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Cellar holes...a walk back in time

Updated: Aug 5, 2023

Northern New England is full of reminders of past lives: stone walls, old foundations, a century-old lilac struggling to survive as the forest reclaims a once-sunny dooryard. What forces shaped settlement, and later abandonment, of these places?

Adair Mulligan, Executive Director of the Hanover Conservancy, came to Weeks State Park to answer these questions…and many more.

Adair Mulligan focused on a specific, ongoing cellar hole project in the town of Lyme, NH.

When one comes across a cellar hole and walks around one of these sites, probably the first thing that may come to mind is the question of what type structure might have rested on these stones, its shape and size and purpose.

But what if we’re talking about walking around a community where literally hundreds of buildings were abandoned? A community where many of these were farms on higher elevations and now these cellars are hidden in forest? That presents a much larger mystery, and that story is one that Adair told masterfully last evening.

The Lyme historians were fortunate to have, as a wonderful starting point for their project, an extremely thorough document written in 1927 by Dartmouth professor James Goldwaith. Although the article may have caused some consternation among the residents of the day, it’s a fascinating history of the dramatic decrease in Lyme’s population and descriptive in that it literally went downhill.

The article is about 30 pages and contains many fascinating photos and diagrams. And the story is larger than the town of Lyme as the decline in population and the abandonment of farms was occurring throughout NH. You can obtain a copy by going to the Lyme historians website:

Adair spoke about this project in great detail as she was among the first with “boots on the ground.” Her slides showed the changes in the landscape over the years – from going to perhaps 85% cleared land to the reverse of that today. She talked about the many causes of this phenomenon as does Dr. Goldwaith.

It’s impossible to capture the details and scope of the many facets of this project and its historical context that Adair covered in this fascinating talk. Adair is an accomplished speaker and has a vast knowledge of NH history. She has contributed to many books such as Beyond the Notches, Proud to Live Here in the Connecticut River Valley, Where the Great River Rises: An Atlas of the Upper Connecticut River and more.

If you have an opportunity to hear her speak please don’t miss it.

Next week's topic is:

August 10 7:00 pm

An Angler’s Almanac

Andy Schafermeyer and Colby Denison

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