The Pennsylvania Settlement

Nelson’s art colony, the Pennsylvania Settlement, was the third type of colony, one where artists and scholars came and purchased property, either living in Nelson for several months a year or becoming permanent residents.

The settlement was located in the southwestern part of the Town of Nelson and consisted of at least seven families who bought property and lived here for some or all of each year from 1891 forward. Descendants of colonists John Duncan Spaeth and Marie Spaeth and of Thomas Montgomery Lightfoot live in Nelson to this day. The Settlement differed from most other colonies because scholars as well as artists were active participants in its life. In fact, it was a scholar, Olivia Rod­ham, who was the magnet who drew to her a group of people who shared her love of knowledge and were themselves accomplished scholars and exceptional artists. They formed the Pennsylvania Settlement.

In A Tribute to the Artist, Marie Haughton Spaeth, 1870-1937, written in 1992-1993, Marie Spaeth’s grand­daughter Johanne de Martelly describes this colony: “Pennsylvania Colony Settlement, in Nelson, Roxbury, Chesham, New Hampshire, artists, writers, actors, friends with connections beginning in the Pennsylvania, Philadelphia area, came to old farms at the turn of the century.”[7] De Martelly notes that this colony of friends became a close network of professional artists and scholars who not only interacted with others with­in their immediate area but were actively connected with the other colonies, notably those of Cornish and Dublin.

From those colonies, frequent visitors to Olivia Rodham’s home included poet and playwright Witter Bynner, New Hampshire muralist Barry Faulkner, and Homer Saint-Gaudens, son of Augustus Saint-Gaud­ens, who was married to Carlotta Dolley, the daughter of Pennsylvania Settlement colonist Charles Dolley.[8]

A 1904 map of the area showing the parcels of land owned by the colonists, as well as the extensive area they encompassed, attests to the settlement’s significance. The map was prepared by Samuel Wadsworth, a well-known Keene jeweler, surveyor, and local historian. In 1927 he was elected the first president of the newly formed Cheshire County Historical Society, which remains the only county historical society in New Hampshire. A collection of his surveys is stored and available for research at the Cheshire County Registry of Deeds in Keene.

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