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Sunday, August 26, 2018

Great Finds at Potato Barn Antiques

Potato Barn Antiques is a favorite destination whenever we are in the north country. It is located at 960 Lancaster Rd., Northumberland, NH  03584. The business has a website link:
http://potatobarnantiques.com/

On our way to the Moose Festival in Colebrook, we stopped in. Kelly, the owner, was most happy to see us. It has been some time since our last visit. There is so much to see in the shop whether one is interested in old dresses and millinery creations, vintage dishes, vinyl records, ceramics, decorations for Christmas, old quilts and textiles, doilies, embroidered tablecloths, old books, or many other vintage and antique things, it is a fun place to check out.

Souvenir of NH pillow cover with deep yellow fringe 


I feel that I was very lucky. I found a number of items that just had to follow me home. First and foremost is a vintage, souvenir pillow cover that is made of 100% black spun rayon and was manufactured in Japan. It is dedicated to landmarks of New Hampshire, the Granite State. Featured are depictions of the Tram at Cannon Mountain, the Mt. Washington Cog Railway, The Flume at Franconia Notch, Mt. Monadnock, Lake Winnipesaukee, and Hampton Beach. In the center is an image of the Old Man of the Mountain (a White Mountains rock formation that has since fallen).

This pillow is very similar to several I collected and show in my book, Sweetheart & Mother Pillows.
One of those is dedicated to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor and the other two have poetry to "Grandmother," and to "Sweetheart," respectively.

Special Handkerchief

In addition, I came across a printed hanky that is marked the names of cities and important destinations in California. It lists Disney Land, Palm Springs, Catalina Island, Yosemite Park, Sequoia National Park, Angel Stadium, Knott's Berry Farm, Pomona County Fair, and other spots of interest. I was initially attracted by its condition (it has the original sticker still in place), and the colors (yellow, green, and orange on a white background). The floral border is charming! This is a very special handkerchief!

California hanky highlights the cities and attractions of the state
We found several old books that are of interest, as well as a special Christmas item that I will save until another time to show you.

Potholder "find" at Moose Festival 2018


I brought home another special textile that I collected at the Moose Festival. I could not resist the moose theme of this potholder which I will probably never use but rather, will keep as a keepsake to remember the good time we had at the festival this year! For more information about Potato Barn Antiques, check out their Facebook page!

Patricia Cummings
August 26, 2018

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Moose Festival 2018 Hosts Quilt Show

The annual Moose Festival held in Colebrook, NH, Canaan, VT and Pittsburgh, NH on August 24 and August 25 drew us to New Hampshire's north country again this year. The main attraction for us was the quilt show and live music. The main street of Colebrook was completely blocked off to traffic so that a street fair with vendors of all sorts could sell their wares from popcorn to crab cakes, moose tee-shirts, and "pet" owls made of patchwork and much more. After finding a place to park, we walked over to Trinity United Methodist Church where the quilts were on display.

Many of the quilts were draped over pews of the church


There were some fine entries this year! I enjoyed seeing all of the quilts! As we entered the display area, one quilt really caught my eye. It is a quilt composed of batik fabrics and doilies and has a ruffle that sports Battenburg lace.

Beautiful batik quilt with doilies and a ruffled edge with Battenburg lace


Two quilts both featuring animals are stunning. The first is a dachsund dog made in colorful patchwork. He looks mighty perky!

Patchwork dachsund


The other is an abstract quilt devoted to the theme of cats. I loved the print fabrics used.

For the cat-lovers among you


A small quilt that shows Alaskan women hanging out laundry on a breezy day is whimsical and looks familiar although I cannot place the designer. Update: one of our readers tells me that the quilt below was inspired by a Barbara Lavalle painting, www.barbaralavalle.com

Hanging laundry on a breezy day


At the front of the church is a medium size wall quilt that has a "Tree of Life" block as its center. The borders feature additional trees.

"Tree of Life" medallion quilt


Also at the front of the room was a group-made quilt that is lovely!

Group-made quilt. The outer border which is comprised of embroidered,
pieced blocks is not shown in this photo.


