By M.E. Jones, Correspondent

Part 1 of a series

HARVARD — Back in the 1800’s, when John Quincy Adams was president of the United States, there was a movement to re-name Mt. Wachusett in his honor.

According to Dianne Newton — past president of the Harvard Historical Society and author of “The Harvard Album,” an illustrated compendium of town history the society published in 1997 — there was a lot of hoopla around the effort, but all for naught.

“They tried hard, but failed,” she said. “They should have had Jeff Harris on their team.”

During a recent lecture and slide show, Newton’s timely observation referenced Dr. Jeffrey Harris, who received a round of applause from a full-house crowd at the beautifully restored old church in Still River that serves as Historical Society headquarters, museum and event venue.

Harris, a retired physician, practiced in town for many years and served as the school doctor. Over the years, he kept an active interest in town affairs, advocating for causes that ranged from political to historic. And he kept his ties to the schools, serving on the first Harvard Elementary School Council.

For the last decade, the cause Dr. Harris championed most ardently was to re-name the elementary school for the Hildreth family.

Who were the Hildreths?

Wealthy summer residents who also had homes in Concord but listed Harvard as their legal residence. The Hildreth brothers, Edwin (1843-1907) and Stanley (1845-1941), each made significant contributions to the community, including donating land to build the town’s first elementary school.

While spotlighting the Hildreths, Newton’s presentation promised to explore a page of town history many residents might not know about. If so, her opener was intriguing enough to keep reading. “The story starts with water wheels and water power,” she said.

The area’s abundant waterways were a prime power source in the 1700’s and 1800’s, she said. There were 11 water-powered saw and grist mills operating in Harvard during that period, from Bare Hill Pond to the Ayer town line. In the early days, water directly powered the machinery. Later on, water wheels generated steam power for the machines.

Some of the vintage pictures that drove the talk showed Hildreth family landmarks around town, including the hilltop mansion behind Town Hall known as Hildreth House, which the town acquired from the estate of Dorothy Hildreth, Stanley’s daughter and only child.

The gracious old Victorian is now Council on Aging headquarters and senior center and serves as a meeting place for town boards and community groups.

To be continued.