Chapter Five: Buying Camp

NOTE: "Semi-Rough: A North Country Journal," is now available as a complete book, that includes these on-line essays and more. If you'd like a free pdf to download to your computer, send me a note at symbios@condortales.com and I'll email you a copy.

"Camp" began for the Harrises - and eventually for me - in 1947. Sally lived with her family in the Boston suburbs. Her father, Stuart K. "Slim" Harris, was a professor at Boston University, where he taught botany and ornithology. They were "city folks" much of the time, but the mountains of northern New Hampshire figured strongly in their lives. Slim had hiked the mountains as a youth, had worked for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) in their system of trail-connected mountain huts, and had become an expert on the unique alpine plants of the White Mountains. "Cal" (nee Calista Crane) had visited the mountains with youth camps, eventually shepherding younger hikers over the same trails she had walked when younger. With a Master's degree in geology, she was a good match for Slim's training and outdoor interests. They got engaged at Thunderstorm Junction, on the Gulfside Trail between Edmand's Col and Mt. Madison.

Sally was given her introduction to the mountains at an early age. She climbed Mt. Washington (with a little help) at age three.

Five years later, with almost all the young men off to war, Slim was offered the job of caretaker and "hut master" at Zealand Falls; he, Cal, Sally and her younger brