A Small New Hampshire Town Discovers Its Black History

This story first appeared in Winter 2018 edition of “Around Concord (NH)” magazine, which is published by the Concord Monitor newspaper company. All photos are courtesy of Warner Historical Society; relevant captions are below.

By Ray Carbone

Across the story of America, the history of black people remains a darkened corner. We’ve failed other people – the Irish faced harsh discrimination, Native Americans are still routinely marginalized, and Japanese-Americans serving in World War II saw their families interned – but the long, sorry tale of America’s sin against its black citizens is remarkable for both its length and its scope.

Equally as is remarkable are the incredible dignity displayed and successes achieved by many slaves and their descendants.

‘Warner! Can you imagine,’ Boggis asks rhetorically. ‘When you think of this out-of-the-way place! But there was a community of colored people there. And it was not just one family, they were integrated into the community. They were part of the town.’

New Englanders can rightly claim a significant role in ending the outright slavery of black people because the abolitionist movement flourished here. But there are still shadows here. But it’s an imperfect history. For decades, most New Hampshire residents believed that there was no slavery here and that racism was never a problem simply because we lived in one of the whitest states in the country. That fallacy ended in the 1990s, when seacoast residents uncovered the little-known history of black slaves and servants who worked in and around Portsmouth during the colonial era. Today, the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail allows people to follow this rugged trek.

But JerriAnne Boggis, executive director of the nonprofit organization that created the Portsmouth trail, says there’s still more that needs to be told. She’s working with historians around the state to fill in the largely hidden history of black people who lived in rural New Hampshire towns during the early days of the nation – places like Andover, Hancock, Milford, and nearby Warner.

“Warner! Can you imagine,” Boggis asks rhetorically. “When you think of this out-of-the-way place! But there was a community of colored people there. And it was not just one family, they were integrated into the community. They were part of the town.”

“The fact is that there was a community from at least 1810,” confirms Rebecca Courser, executive director of the Warner Historical Society. “But it was not until 1850 that they were listed in the census.” Before that, individuals in white families were listed by age under the head of the household, but black families were simply numbered as freed colored persons, sometimes in the margins.

Warner could become part of statewide trail. (See I. below)

 

The Warner Trail

Courser is excited about the possibility of having spots in Warner eventually listed on the new Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire. That project is currently being developed in conjunction with JerriAnne and the Portsmouth-based group.

“You can drive by the William Haskell House,” Courser says referring to the former home of a black man renowned as a talented basket maker. “In Waterloo [another section of town], there’s the house where Clarence Steward lived, who was the [African-American] secretary for Nehemiah Ordway.” Ordway was a prominent politician who served as Sergeant of Arms at the U.S. House of Representative, and a governor of the Dakota Territories.

“I would run across this material – vital records and deeds, things like that – and I was curious. Who were these people? What were their lives like?

“Then there’s the Waterloo School House, the Roby School House, and the Village and Burnt Hill schools,” Rebecca continues, noting that black and white children were integrated in those institutions.

A Warner leg of the statewide trail could also commemorate the black community that lived on what’s now called Poverty Plain Road – but was once known by the racial slur N—r Plain. Or there could be a marker near the wetlands alongside old Prince Hastings’s home, nicknamed Chocolate Swamp.

Courser was serving as Warner’s assistant town clerk several years ago when she began seeing things in old town records that piqued her interest about former black residents. “I would run across this material – vital records and deeds, things like that – and I was curious,” she recalls. “Who were these people? What were their lives like?”

As others have found, resolving those questions is hard.

Most black Americans had little or no education, so there are few personal journals or other papers that have been preserved. One significant exception is Our Nig: Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, which was published in 1859.

In addition, what is available doesn’t provide a full picture of how most residents saw their black neighbors. “What did the silent majority of people in town think of them,” Rebecca asks. “We don’t hear about it. We don’t know.”

What exists is not heartening. In town histories written in the later 1800s, white residents frequently recalled their black neighbors as stereotypically simple-minded and naturally subservient.

America’s first black celebrity lives in the region. (See II. below)

“The stories that we see written up are usually not flattering,” Rebecca says. “Many of them are derogatory. ‘ They were stealing things,’ or ‘They’re alcoholic.’”

What Courser and other historians around the state are discovering is that most black residents were good, law-abiding citizens who paid their taxes and supported their communities. “There was at least some Afro-American men who, after the Revolutionary War, were amassing land here and there,” JerriAnne explains. “And they would donate land to the town for a school or for a library.

TonyJones1896

 

“They were doing the same thing that we think of as something the founding white fathers were doing,” she says.

A Bit of Warner’s Diverse History

Anthony Clark was a multifaceted man who made a significant impact on his community. He came to town in the early 1800s, and may have among the black men awarded their freedom for fighting in the Revolutionary War. He enlisted when he was 19-years-old and is mentioned on official papers as being “on command at the lines,” i.e., engaged in active duty.

Anthony worked as a laborer in Warner, which was a common job for freed black men, but he was also an accomplished musician and craftsman.

Anthony would start playing his fiddle to draw a crowd and his daughters would dance a jig. Soon men of all ages would ‘pitch-a-penny’ for the chance to dance with them.

In 1804, Anthony married Lucinda “Lucy” Moor of Canterbury in a Warner church. Over the years, the couple raised 10 children and, for many years, the family was prominent at social gatherings around the region.

According to one report, the Clarks would typically start out by pitching a tent at outdoor events, like musters and town celebrations. Anthony would start playing his fiddle to draw a crowd and his daughters – Sual Hall and Lydia Clark – would dance a jig. Soon men of all ages would ‘pitch-a-penny’ for the chance to dance with them. In between, the Clarks sold their homemade gingerbread.

