Take a Fall Jaunt to Jaffrey

A seasonal tradition lifts community spirit

The scarecrows made us do it. We’d seen them in past Octobers, watching us as we waited for the light to change at the Route 124/202 intersection, and curiosity took us back to find out more. Who built them, we wondered, and how did they begin meeting on this corner?

Jaffrey’s scarecrow population, we learned, is now in its second generation. It all began in 2000, when TEAM Jaffrey, a local non-profit initiative to revitalize the town center, was looking for a way to boost community spirit, bring locals downtown and create a little buzz in surrounding towns.

“The first year we planned for a dozen or so scarecrows,” TEAM Jaffrey Executive Director Melanie McDonald told us, “and ended up with more than 100. The idea was blown out of the water.”

Scarecrows on the Common — on October 8 this year — has become TEAM Jaffrey’s signature downtown event, when everyone gathers on the library lawn to build scarecrows. Five dollars buys the wooden frame, hay, pins, string and bags for faces; most people bring their own clothes and accessories. It’s a festive occasion with games, hayrides, yard sales, face painting, bake sales and inexpensive food. Downtown businesses offer specials and promotions.

“It’s a low-cost, informal, multi-generational event,” Melanie continues. “People who have moved away return for it and people who came as kids are now bringing their own. It’s all about families making memories.”

Last year the number of scarecrows approached 280, made by people from 23 towns in seven states. They are distributed around the common and along Main Street as far as St. Patrick’s School and along Route 202 in both directions. For two weeks, the scarecrows attract locals, leaf peepers, retirement community excursions and tour buses that regularly stop while passengers stroll around the green snapping pictures.

There’s more to see on a fall day in Jaffrey. We learned from the online walking tour we downloaded that this is the only Jaffrey in the world, a fact that Jaffrey makes much less of than the similarly unique Henniker. The nicely restored mill buildings and dam are reminders that it was water power and the Third New Hampshire Turnpike (now Route 124) that coincided to make this the town’s commercial hub. We couldn’t help smiling as we pictured early parishioners of the elegant stone St. Patrick Church arriving on Sunday mornings carrying stones from their fields in their buggies. It took several years to collect enough for the church. We assume they didn’t drop them into the collection plate.

It’s impossible for us to pass Sunflowers Restaurant, just down the street, without feeling hungry — like many others, we had followed Carolyn Edwards here from her first little café in Fitzwilliam. We lunched lightly on panini of portabello mushrooms and blueberry and blue cheese salad to leave room for wedges of Edwards’ signature raspberry-filled chocolate mousse cake.

A little ways up Route 124, Jaffrey Center, one of the state’s loveliest postcard villages, was the town’s original settlement. From another walking tour, we learned about each building as we strolled past. The centerpiece is the stately Meetinghouse, facing a common that looks much as it did in 1775 when the Meetinghouse was raised — on the day of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Beside it are nine of the original dozen 1808 horse sheds and the 1822 Little Red Schoolhouse, moved here from its original location and the last of Jaffrey’s original 13 one-room schoolhouses. The Old Brick Church, which replaced the Meetinghouse as a place of worship in 1831, also faces the common. The oldest house is on Blackberry Lane, the Benjamin Cutter House, built in 1784.

Farther along Blackberry Lane, Melville Academy is an impressive Greek Revival building dating from1833 that now houses a museum of historic artifacts, including a superb collection of hatboxes made by Hannah Davis. There’s more information about her and about Amos Fortune, another local luminary, on a sign opposite the watering trough on Main Street.

Amos Fortune rests in the Old Burying Ground, behind the Meetinghouse. We found his grave, read old epitaphs, considered the changes in tombstone fashion over the centuries and, at one corner, came at last to the marker for author Willa Cather, who for many years spent several weeks a year writing in Jaffrey.

It wasn’t by coincidence that we found ourselves in front of the Monadnock Inn, opposite the common, at suppertime. When “Our Town” takes us to a place with two good restaurants, we feel duty-bound to give them equal time. We had the choice of the cozy pub or Thorndike’s Restaurant and chose the latter, where we began with half-sized servings of the bacon and Brussels sprouts salad with candied walnuts and dried cranberries and a salad of fig and goat cheese in pomegranate vinaigrette. The bison meatloaf in an IPA demi-glace was served with blue cheese mashed potatoes and garlic broccolini, and my garlic-rosemary roasted pork loin in maple-bourbon gravy came with mashed sweet potatoes and green beans with crispy pork belly. Dessert was out of the question.

On this glorious October day, we could have been climbing Mt. Monadnock — the Old Toll Road trail starts just up Route 124 — but wandering around in cemeteries, admiring scarecrows and savoring two good meals in the only Jaffrey on earth seemed adventure enough.

Categories: Our Town