As we were viewing the quilts, in the adjacent room a woman was bringing in three additional vintage feedsack quilts. She laid them on a table. There were quite a few vintage and antique quilts in that room including an old yo-yo quilt that was a sight to behold as it was so large!

Three vintage feedsack quilts


After the show, it was time to head down to main street to enjoy the vendors and the year-round shops as well. We encountered a "moose" in the middle of the street.

Moose mascot on a hot summer's day in Colebrook, NH


I am not sure which "group" is in charge of the quilt show but they do a nice job every year! Hats off to north country quilters where the winters are cold and it is not unlikely to encounter a moose or a bear! As dusk approached, we listened to a fine concert by the Parker Hill Road Band right on main street!

Many thanks to photographer James Cummings for supplying the photos for this blog post!



Thursday, August 16, 2018

Knitted Scarf and Hat for Homeless Program

Knitted scarf with crocheted edge and a hat 


This is a photo of a knitted scarf and coordinating hat I made for a homeless child. The set will be distributed to a needy child by one of the Concord, NH school bus drivers. The senior center in Concord has a knitting program and I was provided with (donated) yarn and needles for working on this project.

I am not the world's greatest knitter but I am willing to improve my skills. I found some good information about how to sew the back seam together on the hat, and how to hide the ends of the knitting yarn, by using Google which provided video tutorials.

The small group of knitters meets once per month and anyone who is over 60 years old and is signed up with a (free) senior passport (computerized card) is welcome to attend. There is no fee for a passport if one is a resident of Concord but there is a fee of $50. dollars for non-residents. With winter approaching, we could benefit from more knitters knitting for the Coalition to End Homelessness. With the passport, one can participate in most all of the activities for seniors with the exception of special lectures or events that come with a charge. Events are held at the City Wide Community Center on the Heights.

Always Learning

With every project I make, I learn something new and such was the case with this one. I really enjoyed working with the variegated yarn (pink, cream, gray, and magenta) for the scarf. I am just amazed that I was able to finish making these two items inasmuch as I had not knit anything in years.

Pat studying in pink quilted sweater she made. Old photo from the 1960s


When I was a teenager, I learned basic knitting skills in 4-H. I made a sweater and then attempted a more complex sweater, Norwegian style, with lots of yarn color changes and it was a dismal failure. The yoke top I had knit too tight and it buckled when I tried to wear it. With that discouragement, I took up other crafts and never did make another sweater for myself, although I did make a cute cable knit sweater for my nephew who was a toddler at the time. That one even had buttonholes!

Camaraderie

In summary, it is just really fun to get together with folks who have the same interests and to meet new people. The senior program is just getting going in a new facility (the old Dame School which has been totally renovated). There is a nice, air-conditioned indoor track where walkers can walk three times per week. Four times around the gym is equal to 1/4 mile! In addition, there is the possibility of playing cribbage, bridge, ping pong and doing adult coloring; as well as going out to lunch as a group, participating in field trips, and/or attending the monthly senior luncheon.

There is a book club, fitness classes for seniors, and more! On October 1, 2018, I am scheduled to present a talk on Sweetheart & Mother Pillows, based on my book by the same name. It is fun and exciting to have the City Wide Community Center available via Concord Parks & Recreation. Thanks to Becky Bukowski for being the coordinator for senior activities! She can be reached at (603) 230-4982, M-W-F, 9-1.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Mystery Weaver Uncovered

By request, I am posting this article that was originally published in 2005 on my Quilter's Muse Publications website.

Master Researcher Donna-Belle Garvin Uncovers the Mystery Identity of a Prolific 19th Century New Hampshire Weaver

by Patricia L. Cummings


Hannah Leathers Wilson (1787-1869) and her unique woven “weft-loop” coverlets, in either all white, or blue and white colors, were the topic of a lecture given by Donna-Belle Garvin at NH Historical Society’s Tuck Library on Park Street in Concord in 2005. Since 1990, Garvin, the museum’s former curator and editress of the museum’s publication  Historical New Hampshire, has meticulously researched the life of Wilson and her work as a weaver for three decades in Farmington, NH, from early to mid-19th century.

