, Derry, New Hampshire


May 8, 2014

Column: Runaway horses were once main hazards of Derry streets

Before the 20th century, horsepower really meant the power of horses. In 1900, Derry had 506 horses; about one horse for every 7 people. Draught horses pulling wagons full of timber and farm goods were always clop-clopping their way to and from the depot on Broadway. On any given moment perhaps a dozen horse-drawn carriages would be in view and in front of the stores were rows of horses tied to hitching posts by customers from Derry, Londonderry and the other surrounding towns.

Today, pedestrians frequently have to take their life in their hands trying to cross Broadway. A century ago, the danger wasn’t speeding cars; it was from runaway horses. And sometimes it doesn’t take much to spook a horse. In 1909, teenager Marguerite Clark of East Derry was driving with her younger brother when she met the town’s self-propelled steam road roller. This huge, noisy and smoke-belching monster scared her horse and in a split-second it was galloping down the road toward Derry Village. The wagon soon sideswiped a telephone pole, throwing both occupants onto the ground. Miss Clark suffered bruising to her face and the loss of a tooth, the brother was only shook up; the carriage was destroyed but the horse suffered no injury. In 1910, one Derry man’s horse was spooked simply by snow falling from the top of a roof. In 1911, it just took a passing automobile to cause a horse to stampede and wreck its wagon.

Quite often the cause of a running away was not the fault of the horse. In February 1889, young Jack Page was driving his sleigh at a very “rapid pace” down Broadway, near the junction of Crystal Avenue. There, Jack decided to do something really cool. He was going to impress onlookers by executing a U-turn without slowing down. This grandstanding bravado proved itself to be very foolish when the sleigh overturned in the middle of the street.

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