Eager to get out of the house this past weekend – with gorgeous, near-perfect fall weather – the decision was made to find a place we’d heard about several months ago. Not far from where I live, in fact just in the next town over, it supposedly featured some Victorian homes. “You should take a drive up there,” we were told in March, “It’s nice.” But with March weather and road conditions being what they were, we opted to wait for warmer months.
So we threw the cameras and a good map in the car and set off to find Roland Park. In my mind I had pictured something like Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, or Bayside in Maine. According to the map, the road to Roland Park went from rural to middle-of-nowhere, and dead-ended at a place called Dan Hole Pond. Over the years I’d heard what a beautiful lake this was: pristine, crystal clear water, very secluded, not easy to find. I’m still researching where its odd name may have come from.
It wasn’t long before the nice paved roads turned to dirt. We made a few wrong turns and ended up on one that announced that it was strictly private; very narrow with woods and big rocks all around, we kept going until we were sure we had made a wrong turn. Backtracking, we finally came across the pond – with the sunshine sparkling like diamonds on its surface – and we stopped to stretch our legs. It seemed we had Dan Hole Pond, high up in the Ossipee Mountains, all to ourselves.
Now on the right track, we drove on (and up!) to find a tiny hamlet of old houses with sweeping views across the pond. In no way did this resemble the church camps I had pictured, though … these were BIG houses on large lots of land. We kept climbing, oohing and aahing at the houses and the scenery, and eventually we came across a spot that had views clear to Mount Washington. Many of the houses seemed empty and we walked into someone’s yard to get a photo. Surely they wouldn’t mind sharing that view!
How in the world did anyone find this place, and why build these huge homes? They all seemed about the same vintage, and almost all of them looked updated and well-kept. The only sounds we could hear were the breeze and the birds; there were few signs of life anywhere. It seemed to be a place that was full of history, just below the surface, if only you took the time to look.
So, later, I DID look. Roland Park, I read, is a community nearly forgotten for a century. It was officially born in 1894 when nine businessmen from Malden, Massachusetts, arrived on the noon train from Boston. Staying at a local inn, by the time they left they had fallen in love with the area and formed the Roland Park Land Company. (It’s believed that one of their wives named the area because it was “rolling.” That seems a stretch, but who knows.) In 1895 the first of the many “cottages” was built.
The men of the Land Company laid out lots on 100 acres, and many of their friends came to visit and built summer homes. Eventually the colony boasted 26 houses; in just a few years the tax value of Roland Park increased 46 fold. Fire destroyed some cottages over the years, but many families have been here for generations. Summer life here was idyllic – hunting, fishing, hiking, boating and canoeing, croquet and tennis, picking washtubs full of blueberries. At the turn of the century the train trip from Boston to Center Ossipee took about four hours, and then the trip to Roland Park could take another two hours depending on the road conditions and the amount of baggage in the buckboard. (After reading this part I was a little embarrassed at our idea of being adventurous in an air-conditioned, Bluetooth-enabled, four-wheel-drive car.) The woods have taken over pastures and fields, but the beauty of this area remains. The strong sense of community balanced with a survivalist’s spirit still predominates.
I suppose our finding Roland Park was nothing compared to those nine men from Massachusetts in 1894. At that point in time it must have seemed like the ends of the earth, and even today it is not easy to get to. We found another dirt road (with a sign warning that it was not maintained in the winter) and bumped along until we reached civilization again. Though the world has shrunk in the last hundred years, it’s good to know that places like this still exist – off the beaten path, a little wild, mostly unknown. Most people probably have never heard of Roland Park, and don’t care … and maybe that’s just the way they want it.