News

Tale of Milford history

Thursday, March 31, 2011

By KATHY CLEVELAND

Staff Writer

MILFORD – A group of Milford residents, frustrated with the town’s ever growing population, headed north in the mid-1800s and built a town called New Milford in the White Mountains.

The quarry workers started a sawmill, quarried granite, suffered hardships and eventually built a resort hotel. Finally New Milford was abandoned the late 1940s, the victim of quarry disasters and the decline of rail-based tourism.

Several months ago, “The White Pine Monograph,” a publication with a long and distinguished reputation among architects and historians, came out with an article about New Milford, saying it was founded in 1848, incorporated in 1852, and abandoned in the late 1940s. The 13-page article contains several photos and a town map, circa 1910.

After Dale Riley, who owns a lumber yard in Milford, lent The Cabinet his copy of “The White Pine Monograph, Volume XXIX, No. 1” we were intrigued, so we passed it on to Polly Cote, former president of the Milford Historical Society.

Cote had never heard of New Milford, and this story piqued her interest. After two days researching the facts, however, she came up dry.

Not a single family name mentioned in “New Milford” is in either of Milford’s two town histories, and a 1970 book “New Hampshire Town Names” has no mention of a New Milford. There’s no New Milford in a list of New Hampshire towns incorporated after 1848.

The article also says visitors can see the remains of New Milford in a remote location accessible by hiking a three-mile offshoot from the Appalachian Trail that ends “with an oddly well-kept parking area and an information lean-to. Visitors can find “a small weather-worn marker at the south rim of the town’s quarry that reads, ‘224 men lost their lives at this quarry – 1849 to 1924.’ ”

The town is supposed to be located near the Cowasuck Stream, but Cote couldn’t find any such stream in any map of the White Mountains.

A friend who grew up in Sugar Hill, a town the article says is close to New Milford, had never heard any stories about the town and its Wallace Hotel “boasting the largest wrap-around porch in New Hampshire.”

Cote also asked Brian Sanborn, who serves with her on the Milford Supervisors of the Checklist. Sanborn grew up the area, and he, too, never heard of New Milford.

“It really is a very interesting story,” Cote said, but “I was at a dead end.”

Many of the article’s facts line up with what is known about the growth of the granite industry in New Hampshire and Milford, Cote said, although there is one mistake. It says Milford granite was used to build the Library of Congress, but as local children learn in elementary school, Milford granite was used to build the U.S. Treasury building.

Finally, Cote called The White Pine’s publisher, who didn’t returned her call.

A bit disappointed and also amused, she was fairly certain the “architectural monograph” is a work of someone’s imagination. Librarians at the New Hampshire State Library agreed.

After doing some research, State Librarian William Copeley said in an email that he and Library Director Peter Wallner “both feel this is a piece of fiction, although very well written and certainly entertaining.”

The White Pine is now a publication of the Northeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association (NeLMA), based in Cumberland, Maine, so The Cabinet e-mailed company President Jeff Easterling, who replied back that “we have a mystery on our hands,” but did not reply to emails asking for the author’s contact information.

Last week we emailed him again to report on the research efforts, and he replied by phone to confess the story is fiction, written by him with the help of a public relations firm.

“It was a planned marketing effort,” said Easterling, who didn’t try to hide his delight in the deception. “We had a lot of fun.”

Easterling said he also wrote the phoney author’s blog by “Gideon Leonard, a retired professor of American history,” supposedly written in the summer of 2009.

The article has illustrations that purport to show New Milford’s granite loading station and the grand entrance to New Milford’s Wallace Hotel, which “impressed guests with its twin curved staircase of white pine balusters.”

They are all stock photos, Easterling said.

The article was published in the fall of 2010, and since then, he said, a number of people curious about New Milford have contacted him.

“We knew eventually the truth would come out,” he said, and “someone would finally ask the right questions.”

According to Wikipedia, the White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs was a landmark publication of drawings, photographs and descriptions of early American architecture launched in 1914 as an advertising campaign by the White Pines Bureau. A series of 98 White Pine monographs on the architecture of the American colonies is bound into eight volumes in the Connecticut State Library.

There was, however, one fictional White Pine monograph published in 1920. The editor invented a Massachusetts town he called Stotham and illustrated the story with photographs of actual New England buildings. The fiction went undiscovered until the late 1940s when staff at the Library of Congress’ Department of Fine Arts was unable to locate the town.

Easterling said the New Milford monograph was written in the spirit of “Stotham, Mass.,” and includes many true facts about the granite industry.

All the other monographs including the latest – about grand homes in Newburyport, Mass., built of white pine – are true, he said.

Wikipedia has a one-paragraph entry on New Milford that describes it as “a now-abandoned ghost town in New Hampshire.”

We suspect that entry will soon be changed.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 21, or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

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