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  • Karen Cummings

Founding Ties in Eaton

I got to interview this family after they erected a monument to their ancestor who had settled in Eaton 200 years before. Hence, the subtitle of the article, "Family has a 200-Year Past," which was a delight to write. I still have the afghan, which was crocheted by Granny Noon, and given to me after I conducted the interviews. Many of those quoted and mentioned in the story are no long with us, but family members still reside in the homestead. --Karen Cummings

It's almost 1985. Do you know where your ancestors are? The future is approaching faster than ever, but how many of us really know that much about our past.

The 10 Timberlake, Goodwin, and Alves children in Eaton certainly do. No digging through archives and libraries for these children as they grow up -- their roots are all around them.

Just up the road, their grandmother Dorothy Timberlake is busy making candy, a thriving business of hers for 14 years, in the old homestead in Eaton Center. Built as an inn immediately following the Civil War, the 16-room house has been in the family since 1866. While visiting her, the children can make a quick stop to say "hello" to their Granny Noon who spends her time in her room in the converted front parlor of the old inn. The house holds many memories for her, for she was born, wed, and gave birth to each of her four children there. At age 91, Winifred Dearborn Noon is alert and bright and, although unable to get around much, takes pleasure in all 26 of her great-grandchildren.

To find out about all their other ancestors back to their great-great-great-great-great grandfather William Robertson who first settled in the town 200 years ago, the children only have to walk down to the cemetery next to Eaton's Little White Church. There they can easily record the names and dates of the family that preceded them.

Thanksgiving is a traditional time of family gatherings, but few families have the opportunity to spend the holiday in the town of their forebears, much less stay in the home and worship in the church their ancestors built. The upward and outward mobility of American families has made it almost impossible for families to stay in touch with the past, except for the few families who have decided that their past is worth taking the time and effort to preserve and remember.

It has been easier for the descendants of William Robertson for longevity is a family trait. Many of them have lived well into their eighties and beyond, causing many of the old stories and memories to have been passed down in the oral tradition. In addition, the family has the benefit of never having the chore of packing up and moving. Not much has been thrown away in the old house in Eaton -- records and pictures dating back to the first days of Eaton are stored in closets and rooms in the house.

On July 4th, 100 years ago, all of Eaton celebrated the centennial of William Robertson settling in Eaton and building a log cabin down by Crystal Lake (formerly known as Robertson Pond). The town band came out and everyone crowded into the Palmer House to mark the event. This last October, it fell to family members to remember the event by themselves. Being steeped in their heritage, they erected a granite marker with the words, "Near this site, in 1784, William Robertson built the first settlement in Eaton Center, N.H. This plaque was dedicated on the 200th anniversary by his descendants. October, 1984."

Like many of our ancestors, it took William Robertson some time to find exactly where he wanted to settle. Born in Scotland in 1759, he lived in Saratoga, N.Y., until the start of the hostilities between the colonists and the English. According to Dorothy Timberlake, the family tradition has it that William's mother was a Tory and, without his knowledge, enlisted him in the British Army. The Eaton records compiled by Nella and Keith Henney stated that he just made a mistake and joined the wrong group. Whichever way it happened, he took off from the British Army as soon as he could and tried to enlist in the rebel group but was advised to "get lost." He eventually found his way to Conway, N.H., where he went to work for Col. McMillan.

An avid hunter and woodsman, young William spent much of his time traveling all over the wilderness areas near the Valley. The beauty of Crystal Lake captivated him, and he decided to settle down there and so built his log cabin close to where his progeny now reside. There is no record of exactly how he acquired the land, but is known that at one time William Robertson and his descendants owned all of the property around the lake, and most of Eaton Center. No wonder it was called Robertson's Corner for a period of time.

Over the past two centuries, it has generally fallen to just one member of the successive generations to pass on the family memorabilia. William Robertson fathered 12 children, but it was his youngest son, Robert, who inherited the property. The last of eight children by his second wife, Lydia Allard, Robert was his mother's favorite and all the other children deeded their property to her so that she could reward him with the family homestead for taking care of her in her old age.

Robert married Lydia Nickerson, a local Eaton girl. One of their sons, Mark Robertson, was killed at the second Battle of Bull Run. Another son, Henry Harrison Robertson, Granny Noon's grandfather, built the inn, which is now the family home, and opened it as Rock Mountain House in 1866. The old inn register is still in the house adn though the ink is faded, familiar family names from surrounding towns can be recognized in a quick perusal. Babies' births were recorded in the register, too, as though they were overnight visitors making a quick stop at the inn.