A neighbor, known as Prince Martin, may have sometimes joined the music. “Another Negro, born in Africa, for many years lived in the Warner woods under the name of Prince Martin,” one white resident recalled in 1823. “He could sing many songs and play on the ‘bones,’ and always had a crowd of listeners round him.” The ‘bones’ were percussion instruments literally made from bones and popular in some African cultures.

MaryMoodyPlains.jpg

Between big events, Anthony traveled around the area, playing his fiddle and calling dances at both pubic and private gatherings. The trips made him a part of a network of people who kept black residents in different communities connected to one another. It was a role he shared with itinerant laborers and drovers like Caesar Lewis, who lived in nearby Sutton. The drovers would move animals – including turkeys – over land to Brighton, Massachusetts, where the animals would be slaughtered for food. “[Caesar] was a man of good abilities, good manners and unblemished integrity,” one resident recalled.

Anthony was an esteemed dance master who taught dance and its social etiquettes to both adults and children. He would sometimes rent space in a local tavern and spend the week giving lessons as the tavern owner enjoyed a boost in sales. At other times, Anthony would take the lead role at community events. “Tony Clark and his fiddle [acted] as inspector-general,” one resident recalled, referring to festivities following one muster.

Anthony was by all accounts an intelligent, gracious man who made a long-lasting impression on Warner. “[He] probably did more towards instructing the young people in the arts and graces of politeness and good manners than any other man of his day and generation,” reads one report.

An  indentured servant authored one of first novels published by a black woman in North America. (See III. below)

When Anthony died in 1856, reportedly at more than one hundred years of age, he was buried with military honors. He and wife Lucy are in the Pine Grove Cemetery, still the only black people in Warner with a headstone marking their graves.

It wasn’t long, however, before the racial prejudice of the later 19th century began infringing on Anthony’s story. An 1895 publication, A Sketch of Warner, claimed, “Anthony may have never fought [in the Revolutionary War], but carried water and distributed cartridges at Bunker Hill, and in the capacity as waiter he served [General George] Washington… He used to fiddle for the officers, and after peace was restored, he drifted to Warner where he was ready with his fiddle for 50 years.”

Within a generation, Anthony’s record had been downgraded from active service to the country to work as a server and a waiter. Even his move to Warner was described as drifting, rather than a planned move to establish a home for his family.

Anthony’s story included one more twist. His second-youngest son, Timothy Clark, changed his last name to Lyman. Timothy believed that Dr. Henry Lyman, a local white resident, had impregnated his mother.

“It’s interesting,” Rebecca says. “Was it consensual, not consensual? Was it in payment for some medical stuff? Who knows? Was she working for the household, doing housekeeping types and laundry, and taken advantage of? Maybe it was love. Was there a romantic relationship? Who knows?”

Another one of Anthony and Lucy Clark’s children, their daughter Caroline Clark, grew up to marry a black man named William Haskell. That couple’s only son, James Haskell, eventually served in the famous 54th Massachusetts Colored Regiment during the Civil War. the regiment is commemorated in a famous bronze relief sculpture on the Boston Common, created by noted 19th century New Hampshire artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The family lived in a Main Street house that still stands, where William set up his workshop.

Store-GeorgeMoody

Haskell became known throughout the region for his high-quality products. Baskets were an essential household item at the time, since people used them to carry important foodstuffs and other goods as they walked from place to place. His Main Street location was also perfect for the crowds of people who flocked to the town for the annual fall fair.

In business directories published between 1885 and 1895, Haskell’s basket-making business is the only known black-owned business listed in the area. “He was written up in the newspaper for making 400 baskets in eight months,” Courser reports. “Based on his inscriptions on the handles and the baskets we have in our collection – and the newspaper story – we can see that those baskets were utilized for years. They were considered sturdy.’

James Haskell followed the path of his grandfather Anthony Clark, serving with his cousin John Haskell for the Union in the Civil War. Their names are among the five black men on Warner’s Soldiers Monument in the village.

Leaving, and some passing

Around 1810 in nearby Henniker, another black man surnamed Haskell became known for marrying a white woman. . “Because,” he claimed, “all the colored women feel themselves to be too good for me.” It’s not clear whether he was related to the Warner Haskells.

On the other side of Warner, in Sutton, another former slave married a white woman, and eventually became prominent in his community. Lot Little was owned by a tanner named Thomas Little on the seacoast. Renaming slaves with unusual or humorous names based on their white families’ surname was common. A Revolutionary War veteran, Lot followed his ex-owner’s family to Sutton where he managed properties for the family and, later, for himself.

‘[Anthony Clark] probably did more towards instructing the young people in the arts and graces of politeness and good manners than any other man of his day and generation,’ reads one report.

Town records show that Lot Little paid taxes on property and voted. Unlike other black people, his family was always listed among the white residents. Dr. Lynn Clark,, a Contoocook historian and independent researcher, speculates that he may have won an extra measure of respect due to his military service. Or, it may have been because he’d shown himself to be a responsible property owner, or, simply because he was light skinned.

Despite that, a 1890 town history recalled Lot Little in this atypical description: “[He] clung affectingly to the family in which he had been kindly reared [i.e., his former owners], and the old feeling of dependence, the natural outgrowth of the peculiar relation of master and slave, made him ready to attach himself to [their] fortunes.”

Lot Little’s decedents stayed in Sutton. Eventually all traces of their mixed race identity were lost, Clark says. “Some of them are still here but they’re not perceived as black anymore.”

