments and commercial enterprises.

The Wells River Main Street is home to many historic structures. Built at the end of the 19th century, the buildings in the village have undergone recent facelifts that help give Main Street a unified appearance.

Baldwin Memorial Library

Just beyond stands the Library, built circa 1840. The building was donated to the town in 1892 by Colonel Erastus Baldwin. The library has an extensive collection of pictures and historical information about Wells River and the Bayley-Hazen Military Road (see site 10 below). Many years ago, an oyster salon inhabited this building.

Baldwin Block

This block, next door to the library, was built circa 1860, and is named for Erastus Baldwin.

Baley-Hazen Military Road Historical Marker 1776-1779

Continue north beyond the intersection to where US Route 5 makes a 90 degree turn to the right. At the turn, on the left, is the Historical marker. This historic byway, now in many disjointed sections and mostly a dirt track, runs from the left of the Erastus Baldwin house (below), through the villages of Ryegate and Peacham and eventually to Hazen’s Notch, near the Canadian border.

Erastus Baldwin House

The former home of Erastus Baldwin, mentioned several times above

Adams Paper Mill

Turn right, or west, at the intersection of US Route 302. Approximately 0.3 miles (0.5 kilometers) on the right is a building in disrepair which was once a paper mill. Built in the early 19th century, it was for many years owned by Captain White who was a paper maker and publisher. It was in this mill that the paper was made on which was printed Noah Webster’s Spelling Book, used universally throughout New England and in many parts of the central west United States.

Wells River Savings Bank

Turn back towards the village and turn right (south) on US Route 5. As you pass the Jock Oil building and come to the older Wells River Savings Bank building on the left, notice that the clock above the door says, “National Bank of Newbury”. Established in 1834, the building once housed two banks, the National Bank of Newbury and the Wells River Savings Bank.

Continue south to the junction of US Routes 5 and 302. On the south side of US Route 302 on the right is the Welcome Center, the point from which you began your historic journey.

All tour information provided by Larry Coffin. Check out his In Times Past blog.