Why Ruggles Mine Should be Saved

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The signs announcing Grafton's Ruggles Mine are a fixture along Route 4 and 104. They’re painted brown and look a little homemade. Some announce the former tourist attraction as “world famous,” which maybe convinces some, but may come across as a little grandiose.

And yet, Preservation Alliance field service representative Andrew Cushing notes that his grandparents love to tell a story about their vacation out West in the 1970s when someone pointed to their station wagon’s wooden rooftop cargo box emblazoned with “Grafton, NH” and shouted across the parking lot, “Hey, Ruggles Mine!”  Those "world famous" brown signs seemed a little more believable after that.

After closing its door as a visitor destination in 2016, the future of Ruggles Mine has remained in limbo. Several price cuts failed to attract serious bids and the site has been subject to trespassing and vandalism – Grafton’s sole police officer can attest.

The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance approached officials in the N.H. Division of Parks and Recreation several months ago and proposed the site become the newest state park. While it would not be a conventional park, it would be a unique offering that combined historical, geologic, and natural features as well as incredible scenery. Its 235 acres is mostly forested, is adjacent to the Forest Society’s Grafton Pond Reservation and Blodgett Forest, and it sits squarely within the Quabbin to Cardigan Initiative.

 1911 crew at Ruggles Mine. Courtesy Grafton Historical Society.

1911 crew at Ruggles Mine. Courtesy Grafton Historical Society.

The mine has tremendous historical value, not only to the state but the country. New Hampshire may be the Granite State, but the western hill towns of the state were especially known for their mica mines. Mica mines were common in the towns of Alstead, Gilsum, Grafton, and Groton, where the material would be used in lanterns and stove windows – and later, for electrical insulators.

Ruggles was the first mica mine in the United States. (In fact, before the Civil War, New Hampshire produced all of the mica in the United States.) Samuel Ruggles started mining in earnest in 1803, though records suggest that mica had been discovered in Isinglass Mountain as early as the 1770s. (Samuel Ruggles was actually more of an investor than a farmer or miner.) What ensued was over 150 years of active mining during which Ruggles was the largest mica and feldspar mine in New Hampshire.

 Courtesy Grafton Historical Society.

Courtesy Grafton Historical Society.

The result was a scarred landscape with spectacular pegmatitic arches. When the mine closed in 1962 due to changes in the global markets, the site was purchased as a tourist attraction. Between 1962 and 2016, the mine welcomed rock hounds and curious families alike, with the draw being the ability to hammer away in hopes of finding gems or rocks.

The Preservation Alliance is pleased that the N.H. Division of Parks and Recreation is actively exploring whether the property meets its mission as well as financial and operational issues.  New Hampshire has nearly one hundred state parks, including mountain peaks, lakeside beaches, gorges, and historic sites. Because the state’s park system is largely self-funded, new additions are rare. (Jericho Mountain State Park in Berlin is the newest member of the park family, purchased in 2007.) Ruggles could provide income to the state park system – and creative types have already suggested using the mine for concerts or outdoor art exhibits, such as the one created by the Revolving Museum in 2017.

Such an endeavor will take time, money, and imagination. The result, however, will be an important landscape preserved for the future. Support for such an initiative can surely be...mined.

 The view from the parking lot at Ruggles Mine affords northerly views toward Mount Cardigan.

The view from the parking lot at Ruggles Mine affords northerly views toward Mount Cardigan.

New Commissioner Offers Vision, Priorities and Some Favorites

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Sarah L. Stewart of Manchester became the commissioner of the N.H. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources on June 4. In addition to the Division of Historical Resources, the department includes the Division of Parks and Recreation, the Division of Forests and Lands, the State Library and the State Council on the Arts.

When her nomination was announced by Gov. Sununu, Commissioner Stewart said why such a diverse department is important: “We represent so much of what is great about our state. We can leverage those unique assets to attract and retain a skilled workforce while providing top-notch customer service to our residents and visitors.”

Responding to questions from the N.H Preservation Alliance, Stewart noted New Hampshire citizens’ well-known ability to draw on grassroots support to reach community goals, including for historic preservation projects, is something that drew her to the position – as did the skill and passion of the department’s staff – and that she looks forward to new opportunities. “While I’ll be helping our staff continue the excellent work they’ve done for generations, I’m also focusing on showing how all of the elements of the DNCR work together to provide what folks love about New Hampshire, and to raise awareness of all that we offer.” 