It was part of a pattern of either passing for white or moving away that began in the mid-1800s when a particularly virulent wave of racism swept across the country. Especially after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1854, requiring everyone to assist in the capture and return of escaped slaves, many black residents of New Hampshire left for Canada or the West.

For those who stayed – or who’s stories remained, like Anthony Clark – many were simple “white-washed” to minimize their impact on the community.

“Most people don’t know about this,” Clark says. “The remark we hear most often is, ‘I had no idea.’”

With the help of organizations like the Historical Society and the Black Heritage Trail, we all have the opportunity to learn more about this aspect of our area’s history and celebrate the contributions of African Americans made to our society.

(More below.)

Photos captions: (1) William and Fred Sanville, the young black children in front, attended the School Street School in Warner circa 1903-04. Their parents were Wilfred and Annie Moody Sanville but they also lived for a period of time with their grandmother, Mary Moody,. William would later serve in World War I.  (2) Tony Jones was chosen to be the page boy of the Simonds Free High School Class of 1896.  His mother, a widow named Annie Jones, had moved the family north from South Carolina to work in the household of a local white family, Henry and Sarah Davis of Warner. Marion Davis, the couple’s daughter, was a graduate of the high school, which is why Tony was chosen to participate in their graduation activities. (3) Mary Moody resided on the Plains road in Warner and was head of a multi-generational household. This photograph was taken in the 1800s, when Mary was in her mid-fifties. She was paid to nurse other residents in the area and  often received monies from the town pauper fund for pay for food and clothing for her grandchildren. (4) George Moody, the son of Mary Moody, worked as a laborer. He was married to Cora Robinson when their young child Walter died in 1899 at age one. All photos are courtesy of Warner (NU) Historical Society.

I. Warner could be on statewide black history trail

In 1995, Valerie Cunningham founded the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail to commemorate the history of black people who lived in and around state’s only port city in early America. The trail developed a self-guided tour that uses public signage, as well as educational programs and community events that celebrate this little-known story. Now the all-volunteer nonprofit organization that manages the Seacoast trail is spreading out to other parts of the state with the goal of developing a statewide resource called the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire.

JerriAnne Boggis, the executive director of the organization, said that research is already underway and that local historians are working with educators to create a number of resources, including a self-guided tour that would be available online, “so people can do it with their cell phones, they can find these sites,” she explains.

The project worked with two towns – Hancock and Milford – in 2018 and hopes to involve about 13 more in the next three years. JerriAnne says that, eventually, markers and other commemorative instruments can be used at sites around the state.

 

potterhstmrkr

II. America’s first black celebrity lived in Andover

Most black people who lived in America in the 19th century were slaves, captured or bought as animals in Africa or the Caribbean. That was the background of Richard Potter: he was born in 1783 in Hopkinton, Mass., the son of a black mother who was “owned” by his father, a white colonial official.

Richard grew up in the Boston area, but he had an endearing charm and quick mind that marked him as different. When he was 16 years old, he traveled to Europe with a family that employed him. It was there, among the artists and entertainers, that Richard began learning the creative skills that allowed him to become one of the first popular entertainers in America.

His skills included legerdemain (i.e., card and coin tricks), acrobatics, but it was but, principally ventriloquism that led to his notoriety. That trick was unknown in the New World at the time.

Richard learned to amaze people with his ability to make it appear that voices were coming from handbags and animals, but his charismatic, courtly character helped make audiences comfortable. He had “a constant smile seeming to illuminate his face,” said one acquaintance. To his tricky, Richard added songs, humorous speeches and dancing on eggs.

When he later married Sally Harrys in 1808, Richard occasionally added her sweet voice to his music as the “evening’s brush to sweep away care,” as he advertised his presentations.

As his reputation and repertoire grew, Richard took the act on the road, appearing all over New England and New York. Around 1820, he toured all of pre-Civil War America, giving shows in southern slave states as well as New York, Philadelphia and parts of Canada. It was likely the first time any entertainer took such a wide-ranging circuit.

In 1813, Potter purchased land to establish a farm in Andover, about 25 miles north-west of Concord. He told Nathan Hale, the famous patriot and newspaper editor:

The surest anchor, I thought, was to have some determinate object always in view, and none appeared to me more decisively powerful, than an independence that would secure me from poverty and public charity, when advanced age or youthful competitors drove me from this temporary enjoyment. Having a good wife, well acquainted with country business, I concluded that instead of carrying her about with me as an assistant, it would be better to have a home, which would be to her a congenial occupation, and to me a polar star, towards which I would always set my course. –

Richard had a gentle, courteous manner but practiced a severe personal discipline. He told Hale that he “avoided gambling, drinking and idleness,” and became a “strong temperance man.” It is ironic, then, that Sally developed into an alcoholic whose irresponsible behavior hampered the family for years.

In John A. Hodgson’s recent biography Richard Potter: America’s First Black Celebrity, the author speculates about how much of the entertainer’s life was impacted by his skin color. In his early performing days, Potter was content , and sometimes even encouraged, people to speculate about whether he was a Hindu or from some other foreign culture. But most of his audiences apparently knew and accepted that he was, to use the terms of the day, colored.

“His manners were impeccable, his behavior decorous and polite, his bearing gracious and almost courtly. But his complexion was dark, as was his wife’s,” one friend recalled. The author did not uncover many specific incidents where the entertainer was hampered by racism, but it appeared to regularly add a tone of unpleasantness to his life. And it may have been part of the reason for an antagonism that later developed between him and his Andover neighbors.

Richards died in 1835 and his wife passed away soon afterwards. They were buried on their farm but their graves were later moved to a place near the local train station. The station – and the village – are now known as “Potter Place.” A NH Historic Marker commemorates the famous performer’s life.

