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Left to right: Louise Audette, 94, and her sister, Ruthlee Root, 84, live together on North Shore Road in Derry, across the street from Beaver Lake.

The daughters of Harriet Chase Newell recall the sleepy farm town chronicled by their mother.



DERRY | It was a different Derry then | a town of 5,000 people in neighborhoods like little communities. Pinkerton Academy had just two buildings and today's traffic circle was an intersection.

In winter, children used to slide down the hill on double runners from Pinkerton Academy to the brook that's south of the circle. And the Hoodkroft Golf Course was the Hood cow pasture | people had to stop their cars on Broadway at times to allow the cows to cross.

That's the Derry Ruthlee Root and Louise Audette remember growing up.

"Everything's grown," said Audette, 94, noting when Interstate 93 came, the population boomed.

The sisters, who have lived in town all but a few years, are deeply rooted in Derry.

Their grandfather was Benjamin Chase Jr., owner of the Benjamin Chase Mill on Chester Road. The mill, which once was the leading supplier of garden staples and tongue depressors, is now condominiums. Their grandfather invented some of the machines the mill used, said Root, 84.

And their mother, Harriet Chase Newell, wrote the books on Derry | literally. She documented the communities within Derry in her five books on the houses of Derry Village, West Derry, the outlying districts, Double Range, East Derry, English Range and Beaver Lake.

She also wrote a book about her childhood and family, and edited her father's journal that included his trip to England as a cabin boy in 1852.

"It's a distinguished family," said Town Historian Richard Holmes.

And Pinkerton Academy, now with more than 3,200 students, was smaller then. Audette's Pinkerton Academy Class of 1931 graduated 35 students.

Root, who attended a finishing school instead, added when her husband taught biology at the academy, he did it in the white building now called the Alumni Center. Today, biology is among the classes taught in the Ek Science Center in one of several buildings added to the campus over the years.

Meanwhile, the neighborhoods that once had their own names have, for the most part, gone away.

Root and Audette, along with their five siblings, grew up in Derry Village in the Crescent Street home their grandparents built near the Central Congregational Church. Their mother, who was born in that house, and grandmother were very active in the church, they said. And Audette served as its organist for 46 years.

Derry Village encompassed the area near today's traffic circle.

Root, 84, recalls walking from Crescent Street to Comeau's Beach on the eastern shore of Beaver Lake, and spending the whole day there when she was a teen.

The Derry Village book was the only one their mother had originally intended to write, Root said. "She knew everyone there," Audette added.

Their mother was always interested in history, which likely stemmed from a family interest | Newell's grandfather, Benjamin Chase Sr. of Auburn wrote the history of old Chester, Root said, adding her uncle John Carroll Chase also wrote the history of Chester.

"It kind of ran in her blood," Root said.

Now, Root and Audette, who live at Beaver Lake in the home Audette and her husband built in 1954, take their mother's Beaver Lake book out on the boat to see how things have changed. Audette said her sister has also started taking photos of the homes around the lake.

The lakefront has more houses now, especially year-round homes, than when Audette's son used to take Newell out on the boat for her Beaver Lake book, which was published in 1959.

Holmes said Newell's books are a requirement for people who seriously study Derry's history. He said he uses them daily in his research. Her book "In Retrospect," originally written for her children, is wonderful for finding out what it was like for a young girl growing up in Derry, he said, noting Newell gave his father, a longtime friend, a copy of the book.

"To me she was Aunt Harriet," Holmes said, recalling that at five years old he couldn't say "Mrs. Newell," so she told him to call her Aunt Harriet. "She's one of those pivotal people in my path to becoming a historian."

And Audette remembers people dropping old newspapers, coat hangers, bacon grease and other items by the house, noting her mother was probably the first person to recycle in Derry. She sold the newspapers and coat hangers by the pound, and used the bacon grease to make soap.

Root said her mother made more than 2 tons of lye soap and sent it through Albert Schweitzer's society. Holmes remembers crating hundreds of pounds of Newell's soap annually to send to Schweitzer for his work in Africa.

"She was ambitious," Root said.

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