A chance encounter at a laundromat between Garvin and a former Smithsonian employee and local antiques and rug dealer is responsible for her 15 year long quest to find out more about Wilson. The dealer had said that he thought that a coverlet he had in his possession was “important.” He stated that inasmuch as he was planning a move back to Washington, he was not sure what to do with certain items in his care including the coverlet. At the time he asked if the Historical Society might like his "candlewick" spread.

Time passed. Suddenly one day, the man called Garvin to ask if the coverlet could be picked up right away. He explained that the shop was having its final sale. He seemed eager to get the coverlet to a secure location. He explained that he did not want anything to happen to it.

Not needing a second invitation, Garvin rushed to the shop. The dealer had mentioned that the coverlet may have come from either New Hampshire or Maine. Optimistic, Garvin was hoping for a New Hampshire provenance. Otherwise, it would have had to be turned over to the Maine Historical Society.

True to all the other coverlets that have been located and which are attributed to Wilson, a name appears on the back. In this case, the name was “Rosamon Dame.” In addition, there is a date, and a number.

In searching genealogy records, Garvin found Rosamon listed as having been born in Newington, NH. Later, she moved to Farmington, NH. As the researcher points out, those two towns will keep reappearing throughout this coverlet investigation.

Rhoda Ann Leighton Coverlet Discovered in Collection

For the fun of it, Garvin decided to look through the NHHS files to see if any similar coverlets had been catalogued as part of the collection. She found that the NH Historical Society already owned one in blue and white, rather than just plain white. That had been donated in 1941 and had arrived with quite a provenance.

This blue and white coverlet has the name “Rhoda Ann Leighton,” the date, and a number. Further research revealed that Rhoda Ann grew up in West Farmington, and then lived in Milton, both Strafford County locations near the Maine border. In realizing the geographical proximity of these towns to Maine, Garvin could not help but remember the dealer’s remark that his coverlet had possibly come from Maine.

Mary C. Leighton Coverlet

Soon after, Ron Bourgeault, an auctioneer of antiques, offered for sale a blue and white Wilson coverlet dated 1841, and advertised it in a flier. Garvin discovered that this particular coverlet had belonged to Rhoda Ann’s third cousin who had lived next door to Rhoda Ann’s grandparents. A picture of community and familial relationships was beginning to emerge as more and more coverlets were located.

Due to lack of storage space at the time (before the new museum facility was built), and aware of not wanting near-duplicates to the collection, the NH Historical Society passed on bidding.

Quest to Locate More Coverlets

Since 1990, Garvin has sought (and found) additional examples of coverlets woven by Wilson. They have been located at the Smithsonian, the Museum of American Folk Art, the Shelburne Museum, Old Sturbridge Village, the Wadsworth Atheneum, and the Columbus (Ohio) Museum of Art. Recently, one was acquired by the American Textile History Museum.

Book Uncovers Three More Examples of Wilson’s Work

The book, America’s Quilts and Coverlets by Carleton L. Safford and Robert Bishop (New York: Weathervane Books, 1974) shows photos of three more Wilson coverlets which the author also refers to as “candlewick spreads.”

The first coverlet, pictured at the top of page 288, lists it as being inscribed with “Emily Edson Jones No. 1,” and owned by the Henry Ford Museum. This was, indeed, the first coverlet that Wilson had made. Tragically, as Garvin learned upon inquiry, it was lost in a storage room fire at the museum. Only a small remnant remains. The description states that it was composed of “indigo roving and a white warp and weft” and measured 105" x 97".

A second coverlet shown is held in the collection of  the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, CT. That particular coverlet has a more complete woven inscription: “L.N. Whitehouse no. 177 1839 H.W. Aged 72”. (The number “72” will become an important key to tracking down the coverlet maker).

The name “Whitehouse” immediately rang a bell with Garvin. She was quickly able to confirm that the initial “L.” in the Bishop book caption is a shortened version of the name “Liberty,” who was the wife of George Leighton Whitehouse, a 19th century instrument maker in Farmington, NH.

Additionally, Bishop’s caption transposed the date incorrectly.  In truth, the coverlet was finished in 1859, not 1839. This incorrect date will also become a critical piece of the puzzle.

A third coverlet pictured in the same book is privately owned. This time, “Liberty” is written out in the inscription, “Liberty N. Whitehouse no. 47 1833.”

In his book, Bishop wonders whether the name “Whitehouse” is placed on both of these coverlets because 1) she is the weaver or else, 2) an “innkeeper who liked his spreads numbered and dated.” The correct answer, of course, is “neither.” Baffled, he exclaimed that it would be interesting to know “the true facts.”

White Coverlet Remembered

Garvin began to remember another all-white “candlewick spread” which had been the topic of an earlier contact between an antiques dealer in South Berwick, Maine and the NHHS. This coverlet was reported to have been made by Mary Ham of Middleton, NH in 1856. Since the only “Mary Ham” found would have been only three years old at the time this piece was created, the idea of purchasing it from the dealer was dismissed.

Third Wilson Coverlet Added to NHHS Collection

About a year later, a coverlet made for Abigail Hayes who had lived in Milton and in Farmington during her lifetime was found at a church rummage sale in Sanbornton and was brought in to the New Hampshire Historical Society. Abigail was found to have been the sister-in-law of Rosamon Dame (who had married a Hayes). She was also a neighbor of Liberty Whitehouse. The clues to a tight, interconnected network of people who were related to Wilson or somehow knew her were beginning to add up. Now, the museum owned a third example of this weaver’s work.

Provenance Information Woven on Back of Coverlet

The backs of each of Wilson’s coverlets carry the name of the person for whom it was made, her own initials, H.W., a date, and a number, or at least some of those pieces of data. All of the coverlets were numbered sequentially.  At first, it was thought that the weaver was a man. Following all clues, like a true sleuth, Garvin keyed into the number “72” that is part of the inscription on one of the coverlets. She knew that she would have to start looking through census records for someone who was 72 in 1839 and who had the right initials of H.W. That Bishop’s date of 1839 be amended to the correct one of 1859 became an integral part of the search.

All Wilson Coverlets Have Common Traits

The common factor, or “signature trait” for all of these coverlets is the “weft-loop” construction that is so unique to them. Several dealers who have examined the coverlets  deemed them to be “candlewick spreads.” In this case, that terminology is actually a misnomer.

Candlewick work is a very specific type of embroidery in which heavy cotton yarn, similar to that used to make wicks for candles, is used to make Colonial Knots, or “tufts” which sit on the surface of the bedcovering. Wilson’s coverlets were definitely not of this type of construction. Hers were completely woven on a loom, and had a double weft. The second weft was pulled up to form a raised surface. The double weft feature is repeated throughout the 22 known examples of her work.

Toward an Understanding of Terminology

We have been speaking of Wilson’s weavings as “coverlets.” The word coverlet comes from Middle English and is an Anglo-Norman French derivative according to The New Oxford American Dictionary. The word simply means “something to cover a bed.”

Today, while we think of coverlets as being woven, usually with 100% cotton yarns, or with a cotton/wool yarn combination, quilters also refer to pieced or wholecloth, cotton bedcoverings as “coverlets.” In some areas of the country, such as Pennsylvania, the same (usually un-quilted) bedcoverings would be called “summer spreads.”

Wilson was engaged in making Bolton style coverlets, popular in England at the time. No one is completely sure where Wilson would have learned how to weave this kind of a coverlet. Abroad, they were known as counterpanes.

The 17th century word “counterpane” is a noun meaning “bedspread”. Garvin states that she has found an early 19th century source which describes a counterpane as a coverlet with decorative protuberances.

In use, we see the term “counterpane” used to describe bedcoverings made of 100% cotton fabrics, too, such as the counterpanes made by Martha Washington in the last quarter, 18th century, which have one or more layers of cloth.

Often, the term “coverlid” shows up in old inventories. Whether we are using the word “coverlet,” “summer spread,” “bedspread,” “counterpane,” or “coverlid,” we are thinking of a bedcovering. The terminology just changes with the geographic location, materials used in production and century being discussed.

