Walking in Their Footsteps – Quinttown

Look up Quinttown on Google maps and you will discover it is a small valley in the southeastern corner of Orford, NH.  For some reason, I’ve been drawn to visiting it three times over the last two months.  Today’s visit, one week before Thanksgiving, while certainly not the most scenic, was by far the most interesting.

Mt Cube from Quinttown

Mt Cube from Quinttown

This is a picture from my last visit in October while the leaves were still close to peak colors.  These fields will soon be preserved by a land trust and that little cabin will become available to rent.  Won’t that be sweet?  Although the cabin is surrounded by fields, there’s not another house in sight.  I can’t wait.Quinttown 1860-1But first a little bit about Quinttown.  In 1788 Benjamin Quint, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, became the first landholder in this corner of Orford.  You can see his farm with the green underline in this image taken from an 1860 map, the first detailed map of Orford.  As this valley was one of very few in New Hampshire with limestone bedrock, it quickly attracted other farmers in spite of its rather remote location.  By 1860 over 200 people were living in the area. Quinttown 1892 Quinttown 1931But the railroads spelled the end of subsistence farming and by the end of the 19th century most of the farms and roads in Quinttown had been abandoned.  It was just too remote to make economic sense.  By 1910 fewer than 40 people called Quinttown home.  (Today there is only one year-round family resident here, although there are more seasonal homes to be found.)IMG_6677

This tree tells of 3 trails: orange and black of the Dartmouth Outing Club, then white (above but painted over) when this was the Appalachian Trail, and now blue for the Daniel Doan Trail

This tree tells of 3 trails: orange and black of the Dartmouth Outing Club, then white (above but painted over) when this was the Appalachian Trail, and now blue for the Daniel Doan Trail.

To me there’s nothing more interesting than visiting a place with a history; where I can peel away the present and imagine what it must have been like for the people who once made this area home.  Today’s quest was to hike a loop on the ridges surrounding Quinttown, starting on the Daniel Doan Trail to the top of Smarts Mountain (south of Quinttown), then descending along the Appalachian Trail (passing east of Quinttown), then, if time allowed, to bushwhack some of the abandoned roads found only on the 1860 map to see if I could locate a few cellar holes in the woods.  The Appalachian Trail once descended into Quinttown after summitting Smarts Mountain before climbing northwards once again up Mt. Cube, but it was re-routed in the 1980’s to stay on the ridges to the east.  The Daniel Doan Trail is a remnant of the former Appalachian Trail route.  In fact, it follows one of the old roads seen on the 1860 map passing two farms (the road that ends at H. B. Reed).

Note the large column of stones in the center of this cellar hole that would have supported the hearth.

Note the large column of stones in the center of this cellar hole that would have supported the hearth.

Sure enough, with a little searching by the side of the trail, I “discovered” my first cellar hole of the day.  This one was well preserved and had two very interesting features.  The cellar was roughly a square 24′ by 24′.  In the center was a large stack of stones, carefully laid, that once supported a central fireplace and hearth.  This hearth base is very useful in dating the cellar to sometime prior to 1820 or so.  That’s because up until that time all the cooking was done in the open hearth.  But about that time saw the widespread adoption of the cast-iron cooking stove.  The large open hearth (and the stonework to support it) was no longer necessary.  Cellars built later than this time are often large and open, without interior structures.

Large sill-stones on one wall

Large sill-stones on one wall

The other interesting feature was the presence of 3 large sill-stones (at least that’s what I call them) on one side of the cellar.  Generally I’ve seen these on foundations from 1850 and later so I would guess that this cellar supported a house for more than a single owner, or at least long enough to have warranted repairs to the foundation.  However the maps only show one owner, E. Bugbee in 1860, and by 1892 the house was abandoned.  So only deed searches can tell more of the story.  Quite close to this cellar was another one, rectangular in shape and without hearth stones.  I would have guessed this to be a barn but usually barns have fewer than 4 walls, as it was important to be able to drive in and remove manure easily from the lowest level.  So there was a 2nd house here, built later than the first, but with no evidence on the maps.  Further on I found the cellar hole (a double cellar but poorly preserved) that corresponds with H. B. Reed on the 1860 map.

Paper wasp nest

Paper wasp nest

Now the trail followed old logging roads.  There were no longer the telltale stone walls on either side indicating that these were roads leading to farms.  I saw a bear crossing the trail ahead of me but was unable to get a picture.  I was surprised he wasn’t already hibernating but maybe he (she?) was trying to get some last-minute nourishment.  I doubt the paper wasp nest would have helped as it was too high in a tree.

So the trail climbed to the top of Smarts Mountain where it joined the Appalachian Trail.  I climbed the fire tower and then followed the trail northwards, gradually heading downhill along a ridge.

Where would this stone wall lead?

Where would this stone wall lead?

Although it was beginning to get late, I still hoped to bushwhack my way back to the car, possibly following an old road and discovering a few more cellars.  When the trail passed a stone wall leading westwards into the woods I knew it was time to bushwhack.  Where there are walls, farms can’t be far behind, and with luck…

I followed this wall, then another wall, checking my GPS to see if I was on the right track, when Bingo! there was another old cellar.IMG_6713Cellar holes aren’t always so obvious or easy to find, but late fall is by far the best time of year to locate them.  From a distance you might see some stones or indentations like the picture above.  More frequently, approaching from below, you just see a strangely flat surface.  But after a while you start to develop a 6th sense about them.  Where would a farmer want to locate his house?  Is it near the road or is there a driveway leading to it?  Is there room for a barn or other buildings?  Why are all those stone walls coming together?  When following an old road, one of my rules of thumb is that the stone walls get better and higher as you get nearer to the house.  Why?  Like all of us, you tend to do a better job closer to home.

Large doorstep on foreground with hearth stones in background

Large doorstep on foreground with hearth stones in background

This one had a very nice doorstep although the hearth stones had mostly tumbled down.  Soon I found the old road and quickly found another cellar!

An interesting niche built into this cellar wall

An interesting niche built into this cellar wall

This one had an interesting feature.  Not only did it have a large hearth (nearly every cellar I found today had a pre-1820 hearth), but built into the side wall was a well-constructed niche, about 2′ wide and 1′ tall.  I’ve heard these sometimes were used as part of a fireplace but it didn’t really make sense here.  Just below, the road split so I knew just where I was.

Cellar holes I located today are circled in red

Cellar holes I located today are circled in red

I must have just seen the J Robert cellar.  The one I had seen before wasn’t even on the 1860 map so may have already been abandoned by that time.  I’ve put a circle on the map approximately where it was.  The road leading south (to O Robert and J Griffin) should take me back to my car and pass two more cellars on the way if I was lucky.  But it was getting late.

Fortunately for me, this road is still kept pretty clear and is used as a snowmobile trail in winter.  The stone walls on either side were proof that it was the old road and sure enough, the last two cellar holes revealed themselves, even in the fading light.  What a treat this day was…seven different cellar holes, including some that I had no reason to even suspect.  It doesn’t get any better than this!

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2 responses to “Walking in Their Footsteps – Quinttown

  1. Pingback: If You Don’t Like the Weather in New Hampshire… | The Park Explorer·

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