The tornado of ’08

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


14 responses to “The tornado of ’08

  1. What a treasure!!!! I love this history regarding houses having wall murals painted on their walls prior to wallpaper! Can’t believe this ever stopped. Thank you for sharing such a fun adventure through your lens and eyes!

  2. This has to be one of your best ‘local’ finds. What a cool capture, with your trusty camera, and fine writing. I trust this finds your ready to survive another fine NH winter! Cheers, D

  3. I would have loved to go through the house with you! Very interesting! The wall paintings are incredible!

  4. Amazing. I certainly know the area you are talking about and think about that storm every time we pass by because there are still many downed trees. We lived for many years in the Midwest, and the basement is definitely the place to be not at the windows on the second floor. 🙂

    • Hey Judy, thanks for the comment and I agree with you … I wasn’t about to be standing around waiting for that tornado! The aftermath was incredible though and it made me very happy that I don’t live in the Midwest! 🙂

  5. What a cool find! I wonder where the owner is? It does seem a shame that the house is left to disintegrate, along with its interesting murals. At least you’ve been able to document it beautifully with your camera.

    • I’m in the process of trying to get a little more information on the house. Things like this fascinate me. At least I got the photos and a story to tell. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  6. What a treasure! Would love to learn more about the murals and history of this incredible place.

  7. Charlotta Daginn Lundin

    This so beautiful ! When was the house built do you think?

    • Thanks! Probably the early 1800s but I’m trying to find out for sure. Is this my friend from Instagram???

      • Charlotta Daginn Lundin

        Yes it’s Insta-Daginn. Looks like paintings we have here in Sweden in churches and manorhouses from late 1700s or early 1800s. Many of thoose churches were replaced by lagrer ,lighter and less decorated churches in he mid 1800s. Sorry I missed ‘is’ in this is so beautiful!

  8. Amazing that the house is vacant! It does make you wonder where the owner is.Paige I think you should find out who it is and buy it. I know you can bring it back to life! Thanks for sharing!!

  9. Hi Paige
    My email link from your site had stopped for some reason so I have only just read this great post. What an extraordinary place. The Church looks like one we saw in Puerto Rico many years ago, with those palm trees.
    Many thanks for searching this place out!

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