Merrimack home on National Register of Historic Places for sale

nyone who has ever dreamed of living in a simpler time but without giving up modern conveniences could realize that goal without even leaving Merrimack. The McClure-Hilton home at 16 Tinker Road, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been put on the market.

Dating to the mid-18th century, the Cape Cod-style home and barn are among the oldest buildings in Merrimack, and are unique in that they have remained at the same site with little structural change. The property has been owned by just two families in its more than 275-year history.

The barn is believed to be the older structure of the pair, possibly dating all the way back to the 1722 land grant. It was customary at the time for new landowners to erect a barn first for shelter, and live in it while the larger, more complex house was under construction.

The McClure family moved from Galloway, Scotland, to Ireland, where William was born around 1700. He immigrated to America and is significant as one of Merrimack’s oldest settlers.

Town history indicates that the area south of the Souhegan River was not developed until 1736, and that William McClure I purchased 120 acres of land in 1741 and built a house on Tinker Road. He first appears in the tax rolls in 1749, so the house certainly was built before then.

In any case, the property remained in the family for about 200 years before being sold to George Hilton in 1942.

Living history

“It was nice growing up in this house,” said Janice Amante, Hilton’s daughter, who still lives in Merrimack. “It was like growing up in a museum. When our class studied New Hampshire history, I knew a lot of the answers, not because I’m so brilliant, but because I grew up in an historic house.”

Amante described her childhood as that of a farm child. There were three large gardens, now grown over, and as so many families did in the 1960s, her family grew a lot of their own food.

“We didn’t have store-bought potatoes ’til we were 14,” she said. “We learned so much about how things were done without common conveniences.”

Her children also enjoyed the benefits of hearing old family stories and experiencing the features of the old house. She said both her daughters have done school reports on things like having to make your own nails before building a house in the 1700s.

In typical fashion, the house has a center chimney, with rooms clustered around the four interior fireplaces. Rows of wrought iron hooks are still visible in the ceilings, where lanterns would have been hung. The ceiling hooks would have also served as a place for drying herbs and vegetables.

The house and the barn are currently on opposite sides of the street, but that is the result of the rerouting of Tinker Road in recent years in an effort to minimize the twists and turns.

Level but creaky floors

Amante said the floors of the house all tell a story – compared to other nearby old homes, the ones in her house were not so crooked. She recalled a neighbor’s house where the floors were so crooked you could lose your sense of equilibrium, like being in a carnival fun house with mirrors that distort. The staircase to the second floor is very steep and narrow, and many boards throughout the house creak, so there was no chance of sneaking around.

According to Amante, the final McClure occupant, Frederick (1868-1942), chewed tobacco but was not known for his good aim when using the spittoon, which resulted in several badly stained and rotten floorboards. Her father tried to get authentic boards to use as replacements.

Amante’s childhood bedroom is what was referred to as the “borning and death” room. It had its own separate door to the outside, and is where doctors would have come for births and deaths.

Stenciling by Moses Eaton Jr.

One of the most valuable historic aspects of the house is the stenciling in the living room, attributed to Moses Eaton Jr., who along with his father, was well-known for his artistry.

As wallpaper became fashionable in England in the 1800s, stenciling became a way of producing the look of wallpaper without the expense.

Born in Hancock in 1796, Eaton Jr. is believed to have created the diamond-shaped pattern of flowers and leaves, with a single wedding basket between two windows. The stenciling was likely a gift for the 1783 wedding of William McClure III to Rebecca Danforth, or that of his son, William McClure IV, to Polly Danforth in 1813.

The stenciling had been covered over at some point, and Amante said her parents painstakingly removed several layers of paint to expose the original stenciling, which is in remarkable shape.

She also pointed out what an extravagance that must have been for the McClure family, because in addition to paying Eaton for his work, they would have had to house and feed him while he worked.

Present and future

Although the house now has town water and septic, Amante fondly remembers using the hand pump to get well water, and said the well still works. She also remembers how people would inquire if she had running water and electricity when they first found out how old her house was.

Amante’s father died some 25 years ago, and her mother, Beverly Hilton, remained in the house until her death last July. Amante and her siblings all have their own homes and children, and she said that at this point, everyone is either too old and the grandchildren are too young to want to take over the responsibility for the house.

“It’s kind of sad to let it go,” she reflected. “For my parents, this was their life and they took such good care of it. Now I hope we can find someone else who can appreciate and take care of it.”

For additional information and photographs, the real estate listing can be found at www.rickdedrick.com/properties.html.

Note: Historic information for this story was found in the listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The application utilized family notes, materials from the Merrimack Historical Society, and “Moses Eaton and the Art of Stenciling,” New Hampshire Profiles, January 1973, by Kenneth E. Jewett.

Editor’s note: If you know of a home you want featured in This Old Home, email Editor Erin Place at eplace@cabinet.com with your idea.