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Finding Home | Mary’s Farm

Fate and an elusive “fairytale village” in Harrisville, New Hampshire.

By Edie Clark

Aug 24 2016

harrisville

Finding Home

Photo Credit : Jon Holiday
Finding Home
Finding Home in Harrisville, New Hampshire.
Photo Credit : Jon Holiday

I live in the town of Harrisville, New Hampshire, a little brick mill village that’s not on the way to anywhere, so its anonymity has been easier to maintain as the great sweep of time has moved from the 18th to the 21st century. The story of this village is somewhat epic. We’ll skip all the drama and go to 1870, when Harrisville seceded from the town of Dublin and became its own entity. During the Civil War, the big woolen mills were booming, belting out material used to make soldiers’ uniforms as well: The bounty of war was not only in munitions. Woolen fortunes rose and fell, but in the 1960s, polyester pretty much replaced wool, and the beat of the looms fell silent; the mills were shuttered. In 1971, instead of a“House for Sale,” Yankee’s column was retitled “Town for Sale”: The whole village was listed—the bankrupt mill and the buildings and houses that belonged to the mill.

A man from New Jersey bought the town in order to re-locate his business up here, which he did, but, to avoid paying a fearsome tax bill, he quickly resold (for $1) the houses and all extraneous buildings back to the family that had owned the mills for generations. A lot of the buildings were boarded up and in disrepair; however, the fact that they were mostly brick perhaps saved them—benign neglect. The family started something called Historic Harrisville. Under that umbrella, they gathered the town’s history, creating documentation of this remarkably intact industrial village, which in turn became, over time, a National Historic Landmark.

At about that time, my aunt, who lived then in Amesbury, Massachusetts, took my grandmother, who was in her nineties, for a drive. They liked to do that, exploring the back roads of New England. Returning from one of these rambles, my Victorian grandmother was heard to say that they’d been to paradise, where they saw a “fairy-tale village.” We all wanted to know where they’d been so that we could go there, too. Nanny described this place, in an almost-operatic aria, as all brick buildings, a lake above and a canal running through and under them, falls tumbling like a ladder through the center of town. But she couldn’t say where it was or how they’d gotten there—just that they’d “happened” upon it. And so a quest began. Instead of the random drives they used to take, Nanny and Aunt Peg would set out to find again this fairytale village. They drove this way and that, and probably had some wonderful crawls past Currier & Ives scenes—but Nanny died at the age of 98 in 1978, never finding paradise again.

In 1982, I bought a little rundown house in the woods in Chesham, a small section of Harrisville. I’d never heard of either town, but it was near where I worked, and I liked the promise the house held. I had big plans. I gave Aunt Peg directions to come see what I’d bought. When she arrived, she was so excited that she scarcely glanced at my (humble) purchase. “I found it!” she cried out as she entered. On her way she’d passed through Harrisville. “I found the fairytale village again!” We stood in silence, mouths agape. How could it be? I’d managed not only to find that storied village, but, unaware that this was the place for which Nanny and Aunt Peg had searched so long, I’d also made it my home. It’s only gotten better since. 

Edie Clark’s books, including her newest, As Simple As That: Collected Essays, are now available at: edieclark.com

SEE MORE: Harrisville, NH | A “Little Brick Mill Village” in Photographs