Editors Note: This article was originally published in Common Threads, the print newsletter for Harrisville. The location of the story is now in Harrisville, but in a section that used to be part of Nelson, thus making it relevant to this website. Thank you Common Threads and author Jodi Farwell for letting us publish the story here.
In October of 2020, the house most lately known as The Seaver House was torn down. I’ll do my best to tell you a story of that house, but you’ll have to hear it in the style of Paul, last man to own it. Per his tradition, you won’t get any answer about why the house came down, or what will happen next. Answers must be earned by understanding how a thing matters in the grander scheme.
In the year 2000 my husband and I were young, and we looked at that house that was old and alone and thought we would go pretty well together. So we composed a letter and left it at the door of Paul Geddes’ East Side Road residence. In the seven years we lived at the Seaver house, after a thousand hours listening to Paul, I never heard the whole story of the house. When Paul was talking of who milled the house’s trim and at what mill, I was thinking that it mattered more to move the Christmas cards and correspondences out of the chicken coop so we could move chicks in. I didn’t know that I needed to know who Edgar Seaver traded a calf with to get the sink. I just wanted to hang the sink back on the wall and use it.
I marveled at the wavy glass settled in the windowpanes, the birch bark tacked over the seams between boards beneath the clapboards, the sheets of 1918 newspaper underlaying the flooring, the plaster mixed with horsehair over the hand-split lathe, the stenciling in the upper bedroom, the large iron kettle bricked in beside the chimney in the newer kitchen ell. If I inquired, I rarely reached any answer, because it first had to be established that the flooring was a concession to Bertha who returned from her life of teaching to care for their mother in her old age, and that led on to detailing the relations who had written so steadily to Bertha at the house, and so on.
It is not until now, with that house gone, that I realize: rightly so. It is a near miracle that the house ever stood until this day. In the collection of Seaver scrapbooks in the town archives, there is a picture of men working in the final stages of constructing a barn, the barn that stands today. It is labeled 1930 in thick black pen. Notes of an interview with Richard Upton state that he remembers the original barn being struck by lightning and burning very quickly. By what feat, and by how many desperately committed men, was the house, reached in a very few strides from that barn, spared the same fate? When we stripped the old shingles to give that house a new roof, we found the boards beneath deeply charred, as was the siding beneath the clapboards.
That house was lovely, even in its old age, and after suffering many an abuse. It has been much painted and photographed and sketched. And every gaze that fell and lingered on that house was hungry not for boards and dormer windows and porches and chimneys, but for a story. That house was one of our links to the very beginning of everything here: our roads, our walls, our fields, our whole ability to be prosperous. It wasn’t the first house that was built by the first settlers, but it knew them.
Back in 1751, the proprietors of the original lands in the province of New Hampshire held a meeting at Portsmouth and voted to grant land to men who could build good settlements for the future public. The land called Monadnock No. 6 was divided and deeded by drawing of lots to thirty-six men. By the conditions of the grant, each owner was to have within three years at least three acres of land cleared and fitted for mowing or tillage, and three acres cleared annually for the three years next following, and was to have, within the same time, a dwelling house built, and comfortably finished, and a family dwelling on the premises.
It was not until 1767, after much trading and selling and without much settling, and following some negotiation to extend the steep conditions for proving up, that the pioneers began in earnest. Dr. Nathaniel Breed arrived in that year with his wife Thankful Day and the first five of their seven children. The family lived first elsewhere in the future town, and then came to the place we are concerned with today: the land at the mouth of Breed Pond, which was Pleasant Pond before Breeds distinguished it, and is now Silver Lake.
In these times very few settlements had been made nearby, and the men and women here were starkly on their own. There were yet no grist mills. Some trekked as far as Peterborough and Wilton, or even to Northfield or Concord Massachusetts to mill or to buy grain, either on foot or on horseback, as all connecting routes were merely trails. It is said that families often lived almost wholly upon boiled rye when it was difficult to keep up the supply of powder and lead for hunting.
The houses of those days, including the Breed family’s original dwelling just south of where the eventual Seaver house stood, were called pole houses, usually with only one room and often no floor but packed earth. Some memory of hard living seems to linger over all that came after in the place by Breed Pond, despite the fact that the Seaver family came to town well-off and maintained the later-built Breed house in a fine state for some decades.
The lingering presence of those who were here before commands: Be reverent. Act with respect. This shows up in the story of Edgar Seaver and the red-haired girl who was a special friend until the day she suggested that he change a window over the sink to let in more light. Said Edgar, as legend has it, That window was good enough for my mother and my grandmother, and I guess you and I will never agree, and with that they parted company, and Edgar never did find a girl he could agree with.
In the absence of the house, and gone before it the garage, the imposing chicken coop, and the ice house which had to be envisioned from a pile of boards by our time, we are approaching exactly what the people before us had and held dear above all: a good place upon which to freely exert a good will.
