The former farmland where 102 Front Street stands today was purchased for development by William Burlingame in 1881. This corresponds with the house build date of circa 1890 offered by the Assessor’s office. It was then sold in 1892 to Mira Richards, the wife of George Richards. At that time, it was common to have real estate listed in the wife’s name.
George Richards was a well-known writer and worked as a Washington correspondent for the Exeter News-Letter, the Boston Herald and the Manchester Union. In 1898 he was elected as the register of probate for Rockingham County but kept up his writing on the side. After George’s death, Mira carried the torch and for ten years she was the only woman admitted to the capitol press gallery in Washington, D.C. Her weekly column, Washington Letter, in the Exeter News-Letter, kept readers informed of how their senators and representatives were voting. Like many writers of the time, Mira wrote under a variety of pen names. The Worcester Sunday Telegram noted, “Hidden behind the laconic signature ‘Richards’ for some years has been a most interesting woman, confidante of many Washington men and women in politics, who are serene in the knowledge that confidence will not be abused.” Locally, Mira’s pen name “Morgan” and her columns were a dependable part of the Exeter News-Letter – always on the front page – from 1911 until shortly before her death in 1934. In them, her true name was never given and if she’s mentioned at all in local news it was always as “Mrs. George Richards.”
It was shortly after George’s death that Mira sold the home she and George had built on Front Street to Harry Merrill. Harry left it to his children and it was inhabited by Sydney Merrill. The Merrill family owned the house from 1913 – 1976. Harry Merrill, lifelong resident and prominent citizen of Exeter, had represented Exeter in the General Court for several terms; a state senator in 1927-28, and member of the governor’s Council in 1929-1931. He was for many years president of the Exeter Cooperative Bank; a director of the Exeter Banking Company; a trustee and treasurer of Exeter Hospital for 25 years; trustee of the Exeter Public Library; treasurer of the trustees of the trust fund of the Congregational Parish; a former member of the A.L. Merrill Trust of Boston, and trustee of the Gilman Park Association. He was a member of the Exeter and New Hampshire Historical Societies and a member of the Exeter Sportsman’s Club.
Sydney’s wife, Patricia Carnegie Merrill and her sister, Nancy Carnegie Merrill, married to David Merrill, both lived on properties on Front Street. Nancy served as the Director of Collections for the Exeter Historical Society from 1972 until her retirement in 2000. Both sisters, and their brother Andrew who moved to Exeter with his sisters, were very proud of their Scottish ancestry and their distant family connection with the famous industrialist Andrew Carnegie.