Nettie Batchelder Clarke

A few years ago, the Deerfield Heritage Commission planned to do another in their popular series of calendars (past topics included barns and the Town Hall) using old photos submitted by way of a contest. Unfortunately, not enough photos were received to make this endeavor a success, but among the entries they did receive was one too good to let go. Submitted by well-known town historian Joanne Wasson, the photo came with a wonderful story of a memorable person, Nettie Batchelder Clarke.

As Ms. Wasson stated in her description of the photo, “She represents the generations of now forgotten women left alone in the world in times that were difficult, if not downright discouraging.” With all the liberties, comforts and social safety nets we have these days it is easy to forget how hard it was for a woman alone to manage in the days when Nettie lived, from 1866 when she was born in Deerfield to Horace and Lizzie Batchelder, to when she died in 1949, shortly after the end of World War II.

Life started out hard. Her father Horace died the same year that Nettie was born. Her mother did not remarry. They lived in a little house on the corner of Coffeetown Road and Ben White Road, next to the Lamprey River. There’s nothing but a cellar hole there now, but orange day lilies, lily of the valley and several venerable maple trees testify to the home that was once there. Coffeetown Road was broken up with the improvements to what is now Mountain View Road, and the site of Nettie’s home is near the end of Old Coffeetown Road, on the left just before you reach the grassy track of the old Ben White Road.

Horace was buried in a tiny cemetery on the west side of Ben White Road. Long abandoned, you can still find it and the remains of unmarked plots. (It is listed in Joanne Wasson’s cemetery books.) Lizzie Batchelder later bought a plot in the Morrison Cemetery and had Horace’s remains moved there. After she died, Lizzie was buried next to him.

Bringing up a child alone in those days was not easy, and Lizzie must have provided young Nettie with a good role model of a strong, resourceful woman. When she was grown, Nettie married Samuel Head Clarke and moved to Manchester to live. But as time passed, she lost both her mother and her husband, and she returned to the little house by the Lamprey on Coffeetown road. She had no children, no siblings, and was very much alone in the world.

Yet somehow she managed to eke out a living. It must have been lean, because the house continued to deteriorate over the years. Yet, even with her limited means, she had one possession which gave her the means to escape the solitude of her lonely house by the river. Nettie Clark had a car, the one pictured in this photograph. You can see the pride in her face as she poses by her beloved vehicle, a women who did not let the struggles of life defeat her. She became fondly known around town for her frequent jaunts. Her home fell into disrepair, but she held on to that car and kept it running, allowing her the pleasure of social calls with her many friends in Deerfield.

Nettie Clarke was just one of many women of the past who found themselves alone, widowed and poor. Their stories are unremarkable except for the remarkable fact that they managed to survive by sheer determination and self-reliance. Thanks to Joanne Wasson, the Deerfield Heritage Commission is able to keep Nettie’s memory from falling, like her house, into forgotten obscurity, and share this small but delightful image of courage, pride and joy, Nettie Clarke and her beloved car.

[Photo and details about Nettie Batchelder Clarke’s life were supplied by Joanne Wasson. Origin of the photo is unknown; originally a small snapshot taken probably in the 1930s.]