Enjoying the Last of Summer in Mason, New Ipswich and Temple
We take advantage of beautiful September weather to explore historic villages close to home
Covering less than seven square miles, Greenville is one of NH’s smallest towns, a narrow strip along the Souhegan River as it drops over falls that once powered textile mills. Carved from neighboring Mason in the 1870s, Greenville’s mill buildings make it quite different from the surrounding rural villages. We stopped in its center at Marcus P’s Diner Plus, for a dinner of baby Maine shrimp with coleslaw and sweet potato fries, and a dinner-sized harvest salad with chicken, bacon, apples, cranberries, bleu cheese and pecans.
Our suite at The Birchwood Inn in Temple was decorated in cool shades of blue, with a comfortable sitting area — much more spacious than rooms offered guests arriving by carriage in the inn’s early days in the 1700s. For breakfast — served in the original inn’s tavern room — we chose a mushroom omelet and eggy bread, a savory British take on French toast (“We would never call it French,” our British host laughed).
Making a few wrong turns following signs to Pickity Place, we discovered Mason’s beautifully preserved Town Pound and a monument marking the site of its first Meeting House. This was not our first trip to Pickity Place, but we found it just as enchanting as we’d remembered. The rambling little red cottage is surrounded by beautifully maintained — but not fussy — gardens. The herbs seem to have chosen their own favorite spots to grow, lush clumps of fragrant thyme, lavender, mint and sage, timid ground covers of myrtle and sweet woodruff, spikes of catnip and bright bee balm. It was easy to spend the morning exploring paths through the raised beds, across garden-surrounded lawns and into the surrounding woods, where we found almost-hidden shade gardens. Under the state’s landmark ash tree we entered the tiny 1786 cottage that was the model for the 1948 Little Golden Book, “Little Red Riding Hood.”
Our herbal luncheon at Pickity Place began with a cheese dip and crisp apples, and a potato soup accompanied by fragrant rosemary focaccia. For entrées, we chose beef medallions over barley and a strudel filled with fall vegetables. Dessert was a lemon-blackberry cake.
New Ipswich Center Village Historic District follows Main Street, lined by beautiful old homes, churches and other buildings named to the National Register of Historic Places for their architectural significance. Covering two centuries, beginning in the early 1700s, styles include Georgian, Federal, Greek and Gothic Revivals, Empire and Shingle (the latter is represented by the Congregational Church). The centerpiece is the 1800 mansion, the Barrett House. We had planned the weekend around one of its rare opening days to tour the interior of one of the state’s finest examples of Federal residence. The interior represents the family’s continued use through the early 20th century, but much of the furniture dates to the original owners. The third-floor children’s room is filled with toys, dolls and games from the early 1800s and the grand ballroom displays a rare glass harmonica. In the barn is a collection of the family’s carriages.
Back at Birchwood Inn, we took a few minutes to admire the front room, whose walls are covered with original murals painted by the itinerant artist Rufus Porter in the 1800s. With frosty ales from the tavern in hand, we strolled across the back lawn to enjoy the early evening under the arbor beside the pond.
Dinner at The London Tavern
The inn’s tavern reflects the owners’ British origins, with a cozy pub feel, dark wood and a menu with a distinctly English accent. After sharing a starter of salmon fish cakes, we ordered two classics, Fisherman’s Pie and Shepherd’s Pie. Added to the menu just this summer was Sticky Toffee Pudding, which we, of course, had to order.
We chose the full English breakfast — enough to last us well through the afternoon — before setting out to explore Mason and Greenville. The hilltop village of Mason is a tidy ensemble of white clapboard buildings that include a classic Congregational church. Beside it is a cemetery with interesting headstones, and a surprising monument to Henry Dunster, first president of Harvard. He’s not buried here, but his family lived in Mason and descendants erected this marble memorial. Shortly beyond is Uncle Sam’s House, boyhood home of Sam Wilson, who supplied food to US troops during the War of 1812 and was the origin of Uncle Sam.
The Mason Railroad Trail begins near the Massachusetts border and continues for about seven miles into Greenville, passing through Russell-Abbott State Forest. There is access wherever it crosses a road, so we hiked north on the trail from Depot Road. A pile of granite chunks on the left marks a side trail to the old Mason Quarry, one of several that yielded fine-grained Mason granite, used in building the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. Stopping at Washburn’s Windy Hill Orchard in Mason on the way home not only gave us a chance to pick apples, but an excuse for a late “lunch” of their hot apple crisp with ice cream, and a bag of fresh-baked pumpkin-chocolate chip cookies for the road.