AMC Outdoors, October 2008
Cellar holes and pottery shards hint at once-thriving communities
By Fred Durso, Jr.
The roar of the Sawyer River nearly drowns out Karl Roenke’s
voice. While he walks along the water’s bank, the morning sun peeks through the birch and spruce trees and casts light on a world that has lain dormant for decades.
The waterway seems to be the only constant in the area; once occupied by nearly 200 people, the land is now heavily wooded. It’s hard to believe that people—not just trees—once dominated this area. Yet Roenke knows a closer look will reveal pieces of the past. He takes a few more steps—and disappears into the brush.
“We walk on this land now and the regrowth is just phenomenal,” says Roenke, a heritage resource program leader for the White Mountain National Forest
, speaking above the river’s gush. “People don’t know the vibrant history of it all.”
Roenke notices a gleam in the mud and points out a white ceramic piece. A few feet away near a fallen trunk, he discovers a black, glasslike shard that fits in the palm of his hand. “It was probably part of a vase or whiskey bottle,” he deduces before placing it back on the ground.
The most easily discerned sign of life is a few yards in front of him. The 61-year-old leads the way to a nearby clearing, site of a building foundation where a grocery store once stood. A black cast-iron safe sits within the foundation’s perimeter, another artifact that tells a story of life here long ago.
Time has concealed many signs of human activity. Situated in the south end of New Hampshire’s Crawford Notch (directly off of Route 302), the mill town of
was shaped by the surrounding timber industry—its lifeblood—and the former Sawyer River Railroad.
The town was officially dissolved in 1951
, and Mother Nature has since moved in.
But it’s hard to forget or ignore the past. While towns like Livermore have gradually died, Roenke and likeminded individuals with a passion for such hidden, historicalgems believe their stories are worth resurrecting.
These advocates are discussing how to highlight historical sites in the White Mountains of New Hampshire such as Livermore and Thornton Gore, a former farming community. Though in its infancy, their “interpretive plan” could lead to the installation of informative signs at the sites. In the meantime, curious hikers can take their own trips through time, once they know where to look.
“All of these abandoned towns have a tremendous story to tell,” Roenke says. “Livermore is one of the better ones.”
Driving onto Sawyer River Road from Route 302, Rick Russack
is surrounded by lands that have become, in his words, his obsession. The 68-year-old curator of the Upper Pemigewasset Historical Society has researched and gathered more than 8,000 photos of about eight former towns in the Granite State. He eagerly approaches the path leading to Livermore, about 2 miles up Sawyer River Road on the left.
“These places talk to me,” says Russack
as he walks past the former grocery store foundation on his way to the Sawyer River. “If we don’t tell their story, it’s gone.”
Next to the river are two slender concrete beams 6 feet high. Skinny copper tubing—once enclosed within the concrete—is now partially exposed. The dilapidated structures once served as a water piping system for the town. Russack accesses Livermore’s other life source—its
—by making a right into the brush. Hidden within the dense forest is the mill’s foundation, 150 feet by 30 feet. Scattered bricks covered in moss and shrubbery fill the center. “Brick says powerhouse,” Russack explains, also noting that the mill housed steam engines. The mill was the last of three within the town; previous mills burned in 1876 and 1920 and were rebuilt.
Logging was the predominant activity when Livermore was incorporated in the late 1800s, and its railroad spurred new life into the region. Lumbermen, who used waterways to transport logs from forests to mills, saw the potential of the new transportation system. But they had one hurdle—land ownership. Much of the North Country and White Mountains region was state land.
According to C. Francis Belcher’s book, Logging Railroads of the White Mountains
, New Hampshire Gov. Walter Harriman passed a law in 1867 that “sold and disposed of public lands” for practically nothing. The powerful Saunders family incorporated the
Grafton County Lumber Co
. and in 1877 began construction of the 8-mile
Sawyer River Railroad
, one of the smaller routes of the time since it stretched only from the Sawyer River Valley above Bartlett to the south end of Crawford Notch.