 

harrietwilson

 

III. Harriet E. Wilson: Indentured Servant and Author

One of the main problems for historians researching the lives of early American black citizens in New Hampshire is the paucity of reliable source information. Since most black people – in fact, most Americans – had little or no formal education, there are few diaries, journals or other personal papers available. A major exception is Our Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, a autobiographical novel written by Harriet “Hattie” E. Wilson.

Wilson was born in Milford in 1825 to a black father and a white mother, and was still a young child when her impoverished mother abandoned her to a local family. Hattie lived the family as an indentured servant until she was a teenager.

Our Nig is considered a fictionalized version of Wilson’s life under the oppressive yoke of the family. Originally published in 1859, it’s one of the first novels published by a black woman in North America.

Despite its sympathetic view of the lives of black people, the book was unpopular even among people like abolitionists in the North. Some historians say that was because it showed that freed black people in the northern states sometimes faced the same harsh treatment as many slaves in the southern slaves.

The memorial monument to novelist Harriet Wilson is in Milford, where she spent most of her early life. The statute was commissioned by the Harriet Wilson Project, a local organization that’s working to have Wilson’s historical book, “Our Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black,” and other aspects of New Hampshire’s black history incorporated into the state’s history.

Around Concord” magazine is available at Gibson’s Bookstore (S. Main St., Concord), the Concord Food Co-op (S. Main St., Concord), Books-A-Million in the Fort Eddy Plaza in Concord) and at the Cracker Barrel Store in Hopkinton. Subscriptions are available at 603/369-3212.

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Small print leading to better cell phone service for small NH town

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – When about 50 residents gathered at the elementary school to discuss the town’s future this summer, there was thing that concerned people who were interested in developing the town’s tax base.

“I don’t see how you’re going to get any businesses to come to Bradford, unless we have a cell tower,” said one person, as others nodded in agreement.

Walter Royal, the town’s building inspector and code enforcement officer, knows about the problem.

“There’s no signal in town,” he said last week. “There’s a couple of places where you can get a signal and you can make phone calls, but most people find that you can’t. You may be able to text something but not make a call.”

As a result, many residents still have a landline even though that service may not work for emergency services during a local power outage.

Now town leaders are cautiously optimistic that a long-delayed solution could be near.

Several weeks ago, Walter Royal (Bradford’s building inspector/code enforcement officer) was able to connect with a Verizon employee who promised to look into the delay.

Royal said he’s recently spoken with a representative of Verizon, the telecommunications company, and was told that the company hopes to provide improved cell service to the community before the end of the winter.

A new cell antennae is slated to be attached to a tower that’s located on a hill behind the local office of the local school bus company, Student Transportation of America (Valley Fire Equipment), on Route 114 near the intersection with Route 103, said Karen Hambleton, the town’s administrator.

The cell tower was originally erected five years ago by the Structure Consulting Group, a real estate advisory firm based in Arlington, Mass. that services the telecommunications industry. At the time the consulting firm told town leaders that it was working under a contract with Verizon, and that cell service typically follows within a few months of construction.

“But there’s been no activity,” explained Hambleton last week. Several public safety organizations are already using the tower, she added, which is “one of the reasons we’re cranky.”

In the spring, Verizon submitted its antennae application, but the town heard nothing more from the company in months.

Several weeks ago, Hambleton tried to connect with the consulting firm. When she was unsuccessful, she asked Royal to look into the issue.

Royal said that the original contact number associated with the project was no longer in service, so he reached out to someone at a Verizon facility in Fryburg, Maine.

When that proved unprofitable, he went back and looked at the application and found a contact name and phone number – but in tiny print.

“The plans were shrunk down, so they’d fit on an 8½ ”-by-11” page. So, I had to blow it up, I had to enlarge it,” he said. “And, when I did, there it was!”

Several weeks ago, Royal was able to connect with a Verizon employee who promised to look into the delay.

“He said he’d expedite it to have the base equipment put in this winter and the antennae up (soon afterwards.),” Royal related. “He said he’d told his higher-ups at Verizon that I was really (angry) at them. I think he was getting a little upset, probably because he thought the project was much further along.

“But no one could see his name on the plans.,” the town employee laughed. “Now I know his name… And I know where he lives!”

The above photograph of the Student Transportation of America/Valley Fire Equipment building on Route 114 in Bradford, was taken b y and is the property of Carbone Productions, LLC. This story first appeared in the InterTown Record newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, December 18. 

Mink Hills poll highlights ATV complaints

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – According to a new survey, the majority of residents in the Mink Hills section of town are concerned about the increased use of ATVs and OHRVs in the area.

“Too many off-road vehicles, especially four-wheelers,” complained one resident in a feedback section of the survey.

“These vehicles have destroyed these roads and trails,” wrote another. “They drive over at fast speeds, splashing out the dirt with the water and leaving great sinkholes on the roads.”

“The current activity (level) is excessive,” wrote another. “There are times when great hordes of these four-wheeled trucks, covered in mud, come blasting past my house. They have just trashed the place.”

“I believe OHRV/ATV riding destroys the natural environment,” commented another. “And the noise level is unacceptable.”

The survey was crafted by the Friends of Mink Hills, a local nonprofit organization that includes representatives from Warner, Bradford, Hopkinton and Hillsborough, as well as staff with the Central New Hampshire Planning Commission (CNHPC). The seven-question survey was mailed to 120 property owners that have land abutting a Class VI road in Warner; Class VI roads are typically dirt roads the town doesn’t maintain (i.e., pave, plow, etc.). Forty-seven respondents returned their surveys, according to Craig Tufts, a CNHPC planner.

