Gilman Park, often referred to affectionately as “The Cannons” by Exeter residents, was permanently conserved and passed from private to public ownership on September 19, 2012.
With the signing of a deed to the Town of Exeter and an easement held by the Southeast Land Trust, Gilman Park Trustees Harry Thayer, Martha Pennell, Peter Smith and Joanna Pellerin marked the end of 120 years of ownership by a private, self-perpetuating board of trustees.
The park, a gift from Daniel and Minnie Gilman, was deeded on July 12, 1892 for the sum of $1 to five trustees who were to choose their successors in perpetuity. The Gilmans’ wish as recorded in the original deed was that the park be kept forever for “the enjoyment of the people of Exeter.” This 120-year chain of trust began with Trustees Rev. George E. Street, William P. Chadwick, William H. C. Follansby, and Henry A. Shute, all leading public figures of the time.
Located at the confluence of the Little River and Exeter River, the park has been well loved and much used over the years. Meeting at the cannons was prelude to annual picnics and outings of church groups, families and clubs. Early on, before the bridge off Gilman Lane was built and well before Bell Avenue existed, groups rowed up from the river to these gatherings. Such an event is hilariously recorded by Judge Henry A. Shute in his book “Brite and Fair.” In years with good ice many people met at the cannons to skate the cove. In more recent years the Exeter Recreation Department developed a t-ball field, basketball court, boat launch, and other amenities and took responsibility for their upkeep and maintenance.
It became evident in recent years that privately-owned parks were facing liability issues and because of that the Trustees decided to offer the park to the town with the protection of a conservation easement to ensure that the Gilmans’ wishes continued to be honored.
The Trustees placed a petition warrant article supported by the Board of Selectmen on the March 4, 2008 town warrant asking whether the town should buy Gilman Park, subject to a conservation easement, for the sum of $1. The article passed overwhelmingly. The heirs of Daniel and Minnie Gilman agreed that town ownership of the park protected by a conservation easement was acceptable to them and sustained the intent of the original trust. Then, the Trustees promptly set about preparing the easement document with the Southeast Land Trust and petitioning the Attorney General to dissolve the Gilman Park Trust. The petition was granted in August, allowing the final conveyance to the Land Trust and Town.
Now, through the conservation easement held by the Southeast Land Trust and the Town’s ownership, Gilman Park will continue to be enjoyed by generations of Exeter residents.
This article was based on one printed in the Exeter Newsletter on October 9, 2012 and submitted by Joanna Pellerin, former Trustee of Gilman Park and past President of the Board of the Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire.