NH Preservation releases 2023 Seven to Save list

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CONCORD, NH – The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance has announced its 2023 Seven to Save list – historic properties in the state that are “vulnerable, irreplaceable historic landmarks” in danger of being lost.

This year’s list also comes with an ask, seeking community input on the “tramp houses” that dot the state, and are a collective property on the list.

The 2023 Seven to Save include five properties that are on the National Register of Historic Places, and one that is in a local historic district, showing that a historic designation doesn’t automatically mean a property is preserved.

The list, which has been announced every year since 2006, seeks not only to draw attention to specific vulnerable properties, but also trends across the state, and the need to preserve historic property in general.

“Trends accelerated by the pandemic and changes in ownership, as well as demolition and deterioration, are threats to these historic landscapes, buildings and structures,” the organization said in a news release Tuesday morning.

“This year’s list highlights vulnerable, irreplaceable historic landmarks as well as opportunities to provide needed housing and other community and economic benefits,” Andrew Cushing, community preservation services manager for the Preservation Alliance, said in the release.

For additional information on this year’s list, including videos, visit the NH Preservation Alliance website.

This year’s list includes:

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A tramp house in Errol is one of seven remaining known ones in the state. NH Preservation believes there may be more, and is working on an effort to put together a contextual history. Photo/NH Preservation

Tramp Houses, Statewide

The Civil War and economic fallout in the decades after spurred a unique solution for New Hampshire communities to take care of the homeless “tramps” who roamed the state. An 1875 law that required anyone caught publicly begging be sentenced to up to six months at the town or county poor farm overwhelmed communities. A law in 1878, “Marston’s Law,” ramped things up by sending beggars and tramps to state prison for hard labor for up to five years. Towns were also required to provide food and firewood to tramps. Town reports between the 1870s and 1940s outlined these expenses, often under the welfare or police budgets, according to NH Preservation.

Communities, many without police departments to enforce the laws, built small “tramp houses” to help address the problem. Most were 200 square feet or smaller, with simple gable roofs, one door and window, and a chimney.

There are seven known free-standing tramp houses in the state, in Richmond, Grafton, Weare, Errol, Barnstead, Kingston and Hill. Some of the towns are working to restore the buildings, independent of each other, but NH Preservation hopes to create a concerted effort.

There are likely more tramp houses still existing “used by highway departments or as cemetery sheds,” the organization said. “While some have been restored, others remain in poor condition.”

The Preservation Alliance wants to increase awareness of “these now rare and unique historic resources,” including crowdsourcing information about other existing tramp houses. Other goals are funding a contextual history, encouraging the few remaining tramp houses to join the state register of historic places, and directing restoration dollars toward preserving the remaining tramp houses.

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Lord’s Tavern in Effingham was acquired by the town this year for back taxes. It is in the center of both a National Register and local historic district. Photo/NH Preservation

Lord’s Tavern, Effingham

Lord’s Tavern, the earliest portion dating back to 1790, is an anchor of Lords Hill village in Effingham, both a National Register and locally designated historic district. The property includes a house, large ell, attached barn and detached barn.

The town acquired the property for back taxes earlier this year and is considering how to find “a responsible way to ensure its protection,” which could include an auction, RFP process, or holding onto it. “This property is part of a trend of large under-utilized or vacant houses that could help address housing shortage in small but meaningful ways,” NH Preservation said.

Architectural features of the house include large central chimneys, the original 9/6 windows, a projecting front entrance with sidelights and pilasters, and cut granite foundation capstones. The interior features raised paneling, wide board wainscot, period fireplace surrounds, and early stenciling remain. The barns also include “fine detailing,” and the attached barn has a distinctive flared cupola.

The house needs more than $1 million in work, the organization said.

“Local preservation advocates are hoping to work with the select board as that body decides how best to proceed,” NH Preservation said. “Ideas include keeping the property for town purposes, entering into a public-private partnership, requesting proposals for the right development, or selling the property with further protections. Ultimately, the community wishes to have activity return to the hill and see the significant landmark sympathetically rehabilitated.”

The organization added, “Its size makes it a daunting effort to own and manage, but its potential for anchoring a community remains. The present day marks the first time it has become a public charge – with the responsibility of stewardship, and the excitement of possible future uses resting with the people of Effingham.”

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King Street in Boscawen, an architecturally and historically significant stretch threatened by development. Photo/NH Preservation

King Street, Boscawen

A 1.5-mile stretch of routes 3 and 4, developed on “the Plains” in Boscawen between the late 1700s and early 1800s, has “an impressive collection of houses from the Federal and Greek Revival era.” The stretch, which is King Street, the town’s main thoroughfare, has possibly “one of the densest and largest collections of 18th and early 19th century houses in interior New Hampshire,” according to NH Preservation.

“Unfortunately, development pressure has eroded the historic character of Boscawen’s village, and the town is struggling with balancing expected new uses and new investment with the architectural and land use elements that offer predictability and underlying character for citizens, businesses and visitors,” according to the organization. “A village overlay district calls for retention of historic fabric but has fallen short of its goals.”

Established in 1733 as Contoocook Plantation, the town formed where two colonial routes came together was the last established community on the west side of the Merrimack River before what is now French Canada, according to NH Preservation. After the revolution, it became a major trade route, bringing goods from the Massachusetts coast. Today, it’s a major route between Concord and nearby towns, with traffic through the village exceeding 12,500 cars a day.

A petitioned warrant article was passed in 1997, creating a local historic district to assist and manage “unsympathetic changes to the core of King Street.” The town formed a commission to work with the Regional Planning Commission to create ordinances and the boundaries to protect the character of the town. In 1999, though, the town disbanded the commission after a warrant article passed calling for its abolishment. The planning board adopted a village district ordinance that suggests historic buildings be preserved and adaptively reused. “But the directive is last of eight and its enforcement has small teeth,” NH Preservation said. “Demolition of historic buildings continues and the opening of a Dollar General in the village in 2019 caused further concern.”

The town has asked the state Department of Transportation to study improvements to the streetscape and multi-modal use of King Street, which is scheduled for 2026, according to NH Preservation. The work will include surveying the village for eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.

“Several towns face Boscawen’s challenge: balancing retention of historic resources that provide character and identity to a community, while providing flexibility for modern needs and services,” NH Preservation said. It said it “hopes to work with local advocates and town leaders to implement proven strategies that protect this significant village.”

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The Orford Congregational Church. Photo/NH Preservation

Congregational Church, Orford

NH Preservation calls the 1855 gothic revival Orford Congregational Church “a spectacular architectural gem.” Designed by Moses Wood, the building is a contributing building to the Orford National Register District. Architectural details include Gothic diamond-paned windows, pinnacles, trefoil banding, an octagonal spire, and one of only seven tower clocks made by Boscawen clockmaker Benjamin Morrill.

Extensive interior and exterior work was done in 2007 after the ceiling collapsed. The collapse revealed features long covered, including stenciling, a plaster medallion, and a kerosene chandelier hidden for generations in the attic. “The project reignited interest in the church and Sunday attendance grew,” NH Preservation said. “It was a success story.” The church received an achievement award from the alliance in 2010.

Now, 13 years later, the church has no minister, a congregation with five active members, and another, smaller, church to maintain in Orfordville.

At this year’s Town Meeting, voters approved a measure to study the possibility of the town accepting ownership of the church, which includes a kitchen, gathering space, former classrooms, offices, and a new septic system. That committee is looking at rehabilitation options, including community space, a united town library, and a theater or performance venue, NH Preservation said.

“This listing seeks to highlight the trend of declining church membership and its implications for New Hampshire’s many iconic houses of worship,” the organization said. “The loss of churches also has ramifications for the important social services and community networking that happens under their roofs.”

NH Preservation in September announced an effort to survey unused church properties and find uses that could include helping ease the housing crisis.

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The Trestle Bridge in Franklin, one of two historic, but vulnerable, bridges in the city on this year’s Seven to Save list. Photo/NH Preservation

Trestle and Sulphite bridges, Franklin

The city, after discussing options that include rehabilitation or demolition of the 1890 railroad trestle bridge, has likely settled on demolition. The arson-damaged Sulphite/Upside Down Bridge upstream from the trestle is also vulnerable, NH Preservation said.

Built for the Franklin and Tilton Railroad, the trestle bridge has four spans across the Winnipesaukee River at the eastern edge of downtown and is part of the Franklin Falls National Register District. It was in use until the 1970s.

An engineering study for the city recommended condemning the structure because of structural concerns, according to NH Preservation. “But local advocates believe it can be rehabilitated and used as a viewing platform and pedestrian walkway for the whitewater park developing downtown,” the organization said.

The city of Franklin was awarded a pedestrian improvement grant for the Trestle Bridge and is working on cost estimates for its rehabilitation. The city council voted earlier this month to pursue replacement in-kind rather than rehabilitation. Cost for either replacement or rehabilitation are expected to be around $5 million, of which the city must chip in 20%, according to NH Preservation.

“In a city that must balance the immediate needs of its residents and be mindful of the tax rate, such an investment is a difficult decision,” the organization said. “And yet, many in Franklin see the bridges, and especially the more visible Trestle, as landmarks that distinguish Franklin from other cities in New Hampshire and New England. Between the growing momentum of the whitewater park and new housing units being added in historic downtown buildings, bridge advocates believe now is the time to leverage Franklin’s opportunity to reinvent itself.”

The Sulphite/Upside Down Covered Bridge, owned by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It sustained damage from arson in the 1980s and has remained vulnerable since, NH Preservation said.

Built in 1897, it is a triple-span wooden structure with Pratt trusses, and is the sole surviving deck-type railroad covered bridge in the United States, according to the organization. The name Sulphite comes from the pulp and paper mills nearby.  The 1980 arson burned off the bridge’s vertical board siding and severely charred the timbers.

There are no plans in the works to rehabilitate the Sulphite Bridge.

“By including these unique resources on the Seven to Save list, the Preservation Alliance hopes to be a bridge itself, connecting resources to city leaders, the Department of Transportation, and the local advocates who see the potential of these restored landmarks,” the organization said.

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The state set designed by artist Maxwell Parish, part of Plainfield’s historic town hall. Photo/NH Preservation

Town Hall and Maxfield Parrish Stage Set, Plainfield

Plainfield’s Town Hall, which dates back to 1796 and is on the National Register of Historic Places, has a hidden gem inside. In 1916, Cornish Colony artist and Plainfield resident Maxfield Parrish was hired to develop a stage set for the building’s new stage. The backdrops and lighting sequence Parrish created resulted in “a highly memorable dawn-to-dusk experience,” NH Preservation said. The set includes original associated rigging and lighting, which can be orchestrated using red, amber, and blue lights to create the illusion of a full day, from sunrise to sunset light show.

Parrish’s backdrop design includes Mount Ascutney and the Connecticut River and has six wings and three overhead drapes to create an enveloping woodland scene. “The scenery and accompanying lighting similar to that used at the time in the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, created what some called the ‘most beautiful stage north of Boston,’” NH Preservation said.

The building, which was originally the Plainfield Meetinghouse, was moved in 1810, then again in 1846 to its current location. At that time, some additional work was done on it. The part with the stage was added in 1916, designed by theater designer William Hart, who told the town he’d pay for it if Parrish designed the set.

When the town hall was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, the set had deteriorated. Work was done in the 1990s to mitigate mold and other problems after volunteers raised the money. Moisture problems, though, continue, and “outdated electrical systems, a poorly placed mechanical room below the stage, and the original lighting which runs hot further jeopardize the nationally significant work of art,” NH Preservation said.

A committee was awarded money from the state’s Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, as well as from the conservation license plate fund through the NH State Council on the Arts. The committee is pursuing “a holistic plan for the building, monitoring humidity levels, and implementing short term solutions until more permanent foundation work and moisture mitigation can occur.”

“The Preservation Alliance is committed to ensuring the success of the Town Hall Committee’s work,” the organization said. “This Seven to Save designation hopes to draw attention to Plainfield’s significant piece of public art and make sure the Maxfield Parrish Stage Set does not perish and is preserved for future generations.”

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The La Salette Shrine in Enfield, part of the acquisition of land and property by the Catholic order by Enfield Shaker Museum in September. Photo/NH Preservation

La Salette Shrine/Shaker Village North Family, Enfield

NH Preservation said that this listing recognizes the Enfield Shaker Museum’s recent purchase of adjacent property “to protect the shrine’s properties and prevent loss of historic resources and incompatible development. To be successful, they need substantial funds, creative partners and vibrant re-uses.”

The Enfield Shaker Village, which was formed in 1793 and became part of Canterbury in 1923, was sold in 1927 to a Catholic order, the Missionaries of La Salette. The Catholic order used the site on Mascoma Lake as a communal farm, summer camp, and operated a seminary. Many Shaker buildings were removed, repurposed or renovated, while new structures, including the Mary Keane Chapel and a hillside shrine were added. The camp and high school were closed by 1985, and the Missionaries of La Salette at the time sold much of their property to private developers, according to NH Preservation.

The Enfield Shaker Museum was also created at the time, conserving 26 acres and acquiring eight Shaker buildings and the chapel.

On Sep. 30, La Salette sold much of the site to the museum, which had launched a $3 million campaign to buy and renovate the property in August. The purchase was the first phase, and the campaign is focused on planning how to addressed many deferred maintenance issues, NH Preservation said.

“Opportunities for creative use of the thousands more square feet of space will be explored. Improvements in the care of the land will be undertaken. And at the heart of the museum’s mission will be the sharing with a local, national, and world-wide audience, the stories, and the relevance of, the two religious communities that worked and worshipped here from 1793 to 2023,” the organization said.

The listing on Seven to Save “seeks to generate interest, donations, and ideas for the largest museum acquisition New Hampshire has seen in decades.”

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Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken is a contract reporter and content producer for consumer financial agencies. She has worked for northern New England publications, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, for 25 years, and most recently at Mainebiz in Portland, Maine. She can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.