‘When we’ve talked to the ATV clubs, they say (some non-club) riders don’t obey the rules…The clubs are really doing a good job with signage, etc., but there’s a lot of people who don’t see the signs and just don’t follow the rules.’

– Craig Tufts, a CNHPC planner

Tufts said that in the summer of 2017, some local people approached the CNHPC about problems in the neighborhood. “The Mink Hills region was very important to them and they had concerns over who was managing the (recreational) use in those areas,” he said. The residents wanted the CNHPC involved because they considered the ATV/OHRV challenges a regional problem, he explained.“So, the idea is: four towns, one region.’ … We’re all alike. We should step back and look at what’s going on, and ask, what are the solutions?’”

Mink Hills, which includes the town-owned Chandler Reservation as well as the state’s Chandler-Harriman and Ashandon forests, is made up of more than 15,000 acres, a patchwork of private and public lands, located mostly in Warner (although it also includes land in Henniker and the three other communities).

The area has both environmental and historical importance. It includes a 4.9-mile trail loop near South Sutton, as well as numerous other trails that are utilized for a variety of recreational activities, including mountain-biking and horseback riding. According to the survey, most local landowners especially enjoy hiking, walking and snowshoeing in the Mink Hills.

Complaints about ATV/OHRV use in the area has risen in recent years after both Warner and Hopkinton ease restrictions on their Class VI roads, allowing for increased use by the recreational vehicles. Mink Hills residents say that the motorized machines create unacceptable noise levels, stir up dust, and seriously damage the trails; in addition, some riders disregard local rules and damage private property.

Nancy Martin is a member of the town’s conservation commission but got involved with the issue as a private citizen after hearing some local complaints. (The commission mailed out the recent survey, but it has decided not to get directly involved with the controversial issues.) She’s attended some meetings of the Friends of Mink Hills group, and reported that representatives of the NH fish and game department and local ATV clubs were also invited.

“When we’ve talked to the ATV clubs, they say of riders who don’t obey the rules: ‘They upset us as much as they upset you,’” Tufts noted. “The clubs are really doing a good job with signage, etc., but there’s a lot of people who don’t see the signs and just don’t follow the rules. Some blatantly disregard them. They wander into (private owners) fields.”

But to Bill Dragon, president of the Bound Tree ATV Club of Warner and Hopkinton, the Friends of Mink Hills appear to be interested only in instituting more restrictions on ATV and OHRV activities. (The survey reports 67-percent of respondents favored restrictions on some roads, while 45-percent supported seasonal restrictions on ATV/OHRV use.)

“What’s not in (the survey) is what these (club) people do to keep those trails open,” Dragon said, explaining how clubs like his put in hours tending and clearing the recreational trails.

“We’ve tried to focus on the areas where there are these problems,” Dragon said, referring to conversation club members had at recent meetings with the Friends. “We had a map, and said, let’s look at where the majority of the complaints come from. We think we know where they are, but let’s look at it… We’ve (also) talked about trail relocations and other things,” he said.

Unfortunately, it’s been tough for the club members and the Friends of Mink Hills to agree on exactly how the issues can be resolved.

And that’s what Tufts, Martin and others are hoping to do. They want to create a strategic plan that outlines how ATV/OHRV use in the Mink Hills can be effectively maintained and policed – one that’s supported by most people living in and using the Mink Hills trails, and that can be used as a framework for town regulations.

But Dragon says that it’s difficult to get there when the local survey doesn’t even reflect the view of most people who live in and use the Mink Hills, simply because it was restricted to Warner landowners.

“We have about 50 members and many own property in the Mink Hills area,” Dragon said. “We’ve got members all the way up and down Bound Tree Road (in Hopkinton).

“I think if you asked the people that are using these public access roads – and that’s what they are, public roads – if you asked them (to participate), if they were added to the survey, they would far outnumber the number of people they now have on the survey,” the club president said.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, a weekly newspaper published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, November 6, 2018.

Sutton fire department addition delayed

By Ray Carbone

SUTTON – Plans to build an $800,000 addition to the town’s North Road fire station have been put on hold, according to Cory Cochran, chief of the fire department.

Late last week, Cochran said that the board of selectmen has directed the fire department building committee to reach out to an architectural engineering firm to rework the group’s original specifications.

“We put them out for bids (from construction companies) in the spring, and ended up with three proposals,” the chief explained. “We noticed that our bid specs didn’t work, they weren’t detailed enough.”

Proposed construction costs ranged from $1.4-million to $700,000. “We rejected them because of inconsistencies, so it’s back to the drawing table,” the chief said.

During the summer, the selectmen decided to get an architectural-engineering firm involved, Cochran reported. The chief later held a building site visit with Kelly Gale of KLG Architecture of Webster to discuss reworking the architectural/engineering plans.

 Cochran admitted that the delay could prove costly for the town and the department, 

 

The status of the project was scheduled to be addressed at the selectmen’s meeting on Monday, September 10. Cochran admitted that the delay could prove costly for the town and the department,

One town official said it was likely that the addition project, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters at this year’s annual town meeting in March, will likely reappear on the 2019 town meeting warrant.

In public meetings leading up to this year’s meeting, Chief Cochran noted that the town has been considering an addition since 2006. The original building was erected in 1974 and has had limited improvements since that.

Right now, the building doesn’t comply with National Fire Protection Association Standards and doesn’t meet the department’s needs, Cochrane said.

The proposed 30-by-45 square-foot single story addition, which would be constructed on the Route 114 side of the building, would provide needed office space, room for gear storage, an equipment storage bay, an updated kitchen and updated restrooms, the chief explained last week.

