Vintage Views: Gingerbread and Militiamen – The Columbian Hotel

The Columbian Hotel

The Columbian Hotel Courtesy photograph

Published: 04-06-2024 10:00 AM

The children sat anxiously as the schoolmaster continued to lecture to them on this cool fall day, with great anticipation they secretly wished for the afternoon lesson to conclude in order to restore their freedom.

As young William glanced out the thick distorted window pane, he was mesmerized by the colorful maple and oak leaves dancing in the gentle breeze. It was this same breeze that provided the most rewarding treat to each student, the scent of baking gingerbread just around the corner. The poor children did not have a half cent to spare to purchase a small piece of this warm gingerbread, but the delicious scent was indeed free and greatly enjoyed by each and every student.

As the afternoon ended the young frustrated schoolmaster finally surrendered his inattentive students when he realized that arithmetic was no challenge to the cool breeze, fall foliage or the sweet aroma of baking gingerbread.

The old bell chimed and the children eagerly left their scholastic den headed around the corner with little William in the lead. It was the corner of Main and School Streets that they were destined to stop and lean on the old iron fence in front of the long building occupied by the bakery that was operated by Major Peter Robinson. A fond childhood memory that peaked the senses for the young boys and girls of Concord for many a year.

The war of 1812 was still very active as American and British Troops clashed. It was in 1814 that our ancestors learned the British Troops had defeated the Americans at Bladensburg, Maryland allowing the British to occupy Washington, DC. The British had set many buildings on fire including the Capitol and Presidential Mansion. As the war continued the youth of our small city were concerned but otherwise occupied with warm gingerbread.

As the years progressed the commerce continued to grow on Main Street bringing people to town to purchase both supplies and luxuries while spending a night at one of the many local hotels. Fine meals were served and a stroll about town very entertaining. With the thought of profit in mind, Mr. John P. Gass invested in the old gingerbread bakery building when he renovated it in 1821, converting the single story into a two-story building and opening the doors to travelers and diners as the Columbian Hotel. It was only several years later in 1828 that General John Wilson from Lancaster arrived to take over the Columbian Hotel business. He hired a poor young lad from Lancaster and showed him a thing or two about making money, this poor boy being our very own beloved Nathaniel White. With early exposure to the hazards of innkeeping young Nathaniel did not participate in the use of tobacco or spirits during his life, a clear objective as well as a clear head allowed him to create the American Express Company as well as other businesses that rendered him the wealthiest man in the community.

The War of 1812 finally ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on December 24th and local communities started to established volunteer militia groups for protection just in case the need should arise once again. With the Columbian Hotel a favorite gathering spot for journeymen and apprentices to the Concord printing business it was not long before the young men decided, over three drams of spirits, that they should become​ involved in the local militia movement. The men organized a regiment named the Columbian Artillery and joined the New Hampshire Eleventh Regiment. The Eleventh Regiment was made up of the Concord Light Artillery, and the Bow and Borough Riflemen. When the Columbian Artillery joined the Eleventh, they too became uniformed members of the militia and were certainly subjected to military training each May in Concord in addition to a two-day encampment in either Concord or a neighboring town each fall.

The Columbian Artillery only had one cannon which they maneuvered by using ropes to drag to sham fights with other units. It has been said that there was much concern with these sham fights because the noisiest and smelliest type of gunpowder was used for their single cannon. There was much excitement in the heat of the annual sham battle and history tells us that some of the militiamen from the Columbian would become so engaged that accidents did happen. It was Columbian Artillery Militiaman Alexander Salter Lear that accidently fired his old flintlock musket during a sham battle with a ramrod still in the barrel. This created a deadly projectile but fortunately did not harm any other members of the Eleventh Regiment. The gentlemen were indeed ready to serve if the local military was needed, but this period in history was relatively calm.

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As the years progressed and the volunteer militiamen aged there were many evenings spent at the Columbian Hotel fondly recalling the sham battles fought by the Columbian Artillery. The scope of the militia changed in the following years and a very structured approach was utilized as New Hampshire organized men and woman to serve in the Civil War decades later.

From a small bakery mesmerizing small children with the engaging scent of fresh gingerbread to the gentlemen of the Columbian Artillery and their scent of foul gunpowder, the Columbian Hotel served many weary travelers, adventurers and dreamers on the corner of Main and School Streets so many years ago.