James E. French
(1845 – 1919)

One of the leading personalities of Moultonboro in the late 1800s and early 1900s was James E. French, and with the big new addition to the library getting underway, it seems an appropriate time to look back at one of the local movers and shakers who helped to make the original 1929 building possible.

  James E. French Jr. was born in Tuftonboro in 1845, and moved to Moultonboro at age six. He was educated in the “common schools” of our town and at the New Hampshire Conference Seminary in Tilton, the predecessor of Tilton School. He was “engaged in the mercantile business at Moultonborough” from 1869 to 1884, when he retired to pursue politics. He continued to own the store, however, and it operated under the management of Hamlin Huntress. He was elected town clerk in 1870, and was both moderator and treasurer for 40 years, and chairman of the school board 18 years. He was postmaster from 1873-1884. He was also a Mason, a member of the Grange, and attended the Methodist Church. He sold insurance, and was a Justice of the Peace.

 In state offices, he was elected to the state legislature in 1878 and again in 1879, when there used to be annual sessions and members were elected each year. He shows up again in legislative records in 1897, as chairman of the committee on claims. In 1899 he was chairman of the railroad committee, perhaps because Moultonboro had no railroads and he could be perceived as a neutral party. He had also served as a railroad commissioner from 1879-1883, at that time a very powerful office in state government; Deputy Collector of Internal Revenue from 1882-1886, and Deputy Commissioner for the district of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont from 1889 to 1893. He was also a State Senator in 1887.

 James E. French Sr. bought the store in town, now known as “The Old Country Store” in 1851. He was appointed Postmaster in 1861, and the post office was located in the store. He also gave the bell to the Methodist church which still hangs in the steeple. In 1873, Jim French, Jr. succeeded his father as store owner and postmaster. He was also lawyer and had his law office in the ell on the east end at the rear of the store. In the midst of all these tasks, he was also one of the first library trustees in 1897, along with four other worthy citizens, and served until 1918. He was treasurer of the library for many years, and the library was located in the store. He left the sum of $5,000 in his will for the construction of a town library at Moultonboro Corner, which by the time the library building was built had grown to $8,000.

 Martha French, (Mrs. James E. French Jr.) was also a force in the creation of the library. After the boarding house known as “The Homestead” burned in 1923, she engineered a land swap in 1924 giving the Blanchard’s, owners of "The Homestead" and Adele's grandparents, the house where Adele Taylor now lives, (across from the Moultonboro Emporium), in return for the Homestead property, and then donated the former Homestead property to the town, under the condition that a library building be built within seven years. Over the fireplace in the library hangs a bronze plaque dedicated to the memory of James French, “who for many years spared no effort on behalf of the Town of Moultonborough.”

 An anecdote of unknown origin which is found in our files tells the following story about James E. French. “For many years, around the time of World War I, Moultonborough was represented in the legislature by “Uncle Jim” French. He was chairman of the Appropriations Committee and the “watch dog of the treasury.” As such he was one of the most influential men in the New Hampshire state government.

 It was only natural that the people of Moultonborough were proud of their fellow-citizen and each year they honored him by electing him the moderator of the town meeting. Ballots were small slips of paper with the candidate’s name thereon. One year “Uncle Jim” was counting the ballots for moderator and found one for some person other than himself. Holding up the ballot before the assembled group, he asked: “Who cast this ballot?” Of course, there was no response, so “Uncle Jim” rolled up the ballot between his thumb and forefinger into a little ball which he threw to one side with the comment: “It must have been a mistake.”

 James E. French died in 1919, in Moultonboro. Both of his wives were named Martha. His second wife, who saw the library through, was 36 years younger than James, and she died in 1933.