Powder Keg: A History and a Change for 2020

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Ever wondered about the history of the Powder Keg Games? Tilton and New Hampton have been competing in sports for many years, and the first “Powder Keg” began as a football game in 1895. The New Hampton School and Tilton School rivalry is the third oldest prep school rivalry in New England. Exeter and Andover began in 1878, while Groton and St. Mark’s began in 1886. Below, a picture of the football team preparing to go to Tilton shows a carriage on Main Street in 1900 with the town library in the background. At the time, it was a half-day trip to travel the 12 miles to Tilton School down Devil’s Den Road—the road known today as Route 132.

Football Team embarks for Tilton School
The New Hampton School Football Team of 1900 traveled by carriage to Tilton School.

From an article in The Boston Globe dated October 25, 1969:

  • “They like to call it the Harvard-Yale of the New Hampshire preppies”
  • “The tradition has survived 2 wars, 3 periods of severed relations, a flu epidemic and numerous sleet, snow and hail storms since its inception in 1895.”

A Historic Trophy

According to Former Headmaster, and long-time faculty member, Lou Gnerre, the Civil War-era powder keg was dedicated in memory of Pop Bottomly—a former New Hampton School employee who was a night fire watcher. Pop was an extremely well-liked person. After he passed in the 1950s, this Powder Keg was created in his honor. Traditionally, the keg has been brought to the games each year, and, at the end of the day, the victorious school receives the Powder Keg as well as bragging rights for the following year. A small inscribed plaque is added to the exterior to mark the year’s victor.

gnerre powder keg trophy
Former Headmaster and faculty member Lou Gnerre holds the Powder Keg trophy.

The Rivalry Continues

During the 1950s, the school rivalry was so heated that a cooling-off period was declared. The games were suspended for three years. As noted in the Boston Globe article in 1969, the Powder Keg has endured several periods of severed relations. The most recent break between the two schools ended in 2007 when student leaders from both schools worked with their Heads of School to organize its reinstatement. Each school takes turns hosting on their game fields; this year, in 2020, New Hampton School and Tilton School will share the honor due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Adapting to Change

For today’s students, the Powder Keg games include a full schedule of fall athletic competitions including field hockey, soccer, cross country, mountain biking, and football. Out-of-season schedule additions this year are made possible by an adjustment this year for competitions in the Lakes Region League. Instead of fall athletics only, we will also witness competitive play in spring and winter athletics including ice hockey, basketball, softball, and lacrosse. Without the possibility of in-person spectators, we urge our greater Husky Nation community of alumni, parents, and friends to cheer on our teams on the live streams.

New Hampton School has been fortunate to be the current caretakers of the Powder Keg for eight years in a row. Can we keep it for one more? Join us online this weekend as the Huskies seek to keep the keg! Also, visit our Virtual Homecoming page to check out additional videos and content. 

moore powder keg

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