- Jane Golden
Livermore A Town Lost in Time
There it sits, unseen save for few foundations and stone walls barely visible among the undergrowth. The once thriving community of Livermore, N.H., a fitting example of an era long past, of timber barons, and logging camps, of long winters and hazardous living. All that remains are a few reminders- the steel safe that lies on its side in the old basement where the post office once stood, the water main standards along the Sawyer River, the cement groundwork of the one room school once considered the most modern in the state - there and, of course, the memories of those who lived, worked, loved, and died in Livermore, a New Hampshire ghost town, which, like its Western counterpart, was left stranded when it was stripped of its timber, the lumber man’s gold.
The last two residents, caretakers of the Saunders Estate, Bill MacDonald and Joe Platt left in 1949. Now, Bob Shackford and his family enjoy their own part-time town in solitude. Last year, when the town of Lincoln attempted to take over Livermore, Bob suggested he might sell his 12 acres in100 foot lots for $100 The matter was dropped. Threat of not, Bob says he’ll only sell the land in one piece and then probably to the federal government. Bob’s camp uses the town water supply, but like the old homes in winter, lacks electricity and other luxuries we in the Valley have become so accustomed to. “Sometimes, before I go to sleep at night, I think back to those days,” said Harold Potter, “Yes, it was rough but I can’t help but think we were better off.” Irene agreed, “I think I’d like to try it again, just once more.”From the height of land in Livermore, as one feels the crisp, clean air mixed with the sweet smell of ripening apples and rushing sounds of the Sawyer, one senses another time, a moment of greatness overwhelmed by sadness. Harsh and beautiful Livermore, as Poe’s Raven suitably reminds us, is never, never more.
Situated six miles north of Bartlett, Livermore encompassed an area of 75,000 acres and bordered on Bartlett, Albany, Hart’s Location, Lincoln, and Waterville when it was taken over by Charles W. Saunders and his brother Daniel Saunders, Jr., a Harvard Law School graduate, who named the grant after his wife, Mary Jane Livermore Saunders, whose grandfather was one of the original settlers of Holderness. Astute businessmen in an age of timber kings, the brothers established the Grafton County Lumber Co. in 1874 and soon built the Livermore Mills and the Sawyer River Railroad. A true company town, Livermore grew up around the mill and all energies, personal, family, business, focused on the logging industry. Later, even after the Saunders sold off 45,000 acres to other loggers, the company’s timber output was enough to support a population of between 150 to 200, a workforce of 50-60 in the steam sawmill, and anywhere from 150 to 200 additional choppers in “Frenchville” or at any of seven logging camps that were built, burnt, and rebuilt tracing the route of loggers in the virgin woods.
Only brief spare ground and a break in the trees now suggests where the Main St. once ran connecting the town to Rte. 302 one miles and a half down the road. The center is vacant except for a camp built by Bob Shackford of Conway, Livermore’s sole private land holder and only man in New Hampshire to own his own town. “The town charter’s in Concord,” he said, explaining how the start revoked Livermore’s incorporation in 1951. “It would take 8 permanent residents and registered voters to get it back.”
Bob purchased the remaining 12 acres 15 years ago from CLinton Nash, the company lawyer and only heir of the Saunders family that left no direct descendants. Nash had already sold the rest of the acreage to the federal government for $240,000 (which he donated to various charities) or close to $9 an acre. An apparent eccentric, Nash hung on to the last bit of land, despite heavy pressure from the Forest Service, and continued to live in the massive 26 room Saunders mansion which by this time had fallen into such disrepair he was forced to spend summer in the basement of the four story structure. Approaching ninety and unable to make the trip north from his Brookline, Mass. home, Nash decided to sell. He turned down an offer for $10,000 from a Boston doctor in order to accept Bob Shackford’s bid of $2,800, because he wanted “to sell to a native”, Bob explained. Bob let the old home, with its three dining rooms, four bathrooms, solid oak and maple trim, stand for a few years, but time, and , more important, vandals, had taken their toll, and he was forced to take it down. “To keep it, you would have needed a full time caretaker, “ he added, “ and it just wasn’t practical.” Bob used remnants of the mansion-its doors, windows, and some bricks- in building his two bedroom camp that sits above the Sawyer River overlooking Livermore’s magnificent view of the Valley below.