Old records from the family contain much of the history of Eaton. Henry Robertson and his brother Charles were responsible for building the Little White Church in Eaton in 1879. It cost them the whopping sum of $1,200, with local residents exchanging work for having their own pew when the church was completed. The location and style of the church makes it one of the most picturesque in the Valley, something for which we can thank the two men who chose the design of the classic church from several standard church plans of the day. These architectural plans are still intact, and although very fragile, are rolled up and tucked away in a closet.

For those who like to pore over old books and records, the Robertsons appeared to be savers of almost everything. All the construction bills and some for later repairs of the church structure, which are written in a neat and careful script, were saved and are kept by Dorothy in an old box of records. For anyone contemplating building or remodeling now, seeing lists of doors for $3.25 and windows for even less can be almost painful. Many of the business transactions of the other residents in the town were recorded by Henry, who was the local postmaster for 30 years, and are also preserved in several old leder books that tell much about Eaton life in those days.

After Henry Robertson, the preservation of the Robertson heritage passed over to the female side of the family. His daughter, Minnie Belle, was courted by a young teach from East Parsonfield, Maine, who was serving in Eaton, Luther Eliot Dearborn. A Quaker, he contributed some lore to the history of Eaton by establishing a Quaker meeting house in an old store at the corner. This house is still known as the old meeting house even though it has been a family dwelling for many years.

Minnie Belle and Luther moved in with her parents and continued running the huge house as an inn. The proceeded to have six children prompting some remodeling in the place. "The rooms were all so small that mother felt that her whole family couldn't fit into one room," explained Granny Noon, "so she knocked out a few walls and made one great big parlor. All of our dinners were like a big family celebration because there were always at least 10 of us sitting down and there were always guests."

Granny Noon, or Winnie as she was known in her younger days, was the first to live away from the homestead and then return. She met her future husband, Theodore Woods Noon, when he traveled to Eaton with his mother to learn more of his roots. His mother was an Atkinson and a direct descendant of Kinsman Atkinson, the first Eaton resident to graduate from college. Kinsman was from a poor family and had to do it all on his own, whorking his way through school and finally graduating from Harvard at the age of 27 in 1834. Kinsman settled in Cambridge, and that family home became Winnie's when she married Theodore, who was 19 years her senior.

But Winnie continued to summer in Eaton at her parents' home and came home to be close to her mother each time she gave birth. Dorothy Noon Timberlake grew up in Cambridge, but she was born in the home where she now lives (and her birth was duly recorded in the hotel register as arriving on August 1, 1916).

Possessing a double dose of Eaton ancestry, Dorothy Timberlake and her husband, Dr. William Timberlake, purchased the family home and property from her grandparents in 1947 to ensure it would stay within the family. Married for 41 years, the Timberlakes only get to spend their weekends together as Dorothy is busy with her candy business in Eaton and William is a neurologist in Boston. The couple resided in Belmont, Mass., as their children were growing up, but the family continued the tradition of spending all their summers and holidays at the family homestead in Eaton. "I know my children consider Eaton their home rather than Belmont," said Dorothy, "because all their best memories are of their times in Eaton." Proof of this is that of her five children, three of them, son William and daughters Faith and Ruth, have chosen to live in the town of their ancestors. Two other daughters have had to follow their husbands' careers to other parts of the country, but come home to Eaton as often as possible.

Granny Noon, who still keeps track of all that goes on in the big house, is looking forward to this Thanksgiving. Granddaughter Mary Timberlake Moore will be traveling with her husband and two children from their home in Princeton, N.J., to be with her family over the holiday. This will mean that Granny Noon will have 12 of her grandchildren near for the weekend.

Born in 1893, Granny Noon carries much of the richness of the past with her in her memories. She is interested in the new addition to the Conway Library because she can remember accompanying her father in a carriage when he attended the opening of the current structure.

Shaking her head in disbelief, she is appalled at the price of things like sugar and bread. Her memories include watching her grandfather hook rugs, and taking wild carriage rides with her mother, and independent sort, into the village of Conway. For all this, she doesn't dwell in the past, but cares more about the future. "I have 26 great-grandchildren and even if I didn't have anything, I'd consider myself a rich person," she said as she fondly looked at all the pictures of the past and present family that surround her.

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