“There will be a larger meeting-training room because we’ve outgrown the meeting room that we have now,” he said. “And the bathroom will be with showers, so they’re be more locker-room style.”

The new space will also provide sufficient room for the emergency operations center, according to the chief.

Cochrane said he hopes to have a clearer idea about how to move forward with the addition project some time this month.

This story originally appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, September 11, 2018.

Lawsuit against Bradford, employees could take some time

PHOTO: The former Candlelight Inn in Bradford village has reopened as the Bradford Village Inn, but it cannot operate legally as a lodging establishment until a lawsuit filed by the owner against the town is resolved. (Ray Carbone/photo)

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – A local innkeeper’s lawsuit against the town and two local officials may not be resolved for more than a year, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court in Concord.

In March, Joseph Torro, the owner of the historic Bradford Country Inn on Greenhouse Lane, sued the Town of Bradford, as well as Mark Goldberg, chief of the fire-rescue department, and Marilyn Gordon, the town treasurer, for allegedly conspiring against his efforts to re-open the 121-year-old lodging facility after he purchased in August 2014. Court papers filed in July indicate that a jury trial would likely last about three or four days’ but a tentative start date is still about one year away, on August 20, 1019.

In separate documents, both (employees) deny all charges of illegal or improper behavior.

Earlier this month, Judge Andrea K. Johnstone, who is presiding over the case, asked the two sides to consider mediation to resolve their dispute. “By April 1, 2019, the parties shall inform the court whether they intend to mediate,” she wrote.

Rick Lehmann, the attorney representing Torro, said he’s preparing for a trial by jury but he’s open to discussions with lawyers representing the other sides. “If they want to talk, we’ll talk,” he said.

Torro claims that Goldberg and Gordon, who were romantically involved, used their political influence to create unfair roadblocks to operating the lodging business, including conspiring with the selectmen to withhold property tax abatements and trying to unfairly enforce fire safety/safety codes. He’s asking for $2 million in monetary damages as well as an indeterminate amount of punitive damages.

In court paperwork filed earlier this summer, the attorneys representing the town and the two employees disputed the innkeeper’s claims.

In separate documents, both Goldberg and Gordon deny all charges of illegal or improper behavior.

“(Goldberg) denies that he attempted to destroy (Torro’s) business prospect,” the fire chief’s document reads. “(Goldberg) notes that he never ran the Candlelight Inn (the former name of the property),” as charged by the current property owner.

In her court response, Gordon refutes Torro’s claim that she had to sell the Candlelight Inn because she was not a successful business owner, and that she and Goldberg wanted Torro to also fail in the hopes of her eventually regaining the property.

In the town’s court paperwork, officials deny that their employees treated Torro differently than other property owners regarding his request for a fire permit and tax abatements. “The abatement application could not be granted for the 2014 tax year because the application was filed too late,” the town attorneys claim. “An abatement could not be granted (for the 2015 tax year) because the application was submitted too early.”

The town’s legal response also questions Torro’s arguments regarding the reasons for any alleged unfair treatment by Goldberg and Gordon. “While the town notes that it lacks information regarding the alleged subjective motivation of Goldberg and Gordon describe, it disputes the characterization of their actions as well was (Torro’s) allegation that there was a conspiracy, discrimination and/or abuse of government power and influence.”

This story first ran in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on August 28, 2018.

Bradford is taking community approach to future economic development

Willie, West & McGinty, one of the most popular acts on vaudeville, arose from local performers who appeared on the second-floor stage at the old town hall in Bradford in the early 20th century. “The act was a carefully calibrated and timed ‘ballet’ of inept workers creating a shambles instead of the building they were supposed to construct,” according to one commentator. Selectman Jim Bibbo says the local stage helped develop scores of similarly talented people.

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – On the heels of the planning board’s recent “visioning” session that allowed residents to talk about how they’d like to see the town develop, Jim Bibbo, the chairman of the selectboard, is starting a Bradford economic development group.

Bibbo says he’s been interested in economic development on the state and regional levels for many years, and now wants to help the town develop its own ideas.

“We are just beginning to pull together to do this,” said Karen Hambleton, the town administrator. “We decided to call it ‘community development’ because we want to build community within the community (of the group).”

The new, unofficial committee, which has only met twice, currently numbers about 10 people, Bibbo said. The group is working with Jared Reynolds, a Merrimack County community and economic development specialist who works for the UNH’s Coop Extension.

“When it was a theater there were people who went on in their (theatrical) careers from Bradford,” Bibbo noted. “There was Willie, West & McGinty. They were a trio, like the Three Stooges… And there’s Will Cressy who was on vaudeville and wrote hundreds of skits for other performers.’

Selectman Jim Bibbo

Community planners have long advocated for sound economic development plans. A good one can help stabilize the town’s tax base while insuring growth that maintains the community character that residents enjoy.

“The town needs to grow,” Bibbo explained. “Our tax bases isn’t that large. There’s not a lot of business as compared to other towns.”

At the planning board’s visioning meeting last month, residents talked about their hopes for a business revival in the village with more tourism-related enterprises and other enterprises. Growing the town while maintain its rural and historic character was also discussed.

The meeting was aimed at providing input as the planning board begins updating the town’s Master Plan. The new unofficial community development group will also work with the town’s previous official functions, Bibbo said. “The committee is going to have to stay within the Master Plan,” he explained.

The selectman said he has no specific goals for the group, and that he wants it to chart its own course in the coming months. The members will begin working on a vision statement and goals as they move through the committee’s initial growth stages.

Bibbo expressed optimism about plans to continue developing the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail through Bradford, and would like to see repairs on some of the sidewalks on West Main Street.

