At least from the late 1840s, the perpendicular crossroads by Crystal Lake in Eaton Center was known as Robertson’s Corner. For that matter, until New Hampshire started renaming its water bodies as a ploy to lure summering strangers, Crystal Lake was called Robertson’s Pond. The name was derived from Robert Robertson, his son Henry, and his grandson Jesse, who for half a century occupied the two big houses in the northeast quadrant of that intersection. One of them is visible at the right side of both photos here, blocking a view of the other.
The stagecoach line operated by the Abbott family, of Conway, made daily stops at Robertson’s Corner after 1850, bringing passengers from the railhead at Dover, Union, and later Sanbornville. Eli Glines opened a store at the corner that Edwin Snow soon took over and operated through the Civil War. After the railroad reached Conway, in the early 1870s, the stage route through Eaton quickly disappeared and Robertson’s Corner saw a lot less traffic. Snow moved his operation to Snowville, selling his old place to Clement Drew, whose grocery store survived on the southwest corner well into the 20th century. At least in a magnified version of the 1890s-vintage postcard view here, Drew’s store is visible just above the off ox of that yoke standing in the road. (For city dudes, the “off” ox is the one on the left as you see them here.)
That ox team appears to be the main focus of the photo. The stocky drover may be Henry Robertson, who owned the last working farm on the corner, named for his family. A little behind the oxen, to the left, stands a man holding a white horse; that may be George Palmer, who kept the stable for his father’s inn. Another young man — possibly George’s brother, Elmer — is sitting on the grass beside the road, between John Lowd’s home and the house owned by the Palmer boys’ father, Nathaniel.
Barely visible beyond the Palmer residence is the elegant Greek Revival inn that Nathaniel Palmer built to take advantage of the quiet that descended on Robertson Corner after the railroad turned it into a backwater. Palmer also owned the house at the far left in both photos, either as a rental property or for one of his grown children. He was doing quite well for himself until the winter of 1899, when a particularly severe strain of influenza swept through town. Like scores of others, he was laid up for a couple of weeks, but he must have thought he was on the mend and did some chores in the barn one cold day in February. He returned to the house with a chill, and pneumonia carried him off a few days later.
Palmer’s inn is still in operation. The corner is still there, too, and it seems a lot sharper in an automobile than in a stagecoach. Thanks to the squealing brakes of surprised travelers, it may be the least quiet spot in Eaton. No one in his right mind would bring a team of oxen through that intersection without a police escort.