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Here are some other thoughts from Stewart, in response to recent questions from the Preservation Alliance:
What drew you to this new position?

I’ve been living and working in New Hampshire for almost two decades, spending time in communities of all sizes, across the entire state and I’ve seen first-hand that our natural and cultural resources are places, experiences and treasures that define who we are and how we connect with each other. New Hampshire is famous for using grassroots support to get things done, including for historic preservation. I’m honored to be in a position to advocate on behalf of not just the NHDHR but all five of Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ divisions every day.

What are your priorities for the Department?

Our mission at the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources is to protect, preserve and manage a wide variety of natural, recreational and cultural resources. One of my priorities is to ensure that our residents, workforce and visitors to our state have access to all of the above and have the very best experiences possible. We’re a full-service department in that we are dedicated to not only historical resources, but also state forests, libraries, arts organizations and artists, and our wonderful state parks (many of which are important from a historic preservation standpoint, by the way). While I’ll be helping our staff continue the excellent work they’ve done for generations, I’m also focusing on showing how all of the elements of the DNCR work together to provide what folks love about New Hampshire, and to raise awareness of all that we offer.

What are some of your favorite historic buildings, communities or preservation success stories?

That’s kind of a trick question because there’s so much to love in New Hampshire from a preservation standpoint. But the first thing that comes to my mind is our amazing town halls. I’ve had the opportunity to spend time at town halls all across the state. The history when you walk into them is palpable. They’ve served and continue to serve as inspirational backdrops for community gatherings and town hall meetings, and each one has its own unique charm. A few of my favorites include the Bedford Town Hall, the Peterborough Town Hall, the Canterbury Town Hall and the Sandown Town Office.

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“Commissioner Stewart brings a passion for New Hampshire, experiences with collaboration, and creativity and communications skills to this job,” said Jennifer Goodman, executive director of the Preservation Alliance.

Stewart has served on several boards, including Stay-Work-Play New Hampshire, Amoskeag Industries and N.H. Citizens for the Arts. She was also a member of the Commission to Study the Economic Impact the of Arts and Culture in New Hampshire, which, in the historic preservation section of its final report (2016), noted that, nationally, properties in historic districts have higher values and are better maintained; that neighborhoods with a mix of older, smaller buildings support greater levels of positive economic and social activity than areas dominated by newer, larger buildings; and that heritage travelers stay longer and spend more on average than other visitors.


 

 

Donald Hall's Preservation Legacy

What a legacy Donald Hall left for New Hampshire citizens and readers all over the world! The award-winning writer of prose and poetry died this past week at age 89.  Hall was an incorporator of the N.H. Preservation Alliance when it was formed over 30 years ago, and we think his decades of writing before -- and since -- supports and inspires preservation activity. 

 Hall's Eagle Pond Farm in Wilmot.

Hall's Eagle Pond Farm in Wilmot.

Hall’s observations about his adopted state (he said, “I was created to love New Hampshire”) were based off of characters he met in Wilmot, where he resided, and nearby Danbury and Andover. In his collection of essays, Here at Eagle Pond, Hall wrote, “In New Hampshire the state supper is beans and franks, and every recipe begins with salt pork, Campbell’s cream of mushroom, and Miracle Whip” and “In New Hampshire convenience stores sell Fluff, Wonder Bread, Moxie, and shoes with blue canvas tops.”

His realistic settings connect you to special buildings in addition to natural landscapes. When you read Lucy's Christmas, you feel like you’re visiting the white, steepled South Danbury church for the annual pageant.  (It still hosts the annual Christmas party and lots of other activities too.)

Hall's themes of practicality, frugality and continuity shine through in his work. The title of his recollections of summers on a New England farm, A String too Short to be Saved, describes the hand-written label on a box of short strings. In his 1977 poem Oxcart Man, Hall describes how a farmer loads his potatoes into a cart and walks beside his ox to market, where he sells the potatoes. Then he sells the cart, ox, harness and yoke and, we imagine, walks home and starts again.

He lamented the loss of people and loss of landscape – burnt houses, new development, and the conversion of special places into the indistinguishable. “Nostalgia without history is a decorative fraud,” he wrote. This affinity for place was borne from his c. 1806 house, purchased by his great-grandfather in the 1860s.  In memoir and fiction, he described this place that served as his boyhood retreat and eventually his residence until his passing.  He wrote in the same first-floor room in which he slept and first began writing poems as a boy.  He seemed to love the continuity of use, the layers of people’s and building’s history, and we do too.

