The Town Pound: A Halloween Tale of Colonial Militia and Stray Animal
"He’s Shaun the Sheep. He’s Shaun the Sheep.
He even mucks about with those that cannot sleep.
Maybe someday – you’ll find a way to
Come and bleat with Shaun the Sheep.”
Mark Allan – Theme from Nick Parks’ clay-mation TV series. “Shaun the Sheep”
I want to tell you a true story, but first – we need some clarification.
A town pound is not the nick-name given to a village bully, as in –
Question: “Wow! Where’d you get that black eye?” Answer: “From the town pound!
To get to the bare-knuckled origins of town pounds we have to go back several hundred years and a few thousand miles across the Atlantic to England and Europe where central town areas built to corral lost or stray animals first appeared.
In the New World, these simple stone and wood structures began to sprout up in the early 1600’s in New England.
Domesticated animals have a way of wandering off and these enclosures ensured a safe haven for “Bossy”, “Babe” the pig, “Buck” the ram or the aforementioned “Shaun the Sheep”. New Hampshire alone accounts for 259 town pounds still in existence, although rarely, if ever used. But there was another reason; a reason that could possibly secure a town’s financial well being.
As mentioned earlier, most folks think the pounds were for holding lost or strayed cattle, as indeed they may have on occasion. However, most of the pounds were built before 1800, and they were for impounding livestock taken by the town in lieu of property taxes.
Until 1686, the laws of the Royal Province of New Hampshire authorized the town constable to imprison a person who could not pay his taxes. In 1868, the law was amended to allow seizure of property or land.
In 1791, the new state of New Hampshire allowed the tax collector "upon neglect or refusal to pay taxes, and after a notice of 14 days, to distrain the goods, or chattels" of the person so neglecting his duties. Goods were kept four days, during which time the owner could redeem them. After that, the goods were sold at auction. In many cases, the most valuable property a person owned was his livestock, and the town needed a place to hold it.Originally town pounds were constructed within the village limits proper and built of wood. However, as animals would get out of hand occasionally (I myself would not mess with an ox which weighs more then two tons) stones became the building materials of choice and used to erect the local Meredith town pound in 1789.
The green and granite detritus left by scores of retreating glaciers during the last ice age now form barriers around heaps of dry leaves this time of year and serve as a perfect back-drop for my story.
The Meredith town pound was once part of a sprawling township called “Meredith Bridge” which broke away from Meredith (established 1768) in 1855 to become the even larger village of Laconia, a mill town which has developed into a wonderful tourist destination. Later it would become a place where motorcyclist would come to enjoy the scenery and local motorcycle races in nearby Loudon; and others, it appears, whose sole purpose is to beat each other senseless with broken beer bottles and chains and garner pierced body items and tattoos.
So, in 1968, with the Meredith Bi-Centennial arriving on the scene, and just around this time of year, a group of local bravos decided to wrest this once proud pound from the maws of the Laconia city council and claim it back for our little town on the bay.
At that time, I was a young, newly married disc jockey at a local radio station. The studios and offices of WLNH (1350 AM and 98.3 on your FM dial) occupied a building that was once a local church parsonage.
New England has millions of “once were” buildings. You can’t walk ten feet in this part of the North East without stumbling across the remains of at least one architectural remnant which over the years has been the meeting/dwelling place of many different folks from many different eras in our history.
In fact, come the witching-hour of Halloween, I’m sure the ghosts of rouge kneed flappers mix with the long since decayed up-turned noses of Presbyterian ministers and the ragged returning hero’s of our Civil War.
It was the day before the aforementioned holiday in which we let loose our giggling and jiggling children upon the helpless town folks to ring doorbells and squeal with delight the ancient cry – “Trick or treat!” I had just finished the eight to nine morning drive time hour and had switched to CBS in New York for the national news when I heard some commotion out side the booth and in the station lobby. I had just slipped off my headphones and stood up to stretch when the studio door banged open and in stepped several strapping lads dressed with tri-corner hats, leather breeches, cotton smocks and vests and carrying what looked to be very usable “Brown Bess” flint-lock rifles.
The Meredith Militia had decided to re-take,” by force if necessary” according to a local wag and ersatz colonel, one Wendell (last name withheld) - who has long since retired and lives quietly in the winter-time in far off Miami Beach Florida – the Meredith Town pound back to Meredith where it rightly belongs. He, along with several other local Meredith men, including Pete Currier (who will talk for hours with only occasional pauses to open a beer can), and Jack (last name withheld), fortified with patriotic zeal and some fine local hard cider, made a camp outside the station that night, arresting several passerby’s and raising a general ruckus.
Of course it was all in good fun and the “bail money” they raised from capturing local, well known citizenry was contributed to the local chapter of the Red Cross. And it made a wonderful story in the town papers.And the pound? Well it never actually fell back into the hands of the Meredith town council and the ragged little band marched back into town the next day, with the help of a few dented pick-up trucks.
But for a few moments, I thought Halloween had slipped into a quantum autumn and the enemy was at the gates.
Now the granite square sits, stone lintels open to the sound of nearby traffic; empty of livestock and a towns financial reward: forlorn and alone across a busy highway from a 200 year old cemetery and a colonial style farm-house with an FM radio tower and transmitter. The wind left over from Sandy hums through the guy wires and if you listen very closely you will hear ghostly barking, bleating, lowing and grunts from the spirits of farm animals past.