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Farms for Summer Homes – A Century Ago

By Ray Boas (February 5, 2016)

The 100-acre farm of Charles A. Watkins was profiled in the 1913 edition of New Hampshire Farms for Summer Homes. The 160 head of full-blooded Merino sheep were “the largest flock of sheep” the writer had seen. Besides the sheep on Watkins’s farm, there were “half a dozen cows, a hundred hens, forty tons of hay, six acres of corn and as many of oats, six hundred pounds of maple sugar, plenty of potatoes and other vegetables; and a fine mountain view across the river.” Watkins purchased the estate in 1876, and sold it in 1916. After six more owners, Howard and Alice Petrie purchased the property in 1957, and operated their gift shop, Autumn Hill, in the barn.

In the late 19th century, New Hampshire farms were being abandoned at an alarming rate. The State Legislature, in 1889, authorized a “Commissioner of Immigration,” whose duty would be “the repeopling of the rural districts of the Granite State.” At that time there were 1,342 abandoned farms in the state. Children were leaving the farms for work elsewhere, farmers without someone to take over the farm were retiring to neighboring towns or villages and other owners were simply leaving and placing their farm for sale.

The Commissioner’s remedy was to prepare and distribute catalogs of farms for sale, targeting prospective buyers that would either be new farmers, or those “whose investment was … the securing of a pleasant and healthful home for the whole or some part of the year.” The first publication, in 1889, was a Price List of Abandoned Farms in New Hampshire. This was followed in 1891, with a 68-page booklet, “Secure a Home in New Hampshire, Where Comfort, Health, and Prosperity Abound.”

Following the two-paragraph introduction, attesting to the fact that all “descriptions were furnished by the owners and accompanied by a sworn affidavit,” farms for sale were listed by town. Four Walpole properties were listed. E. K. Seabury could be contacted about 100 acres with a nine-room house for $3,500; 62 acres with an eight-room house was available for $1,500; and, E. J. Hammond in Keene could be contacted about two farms, one of 40 acres, and the other 170.

In another attempt to lure people back to New Hampshire, Governor Frank West Rollins initiated Old Home Week in 1899, which some towns celebrated as Old Home Day (Walpole’s first Old Home Day was Wednesday, August 30, 1899). Everyone who had ever lived in New Hampshire was invited to return and visit with friends and
the land. The hope was they would move back to their roots.

The state published New Hampshire Farms for Summer Homes annually from 1902 to 1916. The first 70-page booklet extolled the beauty of the mountains, lakes, hills and sea and introduced a number of abandoned farms and their possible use as summer homes. The Commissioner of Immigration’s first 12 years of effort was also applauded.

Hundreds of moderately well-to-do people had purchased small farms and repaired them for summer use. In addition, wealthy, philanthropic individuals created grand summer estates, many of which we cherish throughout the state today. The figures compiled showed that 849 farms had become occupied as summer homes, representing an investment of $2,000,000. People found “in a New Hampshire farm all the opportunities for gratifying any worthy desire in establishing a home for comfort, health, or pleasure.”

Ray Boas is the publisher of The Walpole Clarion

This article is republished From the New Hampshire Dept of Agriculture, Markets & Food’s Weekly Market Bulletin, Feb 3, 2016

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