September 7, 2016

Visiting a historical hearth - the Piper Homestead

By Danica Melone, Marketing Intern

About two-thirds of the way up the Forest Trail, a cove of pine trees opens to reveal a small cellar hole just off the path. Nearby, a large placard describes the scene with artifacts: fragments of dinnerware, a silver spoon, colonial coins, and other pieces left by the inhabitants of a family farmhouse built on the property. Opposite the cellar hole, on the other side of the trail, is the site of the barn that once stood before all was lost in a fire. The cellar hole and barn belonged to James and Sophronia Piper and their children; built in 1847 “between the Peak of Fayal and the Minister's Lott... a homestead on a narrow plateau tucked into a steep slope." (doc. 105.)

At this point, you might be wondering about how the Piper family came to be, or what the Minister's Lott is. The land that the Science Center sprawls out on is entrenched in a rich history dating back to the very beginning of Holderness. Its history is more impressive than simply serving as a small livestock and agricultural plot for the Piper family. In fact, the grounds were home to more than just one family; the Science Center grounds were originally owned by the Reverend Robert Fowle. (As a note, this was the beginning of European settlers continuing their dispersion outward from the East coast. Thus, this historical account does not reference any prior inhabitants, but it is critical to remember that Native Americans were present on and around Squam Lake at the time.)

Just prior to his settling in 1804, Robert Fowle, a reverend of the Episcopal church, was entitled to a plot of land called the Minister's Lott by "the town's eighteenth century charter" (doc. 400). The entitlement allowed Reverend Fowle to essentially "choose" where his Minister's Lott would lie, keeping in mind that by 1803, sections of the Minister's Lott must be portioned off for the Episcopal Church and cemetery. Reverened Fowle choose a nice plot of land right on "the North shore of Little Squam" lake, which he would eventually begin to section off and sell "for economic gain" (doc. 400).

Sparse census data from the 18th century tells us that Reverend Fowle began selling pieces of his property as early as 1804, with James Piper showing up in census records in 1847 as a neighbor abutting the north-side of the Reverend's property. In September of 1847, records show that the Revered Robert Fowle passed away, leaving the the property to his only heir; his nephew Robert True. Widow of Reverend Fowle, Martha Fowle, eventually sold the property to her son-in-law, Henry True later that year. Robert True, in the meantime, was schooling at the New Hampton Institute, St. Johnsbury Academy, and the Bangor Theological Seminary where he was classified "as a Congregationalists who was ordained an evangelist in 1881" (doc. 401).

Meanwhile, James Piper was buying up tracts of land and selling them; one plot was near White Oak Pond while were others scattered inland. Eventually, James Piper purchased the land “below the Peak of [Mt.] Fayal” by 1847 and quickly built the family homestead (doc.402). Sparse records from this time allude to a trail, most likely a Native American-used path, which was the only sign of inhabitance on this property prior to the Piper’s arrival. As the years passed, James Piper’s son, George, came into the land records as a new constituent of the property. In June of 1876, land records show a $1000 transaction ultimately giving half of everything owned on the Piper property to George Piper. This included an “undivided half of [the] homestead” and “one half of the stock of every sort” (doc.402).

Robert True ended up not returning to the homestead, allowing Henry True and his wife Martha True, one of three daughters to Reverend Robert and Martha Fowle, to continue to inhabitant the space. At this time, Henry and Martha True “rented” half of their property to Martha’s unwed sisters, Mary and Margaret, at the rate of $40/year. This was most likely a simple legal transaction for the sake of record keeping, yet still helps paint a picture of the economic hardships during the era. In 1875, the property would be sold to John Davison who was married to the daughter of James and Sophronia Piper, Betsy. By this point in 1875, James and Sophronia Piper were getting older and so John and Betsy Davison’s decision to reside “on the Southern boundary of the Piper Homestead made sound economic sense for the Davison/Piper family unit” (doc.403). Less than a decade later, James Piper passed away leaving Sophronia and their unwed daughter, Latitia, to finally sell the property in 1888 from the economic burden. Thankfully, the property was purchased by John and Betsy Davison, marking the official “joining of the two properties” (doc.403).

The Davison family thrived on the property for many years; as they realized their agricultural prospects were not well-suited for the region, so they began mixing “tourism with agriculture and forestry” (doc. 403). In the beginning, the Davisons used the “old Fowle parsonage as a summer boarding house” to accommodate the increasing presence of tourists (doc.403). As their niche industry grew, the Davison’s replaced the boarding house “with a more ambitious structure, the Central House,” which was later re-built after a fire, and renamed again as the Holderness Inn (doc.403). Though historical records do not provide the exact date, sometime after 1888, The Piper Homestead burned down leaving only a cellar hole along the path which is seen today on one of the Science Center’s hiking trails.

Our historical record recounts a day in 1977 when the great-grandson of James and Sophronia Piper, John Davison, walked the trail with the second Science Center director (then called the Science Center of New Hampshire), Robert Nichols. The great-grandson of these two historical figures, remembered the past uses of the land: thriving gardens and agricultural patches with timber lots nearby provided the family with many basic needs. Incredibly, John Davison recalled at one time being able to see the expanse of Squam Lake from the cellar-hole site, which was also used by the Piper family as a favorite family picnic spot.

Today, the remaining sites of this history include the Piper cellar hole, the Holderness Inn, and the Bridge Cemetery in Holderness. The Piper cellar hole and its artefactual remains may be visited via a short hike from the Science Center at the junction of the Forest and Mount Fayal hiking trails; a peaceful spot where you may look back in time by standing in what was once the side yard between the Piper’s homestead and barn. The Holderness Inn has seen various uses from the Science Center over the past century and now serves as beautiful, historic structure housing the Squam Lakes Artisans shop and Kirkwood Café, all on the same floor. In addition, the Holderness Inn represents the last of the “grand hotels” to still be standing while the others, built around the lakes in a similar grandiose fashion, have since burned down and were never rebuilt. Reverend Robert Fowle’s Episcopal Church burned down before his own death, though the date is unknown. Reverend Fowle’s second task as the first Holderness minister was to develop a plot of land for the cemetery, eventually named Bridge Cemetery. Legend has it that the location of Reverened Fowle’s headstone in Bridge Cemetery marks where his pulpit once stood in the church.

With all of that new information regarding historic land use at the Science Center, I’ll leave you with this [sorry, lengthy] excerpt from our historical account: “The Minister’s Lott represented the first phase of Holderness settlement, reserved for the first settled minister of the township, Massachusetts-born Robert Fowle of the Episcopal Church. The Piper Homestead reflected the second phase, used by a native-born son to provide a home for his family, his father’s lands already burned by other demands. However, by the end of the nineteenth-century, changing economic strategies forced the consolidation of the two properties” (doc.403.)

Thankfully, you are able to visit three of these historic locations in Holderness, with two being located right on the Science Center property. Enjoy a fresh, locally-made lunch on the terrace of Kirkwood Gardens from Kirkwood Café (open during July and August), and visit the incredibly creative Squam Lakes Artisans shop inside. If you have a few extra hours (we suggest a 90-minute minimum), take the easy hike up to the Piper cellar hole on our Forest Trail. The site of the cellar hole and it’s artifacts rests just below where the trail becomes “narrow, steep, and winding, [yet] it serves as a reminder that hill farms existed in isolated sites and yet still maintained fragile links to a larger world” (journ. 005).

Excerpts in this blog are from a report written by Blake Allen, Director of the Pakistani Educational Leadership Institute (PELI), College of Graduate Studies at Plymouth State University) and the Holderness Historical Society.

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