Wild weather is uncommon in New Hampshire, but in July of 2008 a tornado came to call. We heard the warnings issued from the weather service and I remember a good number of my co-workers lined up at our second-floor office windows eager to get a glimpse of it coming across the lake. I assured them that if a tornado did appear, I would be heading for the basement. My mother didn’t raise no dummies.
We didn’t see it that day, but it did tear a path through the towns of Deerfield, Epsom, Northwood, Pittsfield, Barnstead, Alton, New Durham, Wolfeboro, Ossipee, Effingham and Freedom … fifty miles in roughly eighty minutes. Something like 200 homes were damaged and one person was killed. I remember driving past some of the destruction in the days afterward, and it was amazing – a swath of huge trees knocked over like dominoes. I’d never seen anything like it.
Fast-forward to 2015, and a random post on Instagram. It showed a house that had been damaged in the tornado, now abandoned and almost overgrown. When I asked where it was located I was told it was nearby … and my curiosity level instantly doubled. I had to find it.
So on a clear, crisp, nearly perfect autumn day last month I set out on my mission. It really wasn’t that difficult … turns out most people around here know of it, or at least the people I work with whose business are houses. This house used to be very visible from the road, but these days the drive leading into it is almost overgrown. The property wasn’t posted, alleviating my fears of trespassing, and there was only a chain across what used to be the driveway. I parked on the side of the road and walked in.
My Instagram friend who had posted the initial photos that piqued my interest had also mentioned that it was surrounded by brambles and bear tracks. Now, the thought of bears wasn’t going to stop me, but I did keep an eye out for large black furry things. Wading through knee-deep weeds toward an abandoned house set waaaay back off the road inspires thoughts like this. It was a little unsettling. I kept going.
Then … there it was, a beautiful old Colonial with classic lines, great proportions and 12-over-12 windows. Nature had nearly taken over. Through the Instagram post I’d learned that the entire back side of the house was gone, but from my angle it still seemed mostly intact. The side door was ajar. Everything seemed relatively straight. The windows were intact but the one closest to me was missing its glass. And …. it offered a glimpse of the reason why I came.
Inside, the walls were covered with murals. It is estimated that hundreds of early murals lie undiscovered under wallpaper in New England. The painting of wall murals began about 1800 and continued until 1850, when mass-produced wallpaper became available and the desire for paint-decorated walls waned. Though some of the plaster here had come away from the lath, the vivid colors still jumped out into the room. The paintings looked as if they represented faraway places, with buildings that looked like temples and exotic trees. What a shame that these will likely disintegrate with the rest of the house; I took photos as best I could to document them, but they don’t do them justice. It made me sad to think that they, and this once-beautiful house, might be gone after the next hard winter.
If I hadn’t been alone I might have ventured further, but the brush kept me from doing so. If anyone out there knows more about this place, or if anything can be done to save these paintings, please comment. As for me, I’m just happy I got to see it. Even if nature reclaims this house, I know what was once there.