Clio Goes House-Hunting

Two of Concord’s most historic houses still in private ownership were listed for sale in the spring of 2013. The eight-bedroom home of Col. William Austin Kent at 24 South Spring St. was priced at $685,000 by Sotheby Four Seasons International Realty of New London.  The seven-bedroom Victorian at 5 Auburn Street sold for $575,000, reported Roche Realty Group of Meredith and Laconia.

Many of Concord’s historic homes are owned by public agencies, including the Bridges House, donated to the state as a governor’s residence by the family of the late H. Styles Bridges, a New Hampshire governor and long-serving senator. The only home that President Franklin Pierce ever owned, on Montgomery Street, was moved to the end of Horseshoe Pond and is owned by the nonprofit Pierce Brigade.

Kent – he won his colonelcy on the military staff of Gov. John Taylor Gilman – started out poor and earned a fortune as a merchant and banker. The son of a sea captain lost at sea, Kent was born in 1765 and lost his home when British troops burned Charlestown 10 years later, at the beginning of the American Revolution. He came to Concord to live with his sister and brought with him a few groceries. They were sold for a profit, launching a career that made Kent one of northern New England’s richest men. Like Gilman, Kent was a Federalist, elected as Concord’s town moderator and a state representative, appointed (by Gilman) as a justice of the peace and, in 1814, state treasurer. A number of leading Concord citizens set up a bank to serve the south end of Concord on July 17, 1806; Kent was appointed clerk. When a dispute arose with the north end bankers, Kent’s team engaged a young lawyer named Daniel Webster.  Kent’s house, wrote Webster, was “one of the first in all the neighborhood in which I met intelligent and cultivated society.”

More on Kent and the bank dispute can be found in Crosscurrents of Change, Concord, N.H., in the 20th Century, published by the Concord Historical Society.

The Spring Street house had initially been erected on Pleasant Street in 1791, but Kent had the structure moved to Spring Street. Part of the Pleasant Street lot was sold to the South Congregational Church, and in 1823 Kent donated an adjoining section of the land to the Unitarian Church. That building is now the headquarters of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.

Auburn Street was developed just before the turn of the 20th century, and the editor of the Concord Monitor, George Higgins Moses, made his home in that big Victorian on Auburn Street in 1898. The wasp-tongued Moses also promoted the Republican Party, and in 1909 became United States minister to Greece and Montenegro appointed by President William Howard Taft. Moses left the diplomatic service in 1912 with the election of President Woodrow Wilson and was first elected to the Senate in 1918 to fill out the unexpired term of Sen. Jacob Gallinger, whose campaigns Moses had managed.

Moses served in the Senate until 1933, rising to president pro tempore, the senator from the majority party with the longest service. Perhaps his most significant contribution was his opposition to Wilson’s League of Nations; Moses insisted in 1919 that Wilson, who had suffered a stroke, was not capable of serving as president and the real deciders in the White House were the first lady and the president’s doctor. Moses lost the 1932 Republican primary to Bridges.

Later in the century, 5 Auburn Street was occupied by the family of Malcolm McLane, a longtime Concord alderman and mayor (McLane’s grandfather John was elected governor seven years after Moses moved in). Malcolm McLane ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1972 as an independent. Susan N. McLane, his wife, enjoyed wide support during a long career in the Legislature. After that the family of another city councilor and mayor, Elizabeth S. Hager, occupied the house.