In addition, he’s been a proponent for completing the improvements to the Old Town Hall, and confessed to being disappointed that town voters didn’t support the project moving forward at the annual March meeting. The historic structure can add to economic revival, particularly if the second floor theater is revived. “That would benefit not just Bradford but also surrounding communities,” he said.

“When it was a theater there were people from Bradford who went on in their (theatrical) careers from Bradford,” Bibbo noted. “There was Willie, West & McGinty, they were vaudeville stars. They were a trio, like the Three Stooges… And there’s Will Cressy who was on vaudeville and wrote hundreds of skits for other performers.”

Cressy has another connection to Bradford’s possible economic future, the selectman said. “He owned all the land in back of East Main Street where the community center is now,” he explained. “That’s one of the projects we’ve put in to the state, to put a road back there that would run parallel to Route 103.”

Right now that property is part of a Brownfield Project, which means it has pollution problems that need to be resolved before any construction project can be begin, Bibbo said.

Anyone interested in joining the new committee is encouraged to contact Bibbo or Hambleton, the town administrator, at (603) 938-5900 or administrator@bradfordnh.org

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, a weekly newspaper in North Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, July 17, 2018.

 

Recreational rail trail could link Kearsarge-Sunapee towns to Concord

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – If Tim Blagden has his way, you may someday be able to walk or bike with your family from Concord to Newbury Harbor on a scenic trail that passes through some of the best towns in the state.

Blagden is the president of the Friends of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail board, a nonprofit group that wants to create a 34-mile walkway/bikeway along the old Concord-Claremont Railroad line. The user-friendly facility would connect the towns of Newbury (the southern tip of Lake Sunapee), Bradford, Sutton, Warner and Hopkinton/Contoocook to the Capital City. It will be “spectacular,” Blagden says.

‘The broad idea was to see if we could stitch back together a trail that substantially follows where the old railroad ran, from the Pierce Manse in Concord to Newbury Harbor.’

Tim Blagden, Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail

 

The Pumpkin Hill Road resident first got interested in public biking/walking spaces about five years ago. “Back in 2013 my kids wanted to go for a bike ride so I want looking for a rail trail online,” he recalled. “I found the Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire and noticed that they were looking for an executive director. So I found a trail and ended up sending in my resume.”

Blagden had experience in sales and business development, and he ended up getting the job. Soon he was connecting with scores of outdoor enthusiasts, from ardent bicyclists and public health officials, to community planners and rail trail buffs. He was quickly convinced of both the health-related and economic benefits of providing alternatives to automobile traffic.

Then in 2014, Blagden noticed that the alliance and two rail trail groups that it supported might, in effect, end wind up competing with each other for the same grant money. So, for the sake of all of three organizations, he decided to separate the two trail programs from the alliance and take on the job of moving local project forward.

It’s a challenging endeavor, he admitted.

“The broad idea was to see if we could stitch back together a trail that substantially follows where the old railroad ran, from the Pierce Manse in Concord to Newbury Harbor,” he said.

The problem is that, unlike other rail lines in New Hampshire, the state government doesn’t own the former railroad company property. About half of the proposed 34-mile trek is already operating as trails, including the Stevens trail in Contoocook, the town-owned Tilley Wheeler Trail in Bradford, and the Warner and Newbury rail trails.

But they’re all separated from one another in “little pieces, here and there,” Blagden noted.

In addition, there are 95 private and 47 public (e.g., town governments and state agencies) landowners that control the rest of the former railroad property. That means the Friends have to get easements from each one in order to build and maintain each section of the proposed trail.

“It looks impossible,” Blagden admitted, “but if you give people the opportunity to say yes, people are taking advantage of that opportunity. You tell them, we will turn this into a beautiful rail trail. That we’ll provide the service, we’ll raise the money for maintaining the trail, we’ll take care of it and you don’t have to deal with it. And you get a beautiful trail. And people are saying, yeah, that’s cool.”

It helps that property that connects with a public trail can increase in value by as much as $9,000, the Friends president noted.

In addition, a state study estimates that while completing the entire trail would cost about $4 million, it would have a true economic impact from out of state visitors of approximately $900,000 annually.

But Bladgen’s organization is moving slowly and respectfully, simply trying to raise awareness about the trail proposal.

“We are at the tipping point,” he said. “So we want to put something down that’s visible but not too costly in as many communities as possible, and let people experience it.”

This year, the group is adding two miles of trail linking Hopkinton to the Davisville State Forest in Warner. (A shorter Warner trail between Depot St. and Joppa Rd. was completed last fall.) In addition, a recreational trail program grant has been approved to put a new three-quarters mile trail linking the famous Appleseed Restaurant to the Pizza Chef in Bradford.

For more information about the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail, see concordlakesunapeerailtrail.com

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, July 3, 2018.

Bradford, NH, residents imagine their future

By Ray Carbone

 

BRADFORD – A crowd of about 50 residents gathered at Kearsarge Regional Elementary School last week to discuss what they’d like to see when the planning board updates the town’s master plan later this year.

In a series of discussions, the group talked about their hope for a business revival in the village, local business establishments taking advantage of the steady year-round road traffic on Route 103, and the continuation of the town’s focus on preserving and developing both its historic character and its agricultural economy.

The primary focus of the meeting was to review and discuss issues raised by more than 160 residents who had responded to a survey the planning board published last year. Pam Bruss, chairman of the board, told the meeting that the results generally mirrored trends that have been identified around the state in recent years, including a growing older population and the exodus of younger people from New Hampshire.

The large group then split into four sub-groups where specific areas of concern were addressed. A member of the planning board worked with a professional planner from the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission to help identify benefits and challenges that should be considered when plotting Bradford’s future.