How Did Wilson Happen to Be a Weaver by Profession?

Speculation has it that Hannah Wilson may have begun her career as a weaver in order to support her son, born out of wedlock. She is listed on her death certificate as a “spinstress,” meaning someone who had worked with fabric.

More to Discover

The breakthrough in researching this topic seems to have come when it was realized that there was probably only one coverlet maker who was making all of these similar coverlets and numbering them consecutively and in a consistent manner, not an easy conclusion to arrive at inasmuch as each of the coverlets showing up in different locations lacked extensive information and they were spread all over the country and in various museum collections.

Mystery Identity

Who was Hannah Wilson that no birth records could be found, nor any siblings or even parents? One of the most intriguing parts of this story is the mystery of Wilson’s identity. Hannah’s parents seemed to have disappeared until….the truth was revealed! Through probate records, Garvin verified that a Mary Wilson was Hannah’s sister.

By accident, Garvin stumbled upon a November 1825 newspaper announcement which stated that “Hannah Leathers” had won $3. for “Best Counterpane” at the Strafford County cattle show. Again, the name “Leathers” was a familiar one to the researcher because her husband had known of the “tumble down shacks” where this group of people lived near a lake in Barrington, NH. Locally, the area was called “Leathers City.”

Here, yet another ah-ha! Experience had led Garvin to conclude that Hannah Wilson had been born “Hannah Leathers.” Over time, the “Leathers” name had became synonymous with a nomadic tribe of basket makers who would travel door to door, gypsy style, to sell their wares. Some members of the clan would also engage in illegal activities like stealing.

After a while, members of the family began to want to change their surname for the purpose of disassociating themselves from the criminal element of the family so that they could appear more respectable. Hannah Leathers Wilson was one of them! In changing her name, she broke any association with the rowdy family crowd.

Outstanding Work by a Master Weaver

As you can see, Hannah Wilson was a master of the art of weaving. Her beautiful, woven coverlets are so visually compelling! In her lifetime of 82 years, she created 177 coverlets in all. Like most women of that time, her activities would have fallen below the level of scrutiny of the community. Had she not signed her work, with each and every inscription, we would probably still know nothing of her life.

While this is a lengthy account, there is more that could have been said. We are indebted to Donna-Belle Garvin for her generous sharing of lecture notes used in the preparation of this report and for bringing this intriguing story to the attention of the public. Her research into the life of Hannah Wilson formed the basis for a journal abstract that she wrote entitled, “The Warp and Weft of a Lifetime: The Discovery of a New Hampshire Weaver and Her Work.” This piece of scholarly writing appears in The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife Annual Proceedings 1997: Textiles in Early New England: Design, Production, and Consumption, published by Boston University, (p. 29-47).

With just 21 coverlets located so far, we know that there are more to find!
If you happen to find one of the other 156 coverlets, please report this new sighting to Donna-Belle Garvin! We will all be most eager to hear from you!

P.S. Since first publication of this article, additional coverlets have had their provenance linked to Hannah Leathers Wilson. For additional updates, see the file:  http://quiltsandmusings.blogspot.com/2016/09/nh-coverlet-maker-to-be-honored.html

Patricia Cummings
August 12, 2018

Friday, August 10, 2018

Billings Farm & Museum Quilt Show - a Review

The quilts entered into the 2018 quilt exhibition at Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, Vermont are outstanding this year! The quilts will be on display until September 16, 2018. We were invited to preview the quilts when the show opened on July 27, 2018 but due to car trouble we missed the gala event this year. However, in going to the museum during the day we were able to buy some delicious cheese made from the farm's very own cows, and we could view the rest of the features that the farm has to offer such as the cows, goats, sheep, horses, special heirloom garden, 1890 farmhouse, and view a 30 minute film, "A Place in the Land." We also had some delicious ice cream at their dairy bar!

"4 Patch Posie" by Charlotte Croft


I always look for quilts made by my friend, Charlotte Croft. This year she made "4 Patch Posie," a tied comfort quilt that will be given to someone who loses their home to a fire or is facing a serious illness. Charlotte engages herself in making many quilts for charity.

