Mast Wheels

Thanks to the generosity of both the Sanborn and Morton families, the Webster Historical Society is fortunate to have a pair of these massive wheels.

In colonial times, these gigantic wheels were used to transport ship masts for the British navy.  On May 10, 1708, the General Court passed an act to preserve all “Mast Trees” or white pine trees within the province of New Hampshire for the Crown’s Royal Navy. This action rubber-stamped an earlier 1691 English law that declared all pines with a diameter of 24 inches or more the property of the Crown and imposed a fine of £50 for each tree illegally cut. (NH Historical Society)

Due to a fortuitous find on EBay, Erick Sawtelle from Lee, NH, provided more of the history of Webster’s Mast Wheels.

“Mast wheels – The last remaining pair of wheels which were used during the clipper ship days to transport the masts from Durham & Portsmouth, NH.  These wheels were purchased by me, Major N D Stuckey, from Bainbridge Parsons of York, Maine for $50.00, and I sold them to Mr. Richard Morton, Rye Beach, NH for $50 and a Concord stage coach body (new).  The wheels are nine feet in diameter and have a six inch iron tire. Picture taken June 1957″

Mr. Morton displayed the wheels in front of the old Highway Hotel in Concord.  He died in 1976, and three years later, right before a public auction to dispose of various carriages and sleighs, his family gave the wheels to Dorothy Sanborn and son Roger, who in turn, donated them to the Webster Historical Society.

With funding from Isabel Rolfe, the wheels were restored by Lee Sawyer of Jaffrey and Robert Young of Sharon. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation supplied the elm wood for the hubs; Sawyer supplied the ash (wood) for the spokes; and the Transit Lumber Company supplied the white oak for the felloes.  It took approximately 660 man-hours to complete the restoration.

The wheels were restored by Lee Sawyer of Jaffrey and Robert Young of Sharon. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation supplied the elm wood for the hubs; Sawyer supplied the ash (wood) for the spokes; and the Transit Lumber Company supplied the white oak for the felloes.  It took approximately 660 man-hours to complete the restoration.

Each wheel weighs 1000 pounds, while the axle and arch assembly weigh 950 pounds.

The shed will be open and the Mast Wheels on display August 20, 1-4 pm during Webster’s Old Home Day—and permanently housed in the shed.

Candace Pratt’s video:  extracting the wheels from the shed; moving them to Lee, NH; attaching the “mast tree;” hauling the log.

Lee, NH parade photos by Cindy Jones. There are some great pictures of the Mast Wheels carrying a 60-foot log and being pulled by 9 oxen.