‘I don’t see how you’re going to get any businesses to come to Bradford anyway unless we have a cell tower.’

One issue that came up several times was the need for increased commercial development, particularly in the village area. Several residents noted that there are some lots there where well water is at least partly polluted, while others pointed to some septic problems.

When Matt Monahan, one of the CNHPC planners, suggested that the town might consider some kind of well water and/or wastewater district, the residents reported that previous attempts in that direction had met with property tax-related resistance. “The attitude is, if those people (n the village) want it, let them pay for it,” one man said.

“I don’t see how you’re going to get any businesses to come to Bradford anyway unless we have a cell tower,” said another citizen, while others laughed in recognition.

Monahan said that poor cell phone and internet services present significant challenges for businesses.

He also suggested that successful business operations could be drawn to town by looking at national trends and reducing them for the town’s population. “For instance, healthcare. What does that mean for Bradford,” he asked rhetorically. “It’s not going to a hospital but it could mean a doctor.”

The remark led to a general discussion of desirable businesses for the town, including a CVS-like pharmacy/grocery store, eating establishments and additional agritourism operations, like the Sweet Beet Market. “But not a chain,” said one man, as others in the group nodded. “It should be homegrown, a mom-and-pop operation.”

In another corner of the room, Audrey V. Sylvester spoke with folks concerned about the town’s historic character. She quoted from a report written by Christopher W. Closs, a professional planner from Hopkinton: “As a corridor, West Main Street represents one of the better-preserved surviving 19th century village residential districts in rural New Hampshire.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Claire James, the planning board’s vice-chairman, announced that her group would review the participants’ comments and observations, then begin coordinating them with the survey results and other information. Then, the members would begin drafting the master plan. Portions of the document will be discussed at several public meetings and the final draft will be presented to at least one public hearing before it is offered to voters for their consideration

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.

 

Sweet Beet Market ready to sprout again soon

Photo: The old Bradford Inn on West Main Street has been undergoing significant renovations this winter. Now, with a recent approval from the planning board, its primary tenant, the Sweet Beet Market, is planning to reopen in a few weeks. (Ray Carbone)

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – Fans of the Sweet Beet Market, the community’s local natural foods outlet, will be glad to learn that the town’s planning board recently approved a change-of-use request from the owners of the former Bradford Inn. The official okay allows the nonprofit food organization to continue to operate and expand its services in the 120-year-old building.

According to the unapproved minutes from the planners’ May 22 meeting, the board unanimously approved a proposal that permits the inn’s owners, Unless, LLC, of Bradford, to move forward with renovating the aged three-story structure from a lodging establishment to a combination market-café-kitchen and office space facility.

Throughout the winter, members of the Kearsarge Food Hub, which manages Sweet Beet, have been working alongside Mike Bauer and his team from Bauer Construction of Bradford, as well as Mike James (who co-owns Unless, LLC, with Bauer) on renovations and restoration of the 10,000-square foot wooden structure. The market and a new independent on-site café are hoping to be open for business again around the July Fourth weekend.

Last week Bauer was calmly painting windowsills in the old hotel. His son, Garrett Bauer, a member of Sweet Beet’s board of directors, was frantically overseeing several budding projects: meeting with the new cafe’s managers about tables, talking with a plumber, and connecting with some possible new vendors. (The market has had more than 300 vendors since it opened in 2016; its motto, “30 Producers Within 30 Miles,” reflects its efforts to use virtually all-local suppliers.)

The groups crystalized a vision for the property: renovate and renew the building maintaining as much of its original character as possible, with the goal of creating a connection point for the community – a place to share local foods, ideas, arts and even businesses.

The Bauers have lived on the other side of West Main Street from the old Bradford Inn for more than 30 years. Over the years, Mike has often daydreamed about restoring and renovating the historic structure.

Now, it’s finally happening, in ways he may have never imagined.

In 2016, Unless, LLC, bought the building and soon struck up a partnership with the Food Hub, which was then operating Sweet Beet as a seasonal farm stand. The groups crystalized a vision for the property: renovate and renew the building, while maintaining as much of its original character as possible, with the goal of creating a connection point for the community – a place for people to share local foods, ideas, arts and even businesses. “Unless feels strongly about sustainability and community wellness,” according to the Food Hub’s website.

Sweet Beet moved into the east side of the building’s first floor in 2016 and became a year-round market.

Last year, the community raised $30,000 to help the Food Hub pay for the creation of a 700-square-foot, shared-used commercial kitchen that will be located on the west side of the building. It will be used for making Sweet Beet’s baked goods as well as items that could be used in the bakery and/or for private enterprises, Garrett Bauer explained. The demise of several popular local bakeries, including German John’s in Hillsboro and Tart Café in Andover, made some excellent bakery equipment available at a reasonable price, he added.

This past winter, the market closed while important renovations in the building moved forward, including updating the heat and septic systems and re-designing the entire first floor, including the new kitchen.

The market will now include new shelving and expanded veggie display areas.

In the middle space, behind the inn’s original front door, two new rooms have been opened up. One will be the site of the new Main Street Café, while the large former dining room towards the front will be used for a variety of community events from meetings to performances to cooking classes.

It’s taken a while, but it looks like the Sweet Beet will soon start growing again – and the old Bradford Inn may soon bloom as well.

Note: Late last week, Sweet Beet announced it would participate in the Bradford Independence Day Celebration on Saturday, June 30. A special all-day program featuring music by Odd Bodkins, Kathy Lowe, the DoBros and more, as well as other artists, local foods, etc. will be at the old Bradford Inn, 11 West Main St., Bradford.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.

 

 

 

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