Abandoned Towns


                                                                         ABANDONED TOWNS and VILLAGES
                                                                                    in the White Mountains

                                                                                           by Rick Russack         

   Histories of several Individual towns can be accessed by   or the drop-down menu under Abandoned Towns at the right.

                                              Photos can be accessed from the pages for the individual towns. a

   Within the White Mountain region, there were, literally, dozens of towns and villages that no longer exist.   A village can be defined as “a small rural population, held together by common economic and political ties”.[1] A town can be defined as “a territorial and political unit governed by a town meeting “[2] The phrase “common economic interest” fits most of the villages within the region. Old maps, town records and town histories, and business records often provide a few clues to what once existed.   In some cases there are  physical  remnants as well, such as  stonewalls, cemeteries,  cellar holes, foundations of dams,  remains of the mills or mines that many of these villages served or  farm equipment left to rust in what used to be a field or barnyard, but today is forest. In too many instances, virtually nothing remains to tell of what once was.

These vanished towns and villages were generally of three types.  Many grew to serve lumbering interests.  Livermore, on the Sawyer River, had 200-300 residents but today none of the houses remain, nor does the schoolhouse, the company store, the mansion of the owners, the powerhouse, the charcoal kiln, or the large saw mill.  Johnson, a village in the town of Lincoln, was another sawmill community, and almost nothing is left to show where the mill and homes were.  Other settlements developed around mines and factories.  Pike grew around the Pike Whetsone works in a part of Haverhill.  Scythevillage grew around the Scythe factory in Littleton. Others were the farming villages that thrived for a short time in the 19th century.  Thornton Gore, off the Tripoli Road, had 26 homes, a school, a church, and a mill.  The cemetery, the cellar holes, and remnants of the old mill are all that remain.  The town we know as Woodstock once was called Peeling.  Its original settlement was high on Mt. Cilley.  Little, if any, of Peeling can be found today.    

                  Double clicking these images will allow you to enlarge them.

A classic photo of an abandoned home and barn in Thornton Gore.

 Belcher Collection, Dartmouth College

 Towns declined for different reasons.  When farms were abandoned, land companies or lumber companies purchased the lands, often at tax sales.  These companies wanted only the trees.  They had no use for the houses and barns nor would they spend money to remove the buildings.  So the buildings remained unoccupied and decayed.  When lumbering was done, the cutover lands were   purchased by the Federal Government for inclusion in the White Mountain National Forest. The decaying buildings, again left alone,  eventually collapsed.  More than 600 cellar holes have been identified in the National Forest and there are undoubtedly many more.

Lumbering Towns

Most of the lumbering towns and villages came into existence in the last quarter of the 19th century.  Two factors combined to stimulate the growth of these towns. The land sales policy of the state of New Hampshire was one; the other was the expansion of railroads in the North Country.  In 1867, the state of New Hampshire decided to sell its remaining public lands.  Vast tracts in the White Mountains were sold for pennies per acre to investors such as George James and his New Hampshire Land Co. James and loggers such as J.E, Henry were also buying abandoned farmland at tax sales or directly from farmers no longer able to make a living farming. (Tax sale deeds from the Bethlehem tax collector show that in 1887 J.E. Henry bought 142 one hundred acre lots for $547 and in 1886 124 one hundred acre lots  were sold to Isaac Calhoun, a Henry relative, for $494.)  Lumbermen were thus able to bring into single ownership, tracts of several thousand acres.  Prior to this, the pattern of land ownership, mostly relatively small, individually owned parcels, made it difficult for loggers to accumulate large, contiguous holdings. Large contiguous acreage was necessary to assure that sufficient “raw material” would be available to justify the substantial capital investments needed for steam-powered mills, logging railroads, and towns.

                                                                               Ruins of Old Mill in Gale River Settlement.

 At about the same time as the state was selling off its lands in the North Country, railroads were beginning to provide easy access to distant markets and opening up the interior portions of the White Mountains. By 1875, when the Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad through Crawford Notch was completed, the two necessary factors (easy transportation and large land holdings) were in place.  Loggers frequently built their own railroads into the woods from the mainline tracks, and these logging railroads annually carried millions of board feet of lumber out of the forests. In the early 1870s large steam powered sawmills were erected in the forest, far from any town. It became necessary to provide homes and other facilities for the large numbers of men needed to run the sawmills and work in the woods.  The new towns were “company towns” built, owned, and operated by the businesses to meet their workers needs. Some of these settlements were very rudimentary, like Carrigain and Johnson, while others, like Livermore, provided   additional amenities.  (The J.E. Henry family, owners of most of Lincoln, built a hospital  and charged each employee just 50 cents a month for full medical care.)

Although large scale lumbering was not new to the area, the earlier practice was to transport logs to market via the river systems.  Nicholas Norcross logged in the Pemigewasset Valley, using that river. George Van Dyke and others used the Connecticut River and lumbermen from Maine used the Saco and Androscoggin. Until 1875, even after years of river logging, the majority of timber in the interior sections of the White Mountains, where it was not practical to use the waterways, remained untouched.  The coming of the railroads in that year did not end the river driving; Van Dyke and others drove logs down the Connecticut River during the early years of the 20th century.  However, technology, in the form of the steam engine, was changing the old ways of harvesting and marketing timber in the White Mountains.

The list of vanished lumbering towns is extensive: Livermore, Zealand, Johnson, Beebe River, Carrigain, Jonesville, Jericho, Quint’s, Dundee, Lewisville, Gale River and Hastings, the latter just over the border in Maine.[3]  Some were large; some small.  Some came and went quickly; some lasted for many years. It’s worth noting that while these were “company” towns, they often had schools, sometimes they had churches and often there were social activities, weddings, birth and deaths just as there might have been in other towns.


[1] Columbia Encyclopedia, Columbia University Press,  6th edition, 2000

[2] Ibid

[3] C. Francis Belcher, Logging Railroads of the White Mountains.  A,Bernard Perry, Albany’s Recollections,

Historic and archaeological  sites are special places that tell the story of our past.  Leave artifacts as you find them.  Rearranging them limits their scientific value and the experience of future visitors.

                                                  Visitors are reminded that Federal law prohibits disturbing these 

                                                                 sites or removing any artifacts.

Suggested Reading  There are not any books that focus on abandoned towns, as such.  However, "Logging Railroads of the White Mountains" by C. Francis Belcher has useful information on the abandoned logging towns.