Dickerman honored for saving Monson
MILFORD – Russell Dickerman was surprised to be named Milford’s Citizen of the Year earlier this month.
The award, from the Milford Historical Society and Milford Improvement Team, is for his work saving and preserving Milford’s lost 18th century village, Monson Center.
The person who actually deserves the award, Russell says, is his wife, Geri, who died about 10 years after she helped lead the campaign to prevent a housing development on 36 acres of Monson.
Russell was the one with the family connections to Monson – Benjamin Hopkins, whose son married Anna Powers, the first child born in Hollis, lived there. Hopkins was Russell’s great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.
But Geri "probably worked harder than anyone to save it," he said.
Now Monson Center is a 269-acre reservation of fields and forests, with woods, roads and walking trails that pass cellar holes of the long-gone Monson dwellings. There is one building on the property: the Gould House, rebuilt from a 1756 house that burned in 1920.
The house is now a small museum, and Dickerman cheerfully stands by most days to answer questions from the many visitors
The township of Monson was one of the earliest inland colonial settlements in New Hampshire, although at that time it was part of Massachusetts. Before there was a Milford, there was Monson.
The settlement was chartered on April 4, 1746, and contained about 17,000 acres, going north to the Souhegan River, south to Silver Lake in Hollis and east to the Merrimack town line.
Twenty-four years later the settlers – 350 people in 54 families – gave up their charter.
Here is their reason, quoted on the Hollis Historical Society’s Web page:
"Land in and about the Center of Monson is so very poor, Broken, Baron and uneaven, as cannot admit of many Settlers, so that those Families that are in Town, are almost all planted in the Extreme parts of it.We have no prospect of ever Building a Meeting-House."
Since then, Monson was nearly forgotten, until 1998.
That’s when a development of 28 houses was proposed for a 36-acre landlocked portion of the original settlement. The Dickermans were determined to prevent it.
"It was Milford’s history," Russell said.
With neighbors Noreen and Tim O’Connell, they launched a Save Monson campaign after they were able to interest state historian Gary Hume, who decided Monson was one of the most important archaeological sites in New England.
Then they convinced someone from the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests to visit. The Forest Society was impressed and told them to begin fundraising.
"We had six months to come up with $300,000, and people came through," Russell said.
Individuals and civic and business groups donated money, the Dickermans gave 125 acres of their own adjacent land, 30 acres were donated anonymously and additional acreage was purchased.
Now Monson is under Forest Society stewardship, but Russell is there nearly every day to talk to visitors.
Monson used to be called a "hidden gem," but thanks to the Internet and books that describe it as a ghost village, there is almost a constant stream of people when the weather is good.
Russell estimates there were at least 300 people, and many dogs, here during the Milford Pumpkin Festival this year.