Home Trust Charter Fundraising History Wheeler News Page Preserve and Restore Rentals

History of Wheeler Chapel

McGaw Institute

The Wheeler family was established for three generations in Temple, NH when John Wheeler, seventh son of Nathan Wheeler and Rachel Cummings moved to Merrimack, where he established a farm in the Reed’s Ferry village and married Marrieta Parker, daughter of Nathan Parker and Mary McQuestion, two of the prominent villagers of that era.

Merrimack, historically, consisted of four small villages -- Reeds Ferry in the northern part, Souhegan Village in the center of town, Thornton's Ferry along the Merrimack River, and South Merrimack, situated on Route 101A the old route of the Nashua and Wilton Railroad. The Reeds Ferry and Thornton's Ferry districts acquired their names from ferries across the river between Merrimack and Litchfield, (a place you can currently see from Merrimack, but can’t get to).

In 1849 Professor William Russell, an alumnus of Glasgow University, and celebrated as the greatest elocutionist in the country, desired to establish a teacher’s college, what was in that era called a “Normal School”.  Robert McGaw, Nathan Parker, Elkanah P. Parker, Matthew P. Nichols and Nathan Parker, Jr, therefore incorporated the Merrimack Normal Institute (later the McGaw Institute), “for the instruction of youth of both sexes in useful literature, and to qualify such of them as intend to become teachers of common schools for their appropriate duties.”  

Professor Russell opened the school August 27, 1849, and enrolled sixty-five students the first term. The boarding department was managed by  John and Marrietta Wheeler under whose administration the building was crowded to its utmost capacity, there being at times sixty roomers and eighty table boarders.


The McGaw Institute was located at 10 Depot Street and later became the town's first high school after the Institute closed in 1949. The land is now occupied by Merrimack PTA Kindergarten.


In 1889 John Wheeler re-emphasized his dedication to the community be establishing a trust to erect and maintain a building for the benefit of the people of Reed's Ferry.

Portion of  the Will Of  John Wheeler,

Dated 16 May 1889


Tenth: Whereas I desire to erect a building for the benefit of the people of the village of Reeds Ferry in which I reside, to be known as "Wheeler Memorial Chapel" and have already, under a deed thereof, in Trust to Frances A. Gordon, Levi F. Lowell, Fred F. Walker, George P. Butterfield and Anson A. Platte, all of said Merrimack, and their successors, for the use and purposes described in said deed; and whereas the same may not be completed in my lifetime, I provide that said Trustees, [Frances A. Gordon], Levi F. Lowell, Fred F. Walker, George P. Butterfield, and Anson A. Platte, all of said Merrimack, and their successors, for the use and purposes described in said deed, and whereas the same may not be completed in my lifetime, I provide that the said Trustees, with my Executor, shall complete the same according to my plans made known to the builder now employed to build the same; and whatever funds may be required to complete the same after my decease shall be paid from my estate by said Executors.


The Wheeler Family History

Gravestone of John Wheeler and his family at

Last Rest Cemetery, Merrimack.

Town of Merrimack

Master Plan Update 2002

Chapter VIII. Historic Resources

Reeds Ferry - A ferry landing connecting this section of Merrimack with the western shore of Litchfield was in place as early as 1728. Located on Depot Street, the Merrimack Normal Institute was the first professional training school for teachers in New Hampshire. Shares were sold to raise the $6,000 for the building that opened in 1849 with William Russell from Scotland its first headmaster. It struggled until 1865 when it became the Granite Street Military and Collegiate Institute under the direction of Rev. Howell. This enterprise failed but in 1875 the building became Merrimack’s first high school, the McGraw Institute. Robert McGraw, one of the original share holders in the original Institute, died in 1872 and bequeathed $10,000 for that purpose.

Although there are a number of fine early nineteenth century structures including brick houses at 4 Depot Street and on Daniel Webster Highway, many of the structures in Reeds Ferry resulted from a second period of building activity at the end of the 19th century associated with the coming of the railroad and industries such as Fessenden & Lowell's (585 Daniel Webster) who built or owned the mill, the buildings now known as Levi Lowell's, the large boarding house at 7 Depot Street and housing on Elm, Maple and Front Streets.

Other buildings dating to this period include the Wheeler Chapel and the simple residences on Pleasant Street. Development elsewhere in Town has left Reed's Ferry Merrimack's most intact historic area. 


Manchester Advertiser, Saturday, January 25th, 1896   Vol.VII  No.2

The Ladies Aid Society held their Annual Meeting at the Wheeler chapel on January 16th. Officers for the ensuing year were elected as follows: President - Mrs. F.A.Gordon, Secretary and Treasurer - Mrs. F.P.Jones, Directors - Mrs. Wingate McQuestion. Mrs. James Walker, Mrs. McIntire and Mrs. Thomas Jackson. This society works for home purposes and meet once a week at the Wheeler Chapel.


Above is a postcard of the chapel circa 1920 that was e-mailed to us by a current neighbor of the  chapel in  Reeds Ferry. We are always glad to receive any information or documentation related to the building. Please contact us at info@wheelerchapel.org . Thanks!