Livermore became the Saunders’
part-time home; the family owned 30,000 of the town’s 75,000 acres, as well as a lavish, 26-room mansion.
The town’s population increased over the years (census records report 160 residents in 1890), but the Saunders kept close tab on its occupants; their family’s permission was needed before any individual could reside there.
Today, the area shows few signs of the 2 1/2 story houses with porches that lined the river. Yet
can tell where land was altered. Following the river downstream, he notices non-native flora. “The lilac bushes would say to me, ‘This was a cultivated area,’” he says. Birch trees, found near the mill site, also offer clues of habitation, since they grow in disturbed areas.
An icehouse, engine house, blacksmith shop, grocery store, boarding house, school, and large barn dotted the area. (The school’s foundation is still present a mile past Livermore’s main site on the right side of Sawyer River Road.)
Some of the mill workers lived on the opposite side of the river in the area dubbed
“Very little is known about Little Canada,” says
Peter Crane, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on Livermore
and is director of programs for the Mount Washington Observatory. “There are no company records that have been uncovered. The earliest mill workers, loggers, etc., were from the Northeast and New Hampshire. As the decades went on, more came from Canada and overseas and changed the demographics of Northern New England.”
Though Livermore’s inhabitants lacked the amenities of city life, they made the most of their surroundings. “Times were tough,” says
, who interviewed nearly 15 former residents for his dissertation, completed in 1993. “It was a hard life. They were in a very remote area, had very limited medical care, and had many discomforts. But many looked fondly back on growing up in the area, their families, and being close to nature.”
According to a 1982 article in The Reporter
, a now-defunct newspaper based in North Conway, N.H., some workers weren’t comfortable with the hard labor of the logging camps and sawmill. Unable to tolerate the homesickness and physical exertion, they fled—that is, until the company hired a man named
to keep the recruits from escaping. During one incident, White shot an escapee in the leg, which resulted in a court case and a $3,000 fine to the lumber company.
Other residents recounted rosier experiences. James F. Morrow
a 1969 Yankee Magazine article
“sliding in the moonlight down the hill on Main Street without worrying about the traffic, the big thrill of riding with my mother on the cow-catcher of ‘Peggy,’ the old locomotive of the line, into the woods to visit my father.”
Some local people explored the surrounding area through AMC-sponsored trips, including one to
documented in an 1879 Appalachia article
. Using the already established railroad line, passengers would ride in flat cars with wooden benches during these excursions.
However, the railroad was predominantly used to boost the lumber company’s bottom line. The Saunders carefully husbanded their timber resources: Though clearcutting was a common practice of the day, Livermore’s operation used
“Striking down trees of a certain size was more conservative,”
explains. “It helped prevent forest fires because not a lot of slash was left behind, and it helped retain water better than areas that have been wiped clean.
represented the new age that was dawning—some greater sensitivity to the environment and looking toward sustainable yields, which is similar to the [USFS] forest management philosophy.”
The mill was a prosperous operation. (Belcher notes that loggers were able to cut over the area three times.)
But a series of devastating events sealed the town’s fate. After a 1920 fire
that burned the mill (which was later rebuilt), a
heavy flood in 1927
damaged parts of the railroad bed and bridges. “Looking at census records, Livermore was well on the decline by the time the flood hit,”
The mill officially closed in 1928
. Many of the dwellings were sold for salvage, destroyed, or left to rot.
The mansion burned down in 1965
. The land, part of the White Mountain National Forest, is now under USFS control and uses include timber harvesting, recreation, and wildlife and watershed management. Only one private residence remains.
, Livermore’s history lies not only in personal accounts and crucial dates, but also in the landscape itself. “You can read a book about Livermore, but to get out here and step on the spot, it’s a different experience,” he says. “Each time you visit, you see something you didn’t see before.”