Award-winning "100 Days" by Lynne Croswell


The Juror's Choice Award this year went to Lynne Croswell for her dynamic quilt which she calls "100 Days." It is a quilt that one can stand in front of for a very long time discovering all the intricacies of her piecing. She also uses a very unique color combination.

"Doodle Dandy" by Norma Ippolito


"Doodle Dandy" by Norma Ippolito features applique, machine embroidery and machine quilting. It caught our eye immediately. It is one of those quilts where one marvels at the workmanship and wonders just "how she did it." The tape on the border edging is very attractive and the special little motifs like butterflies and feathers are charming!

"Gram's Dresden Plate" by Judy Barwood


On a larger scale, Judy Barwood used 1930s reproduction fabrics to create a wonderful quilt that she has named "Gram's Dresden Plate." The bed-size quilt is hand-quilted. I love her choice of sashing and border fabric which seems to pull the whole quilt together. Many of the fabrics are based on nursery rhymes.

"Almost Midnight at the Oasis" by Linda Ramrath


Last, but not least, is "Almost Midnight at the Oasis" by Linda Ramrath. She found a good way to use a lot of her scrap fabrics and to good advantage! This beautiful quilt won two ribbons, as you can see. We concur that they are richly deserved!

There are many more quilts in the exhibit. These are just a few photos to whet your appetite with the hope that you will attend the show in person if at all possible. The quilters of Windsor County certainly keep busy making quilts for this annual show. This is the 32nd year the event is being held. In addition, small challenge quilts were made by the Delectable Mountain Quilters' Guild.

A trip to the Billings Farm & Museum is always rewarding and they hold events in every season! It is a popular destination for school groups. Memberships are available. I once wrote a very detailed article about the history of the farm for The Quilter magazine. Last time I checked, it was still posted to their website:  www.billingsfarm.org  For more information, call 802-457-2355 or visit the museum at 69 Old River Road, Woodstock, VT.

Patricia Cummings
August 10, 2018


Thursday, August 9, 2018

Butterflies: Symbols of Hope

Butterflies are symbols of hope. That is the reason we see so many quilts with butterfly motives that were made during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Butterflies continue to be popular on quilts  today. This file will show a few examples.

     Poem #1521

The butterfly upon the Sky,
That doesn't know its Name
  And hasn't any tax to pay
   And hasn't any Home

Is just as high as you and I,
  And higher, I believe.
So soar away and never sigh
And that's the way to grieve-

Emily Dickinson

               ###

Miniature quilt with Batik Butterflies made by Patricia Cummings


The butterfly is a happy sight and one which uplifts the human soul. The number of "butterfly" quilts I have seen, both in person and in books, is absolutely astounding. Most of these quilts date from the Great Depression, a period of economic downturn that began with the crash of the stock market in 1929, leading to tough times in the 1930s and best summed up by the folk song, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" Unemployed people scrambled to find jobs, some of them make-work projects sponsored by the New Deal's Works in Progress Administration (the W.P.A.).

"Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without" became the slogan of the decade, as women, for the sake of economy, removed shirt collars, turned them, and sewed them on again, with the good side "up" to make the shirts last a little longer. At the same time, they patched children's clothes and often constructed new coats for younger children by cutting out good fabric from older siblings' outerwear, as my grandmother did.

"Butterflies of Happiness" is an appliqued summer coverlet I found to purchase in Vermont


Applique Butterflies

Quilting must have been a welcome respite in the everyday lives of women. Those who had access to a lot of different cotton scraps, or fabrics they picked up from the floors of mills where they worked, would piece or applique quilts. Several companies are responsible for the pieced butterfly designs of the times. Home Arts Magazine published a pieced butterfly pattern in 1928. The Kansas City Star published the design, "Butterfly" in 1936, according to Barbara Brackman's Blockbase software program.

Admittedly, some of the applique butterfly quilts I have seen are very crudely done as if the quilt maker were just doing something to keep her hands busy but her thoughts were preoccupied. Often the butterflies are attached to a background cloth with buttonhole stitch in black embroidery floss. Frequently the edges were left raw and were not turned under, protected only by the embroidery stitches around them.

