Exploring Sandwich and its History

Pay a visit to the home of NH's own Great Wall

In our continuing search for New Hampshire’s earliest highways, we once again got sidetracked, this time by the Great Wall of Sandwich.  

Sandwiched (sorry, I couldn’t resist) between the southern edge of the White Mountain National Forest and the northern shore of Squam Lake, the town is one of the state’s largest by area. This is because, when it was chartered by Royal Governor Benning Wentworth in 1763, it was so hard to access that he enlarged the grant to compensate.

Forty years later, it would become a stop on one of the state’s first highways, built — as most of the early ones were — to give upstate farmers access to markets in the Seacoast cities. Driving the rutted gravel Sandwich Notch Road today, it’s hard to imagine it as the major artery it was, climbing over two notches on its way to the Pemigewasset Valley. It still goes through until snow closes it, but it’s not for the timid.

Of the notch’s 30-odd farmhouses, only one remains; the rest are only cellar holes. The shapes of long-overgrown fields are marked by stone walls rambling through the forest. The road widens enough to park at the trail to Beede Falls, a series of waterfalls below which is a tumble of glacial boulders. Hard to miss, since it overhangs the road, is Pulpit Rock, where a Quaker pastor preached to notch families.

We learned more about Sandwich’s long history at the Sandwich Historical Society Museum, housed in the Elisha Marston House, just off the common. Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the historical society has collected early household furnishings, tools, textiles and farm implements used by local families. The museum also includes works by early local artists, among them Fred G. Quimby. Next door in the Grange Hall is his largest known work — a painted stage curtain (another one to add to our “collection” that began a few months ago in North Haverhill).

Beyond the Grange Hall, where a sign announced a public supper that evening, is the Quimby Barn, a museum of antique horse-drawn vehicles. The pride of the collection is a beautifully restored 1850 Concord Coach. There’s also a mail wagon, a Concord Express Wagon, a summer hearse and a chaise — a one-horse shay whose body is suspended on leather straps for a smoother ride.

Our next stop was farther south on the old highway, now Route 109. Atop Wentworth Hill is the old schoolhouse, restored by the historical society, and the site of the first house in Sandwich. Opposite are two mansions, one of which has an adjacent square shingled tower. Just below in the Lower Corner Historic District is the old store and post office, a brick building dating to 1845, but it was a glance down Little Pond Road that brought us to a screeching halt.

We’d found the Great Wall of Sandwich, certainly the state’s most monumental spite fence. From an 18-foot-high stone base, a giant statue overlooks a 10-foot-thick wall built of huge pieces of cut granite. We knew there must be a good story behind them, and there is.

Isaac Adams was born in Sandwich in 1802 and worked as a printer’s apprentice. Never popular nor particularly successful, he decided at age 22 that he could do better in Boston, but none of his neighbors would loan him money for the fare. He worked his way to the city, but never forgot. After he had invented the Adams steam press, revolutionizing the printing process, he returned to his hometown with his fortune and bought the houses and farms of the people who had refused him help.

He tore them down, using parts of some to build his own mansion, and from their granite foundations he began construction of his Great Wall. He hired nearly 100 local men and two expert masons, who worked for two years. When they ran out of foundations to recycle, they quarried stone from his property. The wall, only part of which can be seen from the road, extends for more than a mile.

But he wasn’t through. His final act of vengeance was to commission a master sculptor to cast a 7-foot statue of Niobe to stand atop the corner post. In Greek mythology, Niobe is punished by the gods for being arrogant and claiming to be more important than the goddess Leto. After all her 14 children are killed, she is turned to stone so that she will weep perpetually, clearly a message to the neighbors too uppity to help young Adams.

The statue outlived Adams and his neighbors, standing until a hurricane toppled it in 1941. It shattered into fragments, which were lost until recent owners found them under a manure pile in a horse barn. In 2011, Sandwich metal artist Adam Nudd-Homeyer undertook restoring the statue, reassembling the often-miniscule pieces and replacing the missing parts.

Nudd-Homeyer’s Sunshine Hill Metalworks, located in the Lower Corner Village, specializes in restoration and reproduction of antique metalwork and original wrought and cast metal pieces. He also crafts Tappan Chairs, using the 19th-century machinery of their original maker; these Shaker-style chairs have been made in Sandwich — and only here — since 1819.

The town is a magnet for artists of all kinds. Sandwich Home Industries began here in 1920, eventually merging into the League of NH Craftsmen. Their gallery on the common displays works by area artists and more from around the state, and paper works by Sandwich artist Margaret Merritt are shown at the nearby Patricia Ladd Carega Gallery. Sandwich even has its own Shakespeare company, Advice To The Players, which also sponsors a theatre camp and Wednesday evening summer concerts. The historic Corner House Inn in the center of town, in addition to its excellent food, serves up live music in the pub and regular storytelling dinners.

This month, the town’s attention focuses on the Sandwich Fair, a three-day celebration of rural life held on Columbus Day weekend, with vegetables, flowers, baked goods, crafts and livestock competitions, a small midway, stage shows, oxen and tractor pulls, a farmers market and craft show — all the things you expect at an old-fashioned country fair. 

We took the long route home, a barely disguised excuse to stop for peach ice cream cones and a chunk of aged farmhouse cheddar at Sandwich Creamery.

Categories: Weekend Trips