AMC Outdoors, October 2008
White Mountain History.Org
has a nice collection of photos you might find
interesting. Rick Russack
has done substantial research on Livermore
and other abandoned towns. There is also information about the Logging
town of Carrigain
, which was located just a few miles down hill from
Snowrolling in Livermore 1921
Here's a rough looking bunch at Logging Camp #2, all seem to be wearing
their toughest faces on this day. Note the guy at right with puppy and
guy in back row left with a pet chipmunk. Do YOU know any of these
men? We would love to hear from you!
GENEALOGY OF LIVERMORE, GRAFTON COUNTY, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Information located at www . nh . searchroots. com
On a web site about GENEALOGY AND HISTORY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
and its counties
TRANSCRIBED BY JANICE BROWN
The original source of this information is in the public domain,
however use of this text file, other than for personal use, is
restricted without written permission from the transcriber
(who has edited, compiled and added new copyrighted text to same).
SOURCE: Gazeteer of Grafton County NH, 1709-1886, compiled and published by
Hamilton Child; Syracuse NY, The Syracuse Journal Company, Printers and
Binders, June 1886
LIVERMORE is a large wilderness township located in the northeastern part of
the county, in lat. 44 degrees 5 minutes, and long 71 degrees 30' bounded
north by Bethlehem and a part of the county line, east by the county line,
south by Waterville, and west by Thornton, Lincoln and Franconia. It was
incorporated in 1876.
The surface of the township is rough, wild and picturesque, many of its
solitudes even apprroaching the sublime. Among its mountain valleys spring
the headwaters of the East and Hancock branches of the Pemigewasset river,
flowing a westerly course through the township, Mad river, flowing south,
and Sawyer river, flowing east. Upon this latter stream is located the
lumber mills of the
Saunders Brothers, of Massachusetts, the only industry
carried on in the township, and who own the larger part of the territory.
At present Livermore's only value is derived from its forests, the land being
uncleared, and even if it was would doubtless prove too rough for purposes
DESCRIPTION OF LIVERMORE NH
In 1880 Livermore had a population of 153 souls. In 1885 the town had one
school district and one common school. Its school-house was valued, including
furniture, etc. at $151.00. There were twenty-eight children attending
school, taught during the year by two female teachers, at an average monthly
salary of $26.00. The entire amount raised for school purposes during the
year was $145.12, while the expenditures were $130.00, with W. G. Hull and
O.P. Gilman, committee.
Livermore (p.o.) is the name given the little village clustered about the
lumber mills on the Sawyer river. In 1877 a track was laid from about four
miles beyond this point to the Portland & Ogdensburg road,
for the purpose of
transporting lumber and timber. It is known as the Sawyer River railroad.
village has about twenty dwellings. William G. Hull
is the postmaster and
manager of the company store.
THE GRAFTON LUMBER CO.--The first mill was built by the Saunders Brothers in
, and was destroyed by fire the same year. In 1877 they put up the
present structure, which is operated by a 150 horse power engine, for which
steam is generated in five boilers. It cuts from 3,000,000 to 11,000,000 feet
of lumber per annum. C.W. Saunders is the company's agent here.
Website Editors Note:
I have endeavored to
collect as much information as is available about Livermore, NH. To
that end, I believe this section to be the most complete collection of
material about Livermore to be found on the internet all in one place.
Some of the information is provided by links to other websites and in all
cases I have provided Source data for the information. Some items that
have been "copied and pasted" from other websites were done in that method
only because I have found often times the original material either gets
moved or deleted and links to the information "go bad" overtime. If I have
"stepped on any toes" that was not my intention.
If you have any information you would like to contribute
please contact me.
Click on pictures for a full sized version.
If you know anything about these items we
would like to hear from YOU !
Bob Girouard sent us a great article from a 1969 issue of Yankee Magazine.
You can read it on the next page.
Go There Now
Livermore Postcard dated 1920 and mailed from Livermore.
Saunders vs Publishers Paper Co. September 1913 The Federal Reporter