Warren: 250 Years in the Making

Oct 11, 2013

Credit Keith Shields, NHPR

On paper, Warren may seem like your everyday Northern New England town.  The name is even commonplace… as there is a town called Warren in every New England state and its traditional square shape resembles many others in New Hampshire.

But you just need to drive to the town center to notice that this Warren stands out. Like this guy noticed, who stopped by and posted a video on YouTube

Warren's Redstone Rocket competing with the town's only Church for the top spot on the town's green
Credit Keith Shields, NHPR

“I stopped in the town of Warren, New Hampshire and there’s big @#$ rocket on the town green… that thing is huge”

He’s talking about an actual 83 foot missile that stands as tall as the town’s one and only church that the missile neighbors.

It’s one of several sites that might seem very out of place for small-town Warren, but residents here have, for the most part embraced these landmarks.

Warren’s first one hundred fifty years were pretty ordinary. The town was granted its charter on July 14th, 1763, and soon after, small mills popped up along the town’s Baker River.

But it took a tuberculosis outbreak at the turn of the 20th century, for Warren to make its mark on New Hampshire.

The state needed a place to treat its growing number of sick patients and according to New Hampshire historian, Stuart Wallace, distant Warren proved to be an ideal place.

Archive photo of the Glenncliff Sanatorium for TB patients
Credit Archive

“Keep in mind in the 19th century, very often the assumption was that simply good clean air would cure your problems, in the case of Tuberculosis, the hope was the good clean air of a place like Warren NH would cure you.  And you’re also quarantining people, putting them far away from other people” 

The Glencliff Sanatorium opened its doors in 1909 and for decades employed many of the residents of Warren.  Janice Sacket worked there for 32 years.

“The people were very lonesome for their families, so we kind of became their family. If they needed clothing, I would do the shopping for them.  They raised their own food, they had a piggery, they had their own dairy, and they had big gardens and fruit trees up there. So they were really self-sufficient.”

Antibiotics began to control the disease in the 1940s and by 1970 the Glencliff Sanatorium became the Glencliff Home for the Elderly.

Nearly a decade after the Sanatorium opened its doors in Warren another resident was breaking ground on museum that would make the small town of Warren, New Hampshire, stand out once again

“If you were to find a place anywhere in the world where you’d least expect to find African artifacts, it would be Warren, New Hampshire”

And it’s all because of Warren resident, Ira Morse.

Morse made his fortune in the shoe business and with his earnings, took several worldwide trips including a few to Africa. Each time he came back, he brought with him treasures, from the mounted heads and taxidermied bodies of the animals he hunted to dozens of exotic artifacts.

In 1926, he came back to Warren, bought some land and built the Morse Museum to house his collections.  Longtime residents Don Bagley and Norman Roulx remember a magical place nestled right in their tiny town.

“When you walked in there were two lions on both sides on pillars, this gong, you had to ring the gong. And there were rhino heads on the wall, there was about every animal that you could think of in Africa was either the skin was there, the head was there or they actually had the whole animal stuffed. You know every time I went around there, every morning, you saw something different, you didn’t see before."

Credit Archive photo of the Morse Museum

When Ira Morse died, the museum was passed on to his son and when he died in 1991, the Morse museum and all of its artifacts were sold off. Don Bagley, President of the Warren Historical Society remembers that day.

“The building was closed and sold off with over 500 bidders as far away as Alaska. The museum was sold for 44 thousand dollars to a person in Maine. This was a sad day for Warren. You know it was like the missile, I mean, all of the kid’s lives it was here.”

But that Redstone Missile or Rocket, there’s a big debate in town over what you call it, lives on.

It all began in 1971 with a resident named Ted Asselin. 

Archive photo of Ted Asselin

Asselin was stationed at the US Army’s Redstone Arsenal facility in Huntsville, Alabama. It was there that he noticed several obsolete rockets.  Warren selectman Norman Roulx picks up the story

“So he talked with some people and said you know you can get one of those. All you have to do is pay the shipping. They will give it to a town. So Ted did some politicking, and took it to town meeting in 1971 where it was accepted by the town to accept the missile”

Asselin got a truck with a 60 foot trailer, hired a driver and drove the rocket from Huntsville, Alabama to Warren, New Hampshire, where a team of local residents worked to raise it on the town green.

“There was a lot of people that helped there and I called them Yankee engineers .These local guys and girls engineered this. This missile sets on an I-beam that runs almost 70 feet to the center and on four I-beams that are cemented down in the ground .”

But over the years, some have squabbled that a missile next to a church sends a bad message. When the rocket fell into disrepair in the mid-1980s, some residents called it an eyesore and the town voted to have it moved out.

But the local supporters came together to paint the rocket and convinced the opposition to keep it in town.

Special 250th license plate made for Warren, New Hampshire's 250th anniversary

For its 250 celebration, the anniversary committee has made commemorative mugs, t-shirts and even special license plates that they have permission to use until the end of this year. They’ve also made a quilt for the sestercentenial with 24 squares depicting special places in Warren including the state’s one time home for TB patients, the exotic Morse Museum, and a giant Redstone rocket. Three unordinary landmarks, that were looking for a home, and found it in the ordinary town of Warren.

For New Hampshire Public Radio, I’m Keith Shields