“To write about something is to live it twice.”
Today’s informative, eye-opening adventure (for me at least) stemmed following a lecture I presented two weeks ago at the Historical Society of Cheshire County. The day before I received a phone call from a gentleman in Richmond, NH, asking how he could buy my book, AS IT WAS… AND STILL IS… WALPOLE, NH. Asking how he learned of it, he replied, “I saw it in a doctor’s office in Chesterfield, and the doctor told me how to contact you.” We chatted, and moments later he called again asking if I would wait after the lecture to meet him. That conversation lasted almost two hours – tons of serendipitous coincidences (I was floored when he said he collected country store items, “well I have been doing so also for decades,” I replied). The coincidences and parallels of interests just continued to multiply. Emails followed, and I was invited for dinner on Saturday the 15th.
I traveled down Route 32, and immediately became upset with myself because I had never been on this road below the center of Swanzey. The route heads into Massachusetts, and when it crosses with Route 119, that is the center of Richmond at the blinking light. Beautiful early architecture, peaceful, and historical including a marker for the birthplace of Hosea Ballou, considered one of the fathers of American Universalism. I had a few moments (I am good on planning trip arrivals) so headed in both directions at the junction of 32 and 119 out of curiosity. And, out of curiosity, you may enjoy these two images of one thing I saw.
At five I arrived at Bob and Jan’s original 1775 home (on an abandoned road – first of six I stumbled on in two days. President Garfield’s mother lived there as a child for six years until her father’s death in 1808. Seven years prior to his assassination, the future President and his mother visited. Garfield wrote of his visit with his mother, “I cannot tell you how strange and touching it was to me to see her go back over the old ground which she left sixty years ago.” They had tea in the front room, referred to as the Square Room – 16 1/2 feet by 16 1/2 feet – the size required for Town Meetings.
We toured their impressive grounds. Jan is a master gardener, and they have eclectic and humorous touches though out. Then we toured the restored period barn filled with country store and other collections, not to mention the living room done in Rufus Porter style — I was right at home (if you know my home). After cocktails it was back across the abandoned road for a tour of more collections, and one of the best dinners I have had. But the important thing was the connections and conversations the three of us had with similar interests. The conversation lead to PERLEY: THE TRUE STORY OF A NEW HAMPSHIRE HERMIT. Bob and his family had known Perley, and he helped write and edit the 2008 book published by the Cheshire County Historical Society.
I had planned a rare day off on Sunday – Easter – and had no commitments. I wanted to take a drive. Saturday night when I got home I had started reading my copy of PERLEY at 11:47 PM. Shunpiking destination solved — and the plan was for Stoddard on Sunday to Perley’s environs.
Sunday – 16 April, Easter. Off BLACK BEAUTY and I went over Route 123 into Marlow. Instead of continuing into Stoddard on 123, I saw on my real paper atlas of southern New Hampshire (that I remembered not having touched in ten years) a parallel road, Fox Hill Road. It was dirt, BLACK BEAUTY swelled with tears of joy. We reached the top of a hill and a brick 1823 farm house, and the end of the road. First abandoned road for the day.
I arrived in the “center” of Stoddard where my map said roads would lead to Taylor Pond and Perley’s home.
turning around you see the Congregational Church of Stoddard and the road (beginning on the left) I wanted to travel for my explorations.
Heading up School Street I came upon a roadside plaque pointing out a cellar hole. Thinking I had seen something down at the bottom of the hill, BLACK BEAUTY turned around, and we went back to the corner and parked. WOW – we learned so much. This placard (somewhat deteriorated) gave a late 19th century view of the spot where we stood.
Actually, we parked at the corner where the marked Blodgett/Ireland Store had stood. Just about all the buildings on the right side are gone now, as well as the horse sheds behind the church. I started collecting images of the center (in gallery below that you can open up) and encourage you to visit and explore.
It was then back up the hill to explore the three roads on my map that headed in the direction of Taylor Pond. School Street – pile of dirt and overgrown path just past the school (Abandoned Road Number Two for the weekend). Mt Stoddard Road – promising, suddenly chain across and “private road” (Abandoned Road Number Three). Back up to the cemetery and left turn onto Center Pond Road – wide (for dirt) populated, and promising. I arrive at the pond and the dirt diminishes to ruts. A mother and her children are playing on the beach to my right. “Nope, impassable Class-6 road now, and even an ATV cannot get through.” she tells me. (Abandoned Road 4). Starting to see a pattern? This is really SHUNPIKING.
Sadly I headed back to paved Route 123 to paved Route 9 (Keene – Concord road) and headed south to Granite Lake, exiting before the lake on (of course) Granite Lake Road where I took the first right onto North Shore Drive never having been on it before. I encourage you to see the lakeside community, and particularly the couple buildings I am sure were originally Victorian inns or boarding houses. I arrived at Aten Road — my destination road to Perley’s property and Shinbone Shack and the failed estate of Florence Cornelia Ellwanger Brooks Aten.
I was so close, but arriving at the estate the road became private, and I was greeted by signs, motion sensors and cameras. We wisely turned around, but first “stole” a few images. (Note – Abandoned Road 5 for the weekend)
Fortunately saved from total disintegration, the property is now Lakefalls Lodge.
Back down Aten Road and West Shore Road to downtown Munsonville.
Then under Route 9 to the “old road” – back on Route 9 for a short distance, and exiting and picking up Valley Road heading back up in a northerly direction. I figured if I picked up Bowlder Road (mentioned several times in PERLEY) I may have one more chance to enter his wilderness. Great little traveled dirt road, passed Bolster Pond mentioned in the book, and up a hill saw Seward Mountain Farm (1799)
and looking to the other side of the road
But it was time for Abandoned Road Number 6. I thought I may have been looping back to the other end of abandoned Aten Road, but when I got home and studied the satellite views on Google Maps I believe I had passed overgrown Aten Road and really was close to Taylor Pond, and Perley’s old homestead. But alas, I respect signs.
I mentioned earlier, that this serendipitous adventure (you know me and my knack of timing) started with Bob calling about my book, an evening with he and his wife and much fascinating conversation including his involvement in the writing of PERLEY: THE TRUE STORY OF A NEW HAMPSHIRE HERMIT. Of course, I just happened to already own the book, and could not put it down when I got home and picked it up. And Saturday when I started reading it, Sunday’s drive became self-evident. I strongly encourage you to get the well-written book and enjoy it (available at the Cheshire County Historical Society). And if you can, explore the Stoddard countryside. And if you look on Google maps, you will see these roads all dotted, but in my atlas were solid lines — but that made the fun.
What is next for Ray — two weeks of playing Grandpa Vanderhof in YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU. A role that means a great deal to me as Grandpa’s personality and philosophies mirror mine. And when I last played the role in 2008, Cathy died, and the play was instrumental in my getting through that. So attend if you can, and I hope to be writing more soon. As always, yours, RAY