When fighting broke out in 1775, the total number of men, women and children in the town was 173. The whole number of firearms fit for use was 23. On the 19th of April 1775, when British troops marched out of Boston and attacked at Lexington and Concord, the patriot alarm system functioned magnificently. Before noon the next day news reached Packersfield, and at sunrise the next morning 27 men assembled and hurried off to the action with their 23 useful arms. Dr. Nathaniel Breed left his 30 cleared acres with 10 more cut over and his double pole house and went off among that original twenty-seven. His three sons, the youngest of whom was 14, went with him on that day or in the months following.
There seems to be no way to settle exactly what year the house finally came to be, once the men returned from battles and began battling the trees again. There is agreement that the house at the outlet of Breed Pond, where he had a mill a few rods east of the house, was built for Nathaniel Breed Jr. by his son Paul Whitcomb Breed. According to the Nelson history it was built in the late 1700’s (when the builder was at most 7 years old). Harrisville’s Mary Meath, in her precise script upon papers in the archives, wrote, I’m settling on Paul Whitcomb Breed as the builder, probably prior to 1825 sometime. Various members of the Breed family farmed and milled and lived at this place until some point before the middle of the nineteenth century, when Breeds removed to New York State, and Seavers took over.
First William Seaver came to Nelson for his health as a young man, and settled on the west side of Breed Pond, on what the Charles Bemis papers describe as, one of the best farms in Nelson at that time. He kept his farm in a good state of cultivation, causing it to yield much more than was needed for home consumption. He was wont to make trips to Boston by team each year to dispose of his maple sugar and other farm products.
William Seaver’s son Wellington bought and settled in the Nathanial Breed house just nearby, perhaps around the time he married Sarah Jane Farwell in 1864. Wellington and Sarah Jane raised nine children in that home, and Seaver enterprises were all around, with the George Seaver mill at the outlet of Seaver Pond down the hill, while elsewhere sons Elwyn and Arthur operated the mill that sawed the boards for the cottages at Silver Lake (or be it “Sliver Pond”, as it was when Paul was in the mood to poke at the pond of many names that became a lake.)
Number eight of the nine children, Edgar Seaver witnessed ninety-eight years from that same house. It became his house, the house of a bachelor, but was by no means solitary at first. Sarah Jane lived out her ninety-two years there. Edgar’s sister Bertha and brother Elwyn also returned and stayed, each until death. The attic bedroom above the woodshed in the ell housed a succession of orphan boys, and the names of those boys live on, carved in the wood of the two horse stalls in the center of the barn, along with the names of two residents of those stalls, painted on their mangers.
Even in old age the house expected company, as evidenced by the paper scraps, once tacked to the door, and which we would come across here and there: Edgar G. Seaver is mowing in the brakes. Edgar G. Seaver is in the garden. Always with the G.
I’ve heard some of the tales. I’ve heard the one about being sent into the house to purchase eggs, and getting a glimpse of Edgar’s money hidden under piles of egg shells. This doesn’t exactly square with the deep piles of bank ledgers and stock certificates we found strewn in the tormented house when we entered it.
I’ve heard the farmers who refused the contract to mow and bale Edgar’s hay over his demand that every rock be cleaned around with a scythe. We witnessed his tally sheets nailed to the barn wall, where he stood and kept the count as each bale came or went, beneath the old hay grapple parked neatly forever at the end of its slide up in the peak.
All this, all the colorful stories, all the old buildings that pose for artists and dreamers and rememberers, are what we get when a man and his place choose to step out of the flow of time. It seems Edgar could not or would not find a one with the necessary reverence or respect for guiding everything onward, and so he gradually closed the place down. It fell to Paul upon Edgar’s death to stave off impulsive time as best he could.
That house was for many of us a lesson in loving that which you cannot have. It was a reminder of those who came before us, whose fortitude we have never had call to reach for. The house is gone, and the barn stands awkward without the necessary companion that held its people. Time is now folded back, revealing what came before the house could exist.
Those who know can still see the grade of the cart road running down across the hill of the cow pasture to the strewn stones of the old mill. The road enters the pasture right about at Edgar’s mother’s rose bush, that still sometimes blooms white despite its abuse by the widening road and the cows that I have long been warned to keep off it.
Every summer we bring the cows to grow on the land that Nathaniel and Thankful and the children made ready for them.
Celebration of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the First Settlement of Nelson, New Hampshire 1767-1917 (compiled by the Nelson Picnic Association 1917)
Charles A. Bemis Papers, Nelson Public Library
A History of Nelson New Hampshire 1767-1967, edited by Parks Hardy Struthers
National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form: Silver Lake Farm, Item number IP-25
Notes of interviews with Paul Geddes, Richard Upton, Wallace Whitney, in Harrisville Archives, Seaver Family/ Silver Lake Farm folder