The Strange Cement Thing

Uncover the mystery behind the "strange cement thing" in Quinttown

It’s a strange cement thing, way out in the woods of Quinttown,” a reader wrote me in a cryptic email. His message went on to describe a very old, huge cement thing located far from any road that he had stumbled upon while
deer hunting.  

“What is it, and how did it get there? Maybe you can figure it out,” the email suggested with a hint of challenge. A couple of phone calls later, I was hooked and accepted the challenge. I called an old Air Force buddy, now a forester, who knows the remote woods in that region.  

Yes, he had seen the “strange cement thing,” and he’d be happy to show it to me. My friend knew the landowner and would arrange permission. He also put me in contact with a maple-syrup producer who had tapped trees in the area and knew about this strange cement thing.

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Two members of the exploration party soak in the size of the structure with its five separate chambers and a tree growing through the middle.

When I arrived at the rendezvous, I was surprised to find a few others there as well. Word had spread that we were hiking out to the strange cement thing, and others desiring to see it had joined our exploration party.

After a convoy on some little used dirt roads in the lonely part of Orford called Quinttown, we parked on a former log landing and followed an old skidder trail to an abandoned road. We followed the ancient roadbed until it petered out. Then, we followed a game trail and some dead reckoning up a slope to the strange cement thing built into the side of the hill.

More accurately it should be called “the strange concrete and stone thing.” It measured about 42 feet long and 24 feet wide, with walls 18-to-24 inches thick. The walls stood 12-to-14 feet tall and were built into the hill with a walkout face on one side. Four interior walls separated the structure into five chambers interconnected by arched passageways, but with only a single exterior door. No windows.

The interior corners were beveled to soften 90-degree corners with two 45-degree corners. The entire structure was made of concrete and stones, but not laid up like a bricklayer or stonemason would construct. Instead, a wooden box form was built, stones were dumped into it and then concrete was poured in and around the stones. When the concrete cured, the forms were moved upward and the process repeated.  

What is this thing? How did they get cement or concrete here? Who did the incredible amount of labor that must have been involved? And why build it way out here?


Marshall Hudson, behind the camera, looks out the exit door of the structure to the rest of the exploration.

Looking at the size, shape and construction of this structure, we rule out cellar hole for a house or conventional barn. The age of trees growing through the structure date it to at least 100 years ago and maybe more. Exploring the greater area, we found a limestone quarry and a kiln for cooking the limestone into lime, which is a crucial ingredient in making cement. 

A nearby dredged and stone-lined spring suggested where buckets of water were drawn for mixing concrete. With part of the mystery now solved, we can conclude how the concrete got here, but still can’t explain why or what this strange thing is.

One of the explorers in our group handed me some research notes, and I recognized the researcher’s name: Arthur Pease. Art is a native Orford farm boy, a retired schoolteacher, a history buff and a thorough historical researcher. When I contacted him and inquired about this strange cement thing, he flooded me with old documents, photos, excerpts and newspaper clippings.

The strange cement thing is a bunker silo used for the storage of corn silage for cattle feed. It was built in 1882 by Samuel S. Houghton. Houghton owned a large farm in Orford he named “Pavilion Stock Farm,” where he raised fine trotting horses. In 1878, Houghton purchased land in Quinttown with ambitious plans to build a second farm that would be called “Villa Farm” and where he would keep his cow herd.  

In the early 1800s, Quinttown was a thriving settlement with numerous homesteads, mills, a blacksmith shop, small farms and a school. Much of the land was open, having been cleared for sheep pasture. Newspaper clippings indicate Houghton employed some 50 men for various building projects on his two farms, including the construction of this concrete and stone silo.  Along with a barn and house, this silo was one of the first steps for the new farm he envisioned.    

Houghton’s grand plans for Villa Farm don’t seem to have gotten very far. Records indicate that the silo, a barn, house and a few other buildings were constructed, but a few years later he was retiring from his farming activities and attempting to sell or auction off everything from both farms. 

Houghton took an interest in real estate development in Fairlee, Vermont, and his focus shifted to building cottages on Lake Morey. The Quinttown area began a long decline, and population dropped as residents moved away seeking an easier life. By the mid-1930s, only three households remained and forests replaced pastures. The encroaching woods swallowed up the bunker silo.


The team looks through arched doorways and interconnecting chambers at the dog that tagged along on their adventures.

Concrete bunker silos were not common in New Hampshire in the late 1800s. Houghton appears to have been influenced by an 1881 effort in Massachusetts to introduce and promote the use of ensilage for winter livestock feed, so he built the rectangular silo planning to store corn fodder.  Bunker silos didn’t catch on at that time. Farmers gravitated toward the upright cylindrical silos regularly seen adjacent to many old barns. In more recent decades, farmers now shy away from the iconic round vertical silos in favor of concrete bunker silos topped with black plastic and old tires. Perhaps S.S. Houghton was a man ahead of his time.   

Only one lingering question remained. Why? Houghton already owned the large Pavilion Stock Farm on stone-free, fertile, river land in Orford where he raised his prized trotting horses. So why did he feel the need to build a separate farm for his cows on the rough, rocky, rolling, distant acreage in desolate Quinttown?  

Rumor has it that Mrs. Houghton’s sensibilities were offended by the pungent aroma of the cows kept at Pavilion Stock Farm. I guess that means the mystery is solved, and the strange cement thing is an inadvertent monument to the fragrance of cow manure.

Next month, Part II: S.S. Houghton and the Pavilion Farm

Categories: Places, Things to Do