Sometimes old blankets were used for the interior of quilts, instead of commercially-produced batting. Other times, there is no filler at all. The edges are turned over a couple of times and then stitched down by machine. At times, there is only a separate cotton backing that may or may not be secured with knotted "ties."

Carol Milford's Butterfly Quilt based on a Quilter's Muse pattern


One of the readers of my former website, Carol Milford, created a quilt (shown above) from a pattern I had offered for sale. She added some smaller butterflies. We love the colors she chose!

A pair of Monarch butterflies cavort among the Chrysanthemums
photo by James Cummings


Butterfly as a Symbol

The butterfly is often used to symbolize the human soul. Sometimes, don't we all wish we could just take flight and remove ourselves far away from our earthly woes?

Patricia Cummings
August 9, 2018


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Our Historic West Concord, NH Home

If one is familiar with my writings (articles, books and blogs), then one realizes that I love history. That includes the historic home in which I live!

A few changes have been made to our house, pictured in a history book. It no longer has shutters, the Elm trees have since been taken down, as has the fence to the north of the house. It is no longer gray in color.


In 1821 Abel J. Baker, Jr., a mill owner and timber reeves, built his Federal style house in West Concord, NH. It is a 2 1/2 story dwelling that sits on 3/4 acre of land, with land on either side of the house and in the back (including part of an old mill stream that used to provide power to the textile mill that sat on the adjacent lot to the north of the property). The land in back of the house extends all the way to the Merrimack River and is heavily wooded. Thus, we see a lot of wildlife in the yard such as wild turkeys, deer, mink, beavers, opossums, raccoons and other species.

Frontal view. The house has an extended back ell. A side porch was added at a later date.
 Date of this photo unknown.


Abel Baker's grandfather, Samuel Baker, operated a grist mill and a saw mill in the Boroughs section of the city. Abel Baker, moved to Concord from Henniker, NH when his son Nathaniel was still a toddler. Nathaniel had a fine education, attending Dartmouth College and graduating from Harvard in 1839 and then "reading" law under Pierce and Fowler. Franklin Pierce became our 14th president (1853-1857). He also studied with Charles H. Peaslee, finishing in 1842. Baker served as governor of the state of New Hampshire from 1854 to 1855 and then moved to Iowa. He worked as an attorney there, also serving in the legislature, and was named Adjutant General for the Union cause during the American Civil War. Nathaniel Baker died in Des Moines on September 12, 1876.

Abel Baker lived in the North State Street home until about 1835 when he sold it to Benjamin Holden. B.F. Holden was a successful mill owner. In a letter written by descendant Henry Holden on March 1, 1930 from Napa, California, it is stated that he believes that all of B.F. Holden's children were born in the house.

Side view of our house, taken in 2017. Photo by James Cummings


In 1920, Albert Johnson bought the home and started a business called "Fairview Gardens" from which he sold flowers to the local church and residents. He raised Peonies, Tulips, Iris and many other flowers, some of which still bloom in our yard. Agnes Johnson could be seen working with her husband in the outdoor gardens for more than 50 years, according to the book, Village of West Concord, New Hampshire:  1726-1976. In addition, Mrs. Johnson raised African Violets under grow lights in the room that is now our bedroom and she sold them to folks from near and far. Reportedly, she once had more than 1,000 plants. Albert Johnson died in 1975 at the age of 98. Apparently, gardening agreed with him. He was active until the time of his death.

The old mill that once stood on the lot adjacent to our property


Today, James Cummings carries on the gardening tradition outside with a large vegetable garden, many flowers, a raspberry patch, blackberries, and flowering bushes. With any old house, there is always some interior project to attend. Indoors, I have African Violets, as well, but more like five plants, not 1,000! We have a very happy time imagining what life was like here when the old mill next door was still in place. It dyed wool blue. The wool was used to make uniforms for Civil War soldiers. One time Jim found a rock in the old mill stream that still carries indigo dye on its surface:  a little piece of history! If only walls could talk, these walls would have a rich story to tell!

Patricia Cummings
August 7, 2018