Lost Town Found – Monson Center

Monson Center - an authentic New Hampshire ghost town.

Monson Center – an authentic New Hampshire ghost town.

Monson Center was a village that time had passed by.  Settled in the early 1700’s, the original inhabitants, mostly farmers dispersed over the New Hampshire countryside, couldn’t agree on just where to build a meeting house (and thus establish the town center) or even whether one was really necessary.  Finally, just before the American Revolution, they asked the colonial government to repeal their charter – basically disbanding the town.  Their wish was granted and the land was split between the neighboring towns of Hollis and Milford.  Soon there was no reason to live here.  The farmers took their goods and trade to Hollis & Milford and the tradesmen who had settled and built homes here packed up and moved.  Eventually nothing was left but an authentic New England ghost town: some stone walls and cellar holes in the woods.

Even though Monson is mostly cellar holes, I love the way the open fields allow your mind to recreate the scene.

Even though Monson is mostly cellar holes, I love the way the open fields allow your mind to recreate the scene.

Turn the clock ahead 200 years when a developer decides this forgotten corner of the state would be a great place to build some luxury homes.  That might have been the end of Monson, and, if the bulldozers had their way, there would be nothing left.  However, thanks to the efforts of the Society for Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF) and local preservation partners, including Russ and Geri Dickerman, the land was bought and preserved and is now open for all to enjoy.

Monson Village view.

Monson Village view.

Readers of this blog may have noticed my interest in remnants of the past – old cemeteries and cellar holes – so for me this site is really a treat and a great success story in historic preservation.  (Here’s another blog about cellar holes in my home town.)  One old home remains, the 1756 Gould House, and it has been carefully restored and serves as the site’s museum.  It even flies the British flag appropriate to the time, missing the red diagonals (the Cross of St. Patrick).  You may be fortunate enough to visit when Russ Dickerson himself is manning the house.  My favorite activity is to explore the network of trails that criss-crosses the site, leading to at least 6 cellar holes and the town pound, among other sites.   I found that the builder of the trails (Russ) has a sense of humor, too, with one trail leading directly up and over a large car-sized boulder.

The wildflowers were wonderful in early June

The wildflowers were wonderful in early June

Does this Union Jack look different?  That's because it's the flag from the 1760's.

Does this Union Jack look different? That’s because it’s the flag from the 1760’s.

This site had its own stone marker

This site had its own stone marker

Once you park your car on Federal Hill Road, you’ll take a short walk through the woods (about two tenths of a mile), and emerge into what might as well be the 18th century: beautiful open fields and stone-wall lined lanes and absolutely no sign of telephone polls, cars or electricity.  I visited on a beautiful day in early June and the fields were filled with wildflowers.  The mountain laurel, which normally would blossom mid-June, had already peaked but there was still enough of it everywhere to make it magical.  From the Gould House, where you can grab a map, trails lead in different directions, mostly to the woods where you’ll find the cellar holes.

One thing that makes this place come to life for me is that the owners of each home have been researched and each cellar hole has a small sign giving the family’s story.  One example, the Bailey house, says “One evening, when Mr. & Mrs. Bailey were visiting their neighbor … their house burned down.  The children escaped in their night clothes.  Soon after, the family went west with the Mormons.”

I love the way the cellar holes had the owner's family history attached to them.

I love the way the cellar holes had the owner’s family history attached to them.

The last thing I want to mention is that being fairly new, Monson Center is not yet well known.  There were just a few others visiting that sunny Saturday so it was all the more pleasurable.  Happy travels!

Sometimes a cellar hole is just a hole in the ground!

Sometimes a cellar hole is just a hole in the ground!

The mountain laurel probably peaked in late May.

The mountain laurel probably peaked in late May.

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