The Village of Jaffrey Center, New Hampshire
Just the other day, when the sky was a piercingly clear blue and much of the region was still digging out from a recent snowfall, I stopped in the historic section of town known as Jaffrey Center, taking in the natural beauty of its surroundings. It’s easy to take these scenes for granted when they’re ever-present in your daily life. (Jaffrey is but one town over from Yankee’s home office in Dublin, New Hampshire.)
But this day I would snap a few photos and, with pages from the Jaffrey Historic District Commission’s walking tour in hand, take a look at the area like a visitor from away.
We start at the Meetinghouse, constructed in 1775 as a place for townsfolk to gather and to hold church services. I wonder how many other historic meetinghouses have such a fine mountain view …
In fact, no matter whether you come upon the village of Jaffrey Center from the east or the west, Mount Monadnock plays peek-a-boo through the trees all along Route 124.
Out behind the Meetinghouse stand the Horsesheds (c. 1808), which shielded many a beast and carriage from the elements over the years. Though only nine of the twelve original bays have survived to this day, the name of each stall’s original lessee still appears above its entrance.
Here, too, is the Old Burying Ground (c. 1774), the town’s oldest cemetery. Though small, it’s the final resting place of some well-known names, including former slave Amos Fortune (1710–1801), who purchased his freedom at age 60 and then moved to Jaffrey, working as a tanner. He died at age 91. Also, novelist Willa Cather (1873–1947), author of My Antonia and O Pioneers!, who’d become fond of the town, having vacationed here frequently. Hannah Davis’ (1784–1863) gravesite is here as well. She was the first woman in the country to make a business out of fashioning decorative but useful boxes from soft woods; today they’re highly valued by collectors. (Read more about Hannah Davis in Yankee’s 2009 article by Catherine Riedel.)
Eventually in the town’s history there came the need to separate church services from public buildings (that ol’ separation-of-church-and-state act), and so the Brick Church was erected just across the road from the Meetinghouse in 1831. Note the church’s Gothic Revival tower; it was replicated in the building of Melville Academy just a couple of years later—a property that operated as a private school for some 30 years before being taken over by the town as a local schoolhouse. Today, it’s open on summer weekends and houses a collection of artifacts and historic photos.
The Little Red Schoolhouse, too, is open to visitors on summer weekends. You might mistake it for a shed today, but this one-room schoolhouse (c. 1822) was moved from its original location (about a mile away) and placed beside the Meetinghouse by the Historical Society when its members took on the task of restoring and preserving it in the 1960s.
Atop Blackberry Lane, just past the Meetinghouse, is the oldest home in the village (c. 1784). Although it’s a private residence now, the original owner, Benjamin Cutter, allowed his brother to operate a tavern here for a time, and by all accounts, a very popular one. The original signage for the tavern is preserved at the pubic library downtown.
Back on the main road sits the Monadnock Inn, initially built as a private homestead in the 1830s. As travelers began to make the Monadnock Region a popular getaway destination in the 1870s, the home’s owner capitalized on the interest and began hosting summer visitors. Today, the family-run inn offers eleven comfortable guestrooms, delicious dinners, a pub for relaxing, and a porch for rocking. That’s some 140 years of hospitality right here in the heart of the village center.
In this compact area, from the Meetinghouse, down Blackberry Lane to Melville Academy, connecting to Thorndike Pond Road, and along the Main Street to the Monadnock Inn, there’s a quiet serenity in winter.
Spring will come and the lush green lawn on the Common will reappear, and the summer visitors will reappear too, and on into fall when the area is most photographed for all the vibrant colors against the stark white clapboards of these buildings. But for now, on this day, the scene is just about perfect—inspiring a keepsake photograph, even if you’re lucky enough to enjoy this view through the windshield every day.