Here are some ideas of ways to honor this great artist:

·         Read a poem or story of his (or his wife Jane Kenyon, another incredible voice for life in New Hampshire) for yourself or to a child. 

·         Think about what rural New Hampshire means to you on a scenic 24-mile drive through his town of Wilmot along New Hampshire Route 4A or Rt. 4 between Lebanon and Andover. (Get some coffee at the preservation-award winning Lucky’s Coffee Garage in Lebanon after your drive.)

·         Support a local preservation project or the Preservation Alliance so we can enjoy more preservation and less lamentation.

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Are you supporting preservation and conservation with a Mooseplate?

Old license plate combinations sell out and “P” for preservation added

Do you know that funds from Moose Plate sales support a wide variety of conservation, heritage and preservation programs in New Hampshire, including planting wild flowers along New Hampshire highways, studying threatened plant and animal species, securing conservation easements and preserving publicly owned historic properties and artifacts?  The Preservation Alliance hopes that you’ll get a plate if you don’t have one, or buy one as a gift for a friend.

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Every dollar raised through the sales of Moose Plates goes directly to supporting designated programs. More than $20 million has been raised since the program began and projects in all 10 New Hampshire counties have benefited from Moose Plate funds.  Examples of preservation projects include the restoration of a town-owned barn in Cornish, roof stabilization for the Bartlett Roundhouse, and the renovation of the balcony in the Gorham Town Hall (right). 

Preservation gets more attention, and travelers on New Hampshire’s roadways this summer have something new to watch for when they play the license plate game: the state’s popular Moose Plate program has added the letter “P” to plate combinations.

When the first Conservation Number Plates were issued in December 2000, the letter “C,” for “conservation,” was part of each standard five-digit number combination. As “C” plates sold out, the letter “H,” for “heritage,” replaced the “C.” This spring, the first plates with the letter “P,” for “preservation,” were issued.

Standard combination Moose Plates still include a stacked “C” for “Conservation” and “H” for “Heritage” next to the illustrated moose, which was designed by Granite State artist Jim Collins. New Hampshire’s motto “Live Free or Die” is also part of the plate’s design.

Moose Plates may be purchased at city and town clerks’ offices when registering a car or truck. The annual cost for a Moose Plate is $30; the first year requires a standard $8 plate purchase fee. Vanity Moose Plates and combination Moose / NH State Parks plates are also available for additional charges.

Fourth grade students from Holderness Central School started the idea for the Moose Plate program in 1993. Legislation establishing the program passed in 1998.

More information is available at mooseplate.com.  For more on historic and cultural projects, check here.

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Some Thoughts on NHPR's The Exchange on Preservation, or an Hour Zooms By

From Preservation Alliance executive director Jennifer Goodman: I’m a big fan of NHPR's The Exchange, so it felt extra special to be a guest and wonderful to have the show highlight historic preservation at a special event at the Belknap Mill in Laconia last week.

 Belknap Mill in Laconia dates from 1823, and its revitalization was the first industrial building preservation project in the U.S. honored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Check out what's happening there now  here .

Belknap Mill in Laconia dates from 1823, and its revitalization was the first industrial building preservation project in the U.S. honored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Check out what's happening there now here.

I knew the hour of taping before a live audience was going to fly by, and it did. Here are four things I thought of before and after the show. Listen May 16 at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on your NHPR station, and then available on-line.

Hooray for Laconia. The modern historic preservation movement stands on the shoulders of projects at Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth, Harrisville and Belknap Mill (where we met for the show). A group of citizens in the 1970s led by Peter Karagianis and Arthur Nighswander, with help from advisors like Richard Candee, overcame big odds to save the mill, and it was a flagship of industrial preservation at the time. We’re so glad that a new phase for the Belknap Mill Society is going well, and very excited about the redevelopment of the Colonial Theater and its catalytic potential. It’s not easy though. There has been a series of demolition in the City recently too, and lots of Lakes Region community have as many challenges as they do successes.

How great the live audience was. It was great to see representatives of the many elements of the preservation movement – elected officials, developers, volunteer leaders, old house owners and folks in the field at the live taping. Some next-generation folks as well as long-timers. You’ll love their questions! And I know they had a lot more.

