House for Sale: Harrisville, NH
Quite a few readers have written or e-mailed us over the past few months as a result of Yankee‘s article in last year’s fall issue on New Hampshire’s Monadnock region. “What sorts of properties are available in that area right now?” they ask.
So we’ve spent a little time moseying around the 40 towns and villages that surround Mount Monadnock and found plenty of homes for sale–in all price ranges. But if we had to pick our absolute favorite and, in our opinion, the best value, it would be a certain beautifully restored 1840 four-bedroom Colonial known in local history books as the Lovell Harris House.
It’s on eight gorgeous acres in the center of the most-painted and most-photographed village in all of New England. Hey, maybe all of America! Have you guessed the town’s name? Another hint: It’s located a few miles north of Mount Monadnock, spread along the banks of two ponds and a tumbling connecting stream that for more than a century powered a textile factory known as Cheshire Mills. Yes, we’re referring to famous and historic Harrisville, New Hampshire.
Back in 1970, when Cheshire Mills had to close its doors, thus putting much of the town out of work, one of our “House for Sale” features (March 1971) was titled “Town for Sale!” It included as available not only the plant itself but also many of the surrounding brick homes and apartments that had been leased to the millworkers. In effect, the town really was for sale, and the future extremely uncertain.
Then a wonderful story began to unfold. Thanks to the John Colony family, who’d owned the mill since the 1850s, and thanks to many others (our “House for Sale” feature didn’t hurt, either), an organization of generous, historically minded people known as Historic Harrisville Inc. bought most of the buildings in the center of the village and then resold or rented them. The mill was taken over by a New Jersey company that manufactured industrial water coolers and filters. Harrisville was named a National Historic Landmark and eventually became known throughout the world (we’re not exaggerating) as the best example of a pristine restoration of a working New England mill town.
Today, Harrisville looks pretty much as it did 150 years ago. It’s not simply a tourist mecca for artists and photographers, though; it’s still a working town. There’s the well-known weaving and wool enterprise known as Harrisville Designs, for instance. And the mill complex, no longer occupied by the New Jersey water-cooler company, is now home to myriad interesting tenants, including Lifesaving Resources (a rescue-training outfit), a photography studio, a sheet-metal fabrication business, and Alberene Royal Mail (which imports stuff from the British Isles). Even Walter Siegl, the world-class motorcycle maker, is in there. One of his bikes recently went to a high official in Kosovo; Angelina Jolie gave one as a Christmas present to Brad Pitt. In other words, Harrisville is thriving.
Now, the particular 1840 Colonial known as the Lovell Harris House, with its eight acres of privacy in the heart of the village–now available for $625,000–is not and never was part of the Cheshire Mills complex. But it’s right there next to it all. The general store where we bought fresh blueberry muffins, with nuts, the morning of our visit is a three-minute walk up the hill, as are the post office, church, Harrisville Designs, and so forth. A bit farther is the public beach on Harrisville Pond.
After presenting our still-warm blueberry muffins, we sat down in the “great room” with owner Lida Stinchfield, a California girl, born into a military family, who grew up living in various Navy posts all over the world, but who spent time summers in a cottage on Harrisville Pond. In 1974, she decided to live in the town where she’d spent those childhood summers. So when the Lovell Harris House came on the market that year, she purchased it and then spent the next three years in an extensive restoration process.
“It was a wreck,” she told us as we munched muffins and leafed through a photo album showing the work–tearing out walls, etc.–being done at that time. (Yes, it was a wreck.) In fact, the great room where we were that morning–with its high ceilings, loft area, woodstove, and glass doors opening out to the wraparound porch overlooking fields, an orchard, and, of course, Mount Monadnock–was once where the “two-holer” was located. In other words, when Lida took the place over from the previous owners–two elderly brothers who slept in a sort of shed area out back–there wasn’t even any indoor plumbing.