Historical figure Abbie Griffin explored by Merrimack author

Who was Abbie Griffin?

Some in the community know of her only as the woman in whose honor was named Abbie Griffin Park, a lovely green space adjacent to Town Hall. The park is the site of annual summer concerts hosted by Merrimack’s Parks and Recreation Department and many other community events.

For those looking for more information, they now have a resource. A fact-filled, 17-page booklet about Griffin – a work reflecting five years of research – has been penned by Ruth Liberty, 91, a Merrimack resident since 1964 and currently a member of the Merrimack Historical Society.

The paperback work, “Who was Abbie Griffin?,” which contains numerous reproductions of vintage photos, was unveiled at the Merrimack Library on July 23, during what Liberty calls “a booklet signing,” held in conjunction with the Merrimack Historical Society.

Liberty said proceeds from the 15 author-autographed copies sold that day at $5 will go to the historical society, steward of all things old in Merrimack. The booklets were purchased by library patrons, history buffs, teachers, students and others interested in the town’s history.

The money raised that day will help the society’s volunteers continue the work of acquiring, preserving and maintaining an extensive collection of Merrimack artifacts, maps, antique documents and other memorabilia at the Merrimack Historical Society, a nonprofit organization housed in an 1847 schoolhouse at 520 Boston Post Road.

“I wrote the work to inform people,” Liberty said. “I used to be a part of the Abbie Griffin Park Advisory Committee and people at the concerts would always ask me, ‘Who was Abbie Griffin?’”

Liberty eventually decided to seek more details and publish them so people could learn about Griffin.

Five years of research followed. Liberty consulted public records, recollections from local residents, input from distant Griffin relatives and every source she could find. Finally, she ran out of leads and knew it was time to go to press.

“When I learned of Abbie’s generosity to the town of Merrimack, I felt she certainly deserved to be remembered,” Liberty said. “She was for a long time Merrimack’s most generous benefactor and her generosity is ongoing today, through her will and its bequests.”

A few basics barely scratch the surface of Griffin’s history. Abbie May Griffin was born in 1879 and died in 1968 at 89 years old. She was born into a line of families that were successful as lumber dealers, merchants and grocers.

The family homestead was established on Daniel Webster Highway, on land now occupied by the Residence Inn and the Comfort Inn.

A grocery store was a family business.

Abbie was one of three daughters born to the Griffins.

They all attended Merrimack schools. Her siblings wed, but Abbie never married. Her name is included on the Merrimack Voter Checklist of 1920 – the first year that women were allowed to vote in national elections.

Liberty found out that Griffin devoted her life to the care of her parents and the maintenance of the family homestead, a two-story house and a large barn. Griffin’s mother, Sarah Frances (Spalding) Griffin, died in 1925. Abbie Griffin’s father died in 1938. She lived alone for about 30 years until her death.

Griffin’s money went far toward helping Merrimack causes. The Merrimack High School Band benefited.

The band was invited to perform at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York but funds were insufficient. Abbie donated the balance needed to pay the group’s expenses. Numerous other examples of her financial backing were found in the course of Liberty’s investigations.

Bequests to relatives, friends and organizations flowed from her estate after her death at the former Nashua Memorial Hospital and her burial in the family plot in Reeds Cemetery in South Merrimack. Residual funds benefited the Merrimack Village District Trust, a hospital fund an educational fund and a memorial fund.

The donations to Merrimack from Griffin’s will approximated $400,000 – that is about $2,186,000 in today’s dollars, Liberty said. Since Griffin’s death, Merrimack residents have received benefits annually that include high school scholarships, assistance with hospital expenses and equipment for the police and fire departments.

Liberty said she is sure there is much more to be learned.

She welcomes contributions of additional information – journals, letters, greeting cards, diaries, anything that would reveal other facts.

“I’m 91, and it’s about time I found out more about Abbie. Surely, she was a bit of a recluse but I’m positive that there is much more to her than we know about at this time. She’s still a lady of mystery. And I’m a lady of curiosity,” Liberty said.

Anita Creager, president of the Merrimack Historical Society, met with Liberty many times during the five years that the Abbie Griffin booklet was in the making. She praised Liberty’s perseverance as bits and pieces of the Griffin puzzle fell into place.

“I could see from the start of Ruth’s quest to find out more about one of Merrimack’s most generous benefactors that the project was one of great value and a rich contribution to the resources available at the Merrimack Historical Society,” Creager said.

Copies of the booklet, “Who was Abbie Griffin?” are available at the Merrimack Historical Society.

Summer hours at the Merrimack Historical Society are Tuesday and Wednesday mornings from 9 a.m.-noon and Tuesday evenings from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

The vintage school house can be visited by appointment. Volunteers are welcome, as are study groups, researchers and all who enjoy learning more about the history of Merrimack – and about Abbie Griffin.

More information on the Merrimack Historical Society and on Liberty’s booklet is available by contacting Creager at 424-5084 or anitacreager58@comcast.net.