It takes a village. It takes a movement. It was great that NHPR took the extra time and effort to produce a show away from their home base studios. I feel so lucky to have great Preservation Alliance colleagues, board members and partners like the Division of Historical Resources. One theme in the conversation for The Exchange was how smart, creative teams working together get things done -- that's how buildings get re-used and revived by private and public sector developers, and how communities secure and sustain preservation investment.

There are many ways to engage. It’s easy to feel too busy or disconnected and not help out with preservation work, but there really is something for everyone, and the rewards are huge. Check out this list, and tell your friends and neighbors to get on board!

Host Laura Knoy (second from right, photo below) discussed the opportunities and challenges with Jennifer Goodman - Executive Director (far right) of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, Jared Guilmett (far left) – Vice President of the Board of Directors, Belknap Mill Society and architectural designer at Misiaszek Turpin, working on the Colonial Theater project, Elizabeth Muzzey – Director of the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources and State Historic Preservation Officer (not pictured), and Justin Slattery – Executive Director, Belknap Economic Development Council (second from left), developer of the Colonial Theater project.

 

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2018 Preservation Achievement Award: Reuben Whitten House, Ashland

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In 1815, Mount Tambora - a volcano on an Indonesian island - erupted with tremendous force. Its volcanic ash changed global temperatures and, thousands of miles away in New England, farmers struggled with a "year without a summer."

In Ashland (then a part of Holderness), a farming family somehow managed to grow their crops. Sally and Reuben Whitten decided to share 40 bushels of their wheat with 100 neighbors who were less fortunate, an act of generosity that was later recorded on a memorial stone by their grandson, in 1911. 

The c.1800 house, however, stood more or less forgotten. It was moved in the 1870s from the hillside farm to the village for use as worker housing. In 1969 it was donated to the Historical Society, struck by a runaway truck, and moved again to a location behind the Whipple House Museum. With the 200th anniversary of the year without a summer approaching, the Ashland Historical Society decided it was time to pay it forward and embark on a rehabilitation campaign.

The largely volunteer effort was a lesson in perseverance. It took years of soliciting donations and grants, organizing work weekends, and researching the social history of the house. Thanks to a report by Jim Garvin (the former state architectural historian), the Society had a road map that guided their rehabilitation.

Work included listing the building to the State Register of Historic Places, repairing the hole in the wall created by the 1969 truck accident, repairing and reconstructing the windows, cladding the exterior with clapboards, adding a cedar shake roof, and finding a more period-appropriate door. The interior was left untouched, having retained much of its original fabric, despite a century of housing tenants.  

The result is the rehabilitation of a humble house that tells a big story. According to co-chairs of the Whitten Project Committee, Katie Maher and Susan Macleod, the house represents the layers of Ashland's history, from its farming days to its use as worker housing after the town industrialized. "This little house holds those human stories and artifacts within its walls," they shared at the Awards ceremony. 

And now the little house will reflect another story, that of a town coming together to honor the good deed of a family over two hundred years ago.

Partners included:

Ashland Historical Society

James L. Garvin

Starck Housejoiners, Inc.

Ashland Lumber / Belletetes

Sippican Partners

2018 Preservation Achievement Award: Freedom Roller Shed

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Before the days of snow plows, New Hampshire's roads were rolled. Horses or oxen would drag along an enormous wheeled contraption built of iron and wood that would compress the snow, making it easier for sleighs to travel. Several towns in New Hampshire have restored these snow rollers, including Bartlett, Canaan, Colebrook, Bow, and Alexandria. 

But only three towns still have their snow roller shed. In Freedom, this obscure building stands atop Schoolhouse Hill, adjacent to the Masonic Temple. Built in 1902, it housed the roller and until 1978, other highway equipment. The Freedom Heritage Commission grew concerned about its state of disrepair and decided to do something about it. 

In 2012, it was added to the State Register of Historic Places, which opened up the opportunity for grant funding. The Heritage Commission won a Moose Plate award for $10,000 and, with help from local carpenters and townsfolk, cut back the brush and trimmed encroaching trees, replaced rotted boards and sills, re-roofed with corrugated aluminum, and rebuilt the fire siren stand at the ridge. (The military surplus siren was added after WWII).

The Heritage Commission educated residents about the building's significance at town meeting, and as such raised the town's level of understanding and support for preservation. Their next step, according to Peg Scully, chair of the commission? Finding a snow roller to go inside.

Partners:

Freedom Heritage Commission

Town of Freedom

Michael Gaudette

Mark McKinley

N.H. Division of Historical Resources