The Andover Historical Society recently received a donation of 50 journals written by Wendell Elkins, the son of Hervey Elkins, who is the focus of the Beech Hill story.
Wendell Elkins grew up on a farm on Beech Hill in Andover. Beech Hill was a closely knit farming community overlooking Mount Kearsarge. The farm was settled in 1790 by his great grandfather, Captain Samuel Elkins, a Revolutionary War soldier who, like many early settlers, had migrated inland from the coast looking for land and water power.
Wendell’s grandfather, Josiah Elkins, took his whole family to live with the Enfield Shakers, but most of the family returned to Beech Hill. Wendell grew up in the shadow of his father’s close association with the Enfield Shaker community and his journals reflect his struggle to separate himself from his father.
From “Beech Hill, the Reconciliation of Hervey Elkins and the Enfield Shakers” by Galen Beale:
”As Wendell approached his teenage years, he began to chronicle his life. In 1873, at 11 years old, he tentatively began what would become a lifelong series of journals which would describe, often in poetic detail, life at Beech Hill and beyond.
Hervey may have encouraged Wendell because he could see that his son’s life was about to change. Up to this point, Wendell’s life had been filled with Shakers, preachers, family, and farm life. Hervey had ensured that his son got to know people who were important in his own life: Wendell Philips, George Severance, JM Peebles, and of course the Shakers.
For most of his childhood, Wendell had observed his father’s life; he pondered the value of the Shakerism that had consumed his father’s life and wondered about the alternatives. The two spent their days in animated discussions arising from the many books they both consumed.
Wendell admired his father deeply but did not wish to stay on the farm as his father hoped. He wanted to pursue his education as far as he could, and it was Eleanor who helped her son achieve their common dream. Wendell began his first full journal the year before he entered Proctor Academy, after which he went to Harvard College and Harvard Divinity School.
In his first few journals, Wendell described the Shakers as family friends who were cherished by his father; and their Shaker Village as another home filled with relatives, and a fun place to visit.
But as he matured, his viewpoint changed. He had heard a variety of opinions about Shakerism from discussions among his farming community, from the visiting apostates, from clergy, and from the Shakers themselves. He saw how hard the Shakers worked to be successful, and he saw their moments of quiet discouragement disclosed in their letters and as they rested at his father’s home. He would eventually witness the closing of Enfield Shaker Village.
“Beech Hill, the Reconciliation of Hervey Elkins and the Enfield Shakers,” by Galen Beale, is published by Couper Press, Hamilton College, in Clinton, New York. It is available for sale at the Andover Historical Society. Visit AndoverHistory.org for more details.