In front of the camp still stand the stone walls that guarded the gardens of the spinster Saunders daughters. Across what was at one time a street are the remains of the post office, fire station, roundhouse, and company store. A number of wooden frame houses once lined the narrow, steeply graded Main St., recalls Irene Potter of Conway, who, like her aunts and uncles, was born in Livermore. Irene’s father, Frank Lane, was engineer, and her Uncle Jim, fireman, for the Sawyer River Railroad. Same as their own father, they worked for the Saunders Company. Irene moved as a child and later returned with her husband Harold Potter in 1921 to set up housekeeping in the same home she was born in.
The mill had burned down the previous year and a larger one had been built in its place. “You had to be tough to survive,” said Harold, describing the strenuous schedule of the loggers and their families. The mill operated only when the weather was warm. In the winter, the men worked in the woods, living in logging camps, such as camp #7, which was 6 ½ miles from the center of town. Electricity was generated at the mill and only in season, and the poorly insulated, lantern lit homes were kept warm by wood stoves and hot bricks. The only source of supplies within a reasonable distance was the poorly stocked company store that subtracted a workers’ bill from his paycheck, Harold told the story of how new workers would receive clothing and supplies and then, realizing how difficult the job was, woud desert before ever reaching the logging camps. At one time, the company hired Sidney White, who could neither read nor write, to pack a forty-five pistol to keep the new recruits from skipping on their bills. At one point, White shit a man, and Harold, who attended the trial in Ossipee, reports how the Levermore Co. and not Sidney was fined 43,000 for the offense.
A boarding house with its own swimming pool was located at the far end of town almost across the street from the church. Along the way, the Potters took in boarders, too. Foremost among them was Miss Annie Fahey, later Mrs. Annie Harris, a resident of Redstone, who once ran the one room schoolhouse and was Harold’s brother Howard’s first teacher. When the state threatened to close the existing Livermore school, Saunders, true to his word, swore he would build the finest in the state, The very modern building, which at one time house 20 children, featured, among other things, moving pictures.
The Potters moved in 1924, about the same time the mill started to lay off workers. It had survived the fire of 1920, but not the flood of 1927, and the mill closed permanently the following summer. Daniel Saunders Jr and his son, Charles G., had been dead close to a decade and his daughters lacked the drive and initiative to last in the highly competitive timber market. Although “clearcut and get out” was the logging practice of the day, there is evidence, and Harold Potter agrees, that the Saunders Co. was more conservative and that enough lumber existed to keep the operation intact for a few more years. There was some activity in the succeeding years, but as in any company-owned town, the community could enjoy a full life only as long as the sawmills were buzzing and whirling.
The government bought the property in 1936 and, as one of its first projects, built a road along where the railroad once ran. To prevent forest fires, they started ones of their own and , one by one, burned down all buildings in Livermore that were on government property.
The last two residents, caretakers of the Saunders Estate, Bill MacDonald and Joe Platt left in 1949. Now, Bob Shackford and his family enjoy their own part-time town in solitude. Last year, when the town of Lincoln attempted to take over Livermore, Bob suggested he might sell his 12 acres in100 foot lots for $100 The matter was dropped. Threat of not, Bob says he’ll only sell the land in one piece and then probably to the federal government.
Bob’s camp uses the town water supply, but like the old homes in winter, lacks electricity and other luxuries we in the Valley have become so accustomed to. “Sometimes, before I go to sleep at night, I think back to those days,” said Harold Potter, “Yes, it was rough but I can’t help but think we were better off.” Irene agreed, “I think I’d like to try it again, just once more.”
From the height of land in Livermore, as one feels the crisp, clean air mixed with the sweet smell of ripening apples and rushing sounds of the Sawyer, one senses another time, a moment of greatness overwhelmed by sadness. Harsh and beautiful Livermore, as Poe’s Raven suitably reminds us, is never, never more.