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Charles Pettee Relatives Visit Homestead Last Time

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
May 23, 2007

This notebook belonging to Charles Pettee was found in Pettee House when it was being cleaned out in preparation for demolition.

For James Pettee, making the trip from his home in Indianapolis to his great-grandfather’s here in Durham was a way to connect with his past.

On Friday, Pettee joined other relatives in touring Pettee House one last time before it is demolished. The group, which included his three siblings and several first and second cousins, spent a couple of hours in the place Charles Holmes Pettee called home during his tenure at UNH.

The elder Pettee served the university for 62 years, starting in 1876 in Hanover when the school was known as the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. He was a dean for 50 years and three times interim president.

Pettee had two sons, Horace J. and Charles, and two daughters, Alvina and Sarah. Horace J. Pettee fathered James and Horace; their children traveled to Durham last week as did Alvina’s grandson, Bill Nelson, and her granddaughter, Linda Jones Oswald.

“I don’t remember this house in its glory,” says Oswald, who lives in Salt Lake City. When her grandmother married a man who wanted to move to Utah, Pettee made her husband promise to let Alvina return to New Hampshire at least once a year. “It’s very nostalgic being here. I feel kind of sad the house is being torn down.”

Linda Jones Oswald holds a door knob taken from the Pettee House where her great-grandfather once lived.

For the last 29 years, Pettee House has been the UNH housing office. In March, the department moved to its new quarters on College Road.

Ruth Pettee Buskirk is the daughter of Horace Pettee. The Austin, Texas, native said it was interesting to think about her ancestors living there.

“I’m very proud of the family history,” Buskirk says. “These were really good people. It’s fun to see how they lived.”

The genealogical voyage was to include a trek to a Manchester cemetery where several Pettees are buried.

Bill Pettee Nelson, James Pettee, Charles Pettee and Linda Pettee Oswald, great-grandchildren of Charles Pettee, visited Pettee House last week.

Charles H. Pettee was born in Manchester on February 2, 1853. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1874 and received a decree in civil engineering from the Thayer School of Engineering two years later. It was while he was at the Thayer School that he met Ezekiel Dimond, the College of Agriculture’s only faculty member at the time.

Dimond recruited Pettee to teach meteorology. Pettee never left.

From 1877 until 1917, he was a mathematics professor. In 1884 Pettee was named treasurer and auditor of the college, then still based in Hanover. He became dean of faculty in 1888. He was interim president from 1891-1893, in 1912 and again in 1917.

Pettee was the owner of the Durham Spring Water Co., which provided water to the town of Durham and the university. He died in 1938, the same year Pettee Hall was built to house the departments of agriculture, home economics and military science.

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