~ Rick Church There is a mysterious cluster of building foundations on the Guida family property in the far northwest corner of Nelson. The farm was once 240 acres and belonged to Timothy Russell Buxton who built the house at the end of Old Towne Road in about 1800. The three foundations are a twenty-minute walk on an old wood road from Buxton’s homestead. It is much more comfortable but no quicker in Al Guida’s ATV.
Since the expedition two weeks ago, Janet Yardley and I have returned to the site to see what more we could learn, and I’ve been digging into old records. The earliest map of Nelson with roads and buildings on it is the 1858 County Map. That map shows a steam sawmill in the general location and no roads leading there. There are no houses shown on the map, but there are two foundations that once supported houses. The maps of Nelson made in 1877 and 1892 show nothing in the area. Nor are there any shown on the USGS Topo maps of 1930 or 1942. Samuel Wadsworth drew a map with cellar old homesites on it for the History of Sullivan published in 1917. That shows a barn foundation in the general area, but not at the correct location. Charles L. Peirce’s 1952 map of Stoddard homesites repeats Wadsworth’s map details.
A pattern like this points to earlier habitation, but there is scant evidence in early nineteen century deeds to suggest who might have built these structures. In the last article Gordon Peery reported on our amateur archaeology, chiefly thanks to Bill Dunn and his expertise with a metal detector and his experience identifying any objects found. What Bill found seems to be relatively modern. There is no evidence to suggest the sites go back to the founding days of the town.
Many of the artifacts are difficult to identify. There are no coins with dates to help either. On our last trip Janet and I brought out the ”electrical junction box” Gordon wrote about. I consulted Harvey Tolman, Nelson’s expert in old electrical systems. He quickly dismissed the junction box explanation and the alternate hypothesis of an automotive light fixture. The object got passed around at a gathering on the Common last Saturday and it was thought to be a flask with a spout and places for fastening a strap. It does appear to have been a completely enclosed vessel. Rough measurements suggest it might have held 16 ounces. Maybe it contained something to keep a hunter warm on a long, cold November stand and has little to do with the purpose of the house there.
An expedition to the Cheshire County Registry of Deeds turned up a few more clues. The property was owned by Timothy Russell Buxton’s brother, John, from 1809-1816 and he could have built a house there. The absence of older artifacts suggest he did not. In 1816 the property was consolidated into Timothy’s 240-acre farm. In 1855 the new owner, Pembroke Fisher, sold a nine-acre piece of his farm along with the right to harvest timber on the rest of his farm to Royal Earle. Earle had other interesting rights. He had the right to build an aqueduct over Fisher’s land from Otter Brook to his steam-powered sawmill and the right of “coaling,” a process by which wood is turned into charcoal. Charcoal burns hotter and cleaner than wood and would have fueled the steam boiler at the mill. The nine-acre piece of land seems to have included what we’ve been calling the house and the barn, but not the third house foundation. That piece was sold to another man who seems to have been affiliated with the lumbering operations in 1858. In 1860, Royal Earle sold his holdings with the right to remove the buildings, and the mill operations ceased.
Next up: more metal detecting, the location of the start of the aqueduct on Otter Brook, and a “large stone with stones on top” that will enable us to precisely locate these two small lots that seem to be the location of our still mysterious buildings. Al Guida knows where to look for the site on Otter Brook and will guide us again.
One artifact I found looks to be a lead miniature bowl or tea cup with flower design on it. About an inch round.
Sometimes it takes the perspective of a child to figure things out. I was stumped at what the bowl was. I showed it to my 11-year -old son and he instantly said, “I know what this is, it’s a toy bowl.” I’ll be darned if he was not right!
Which strongly suggests that there were kids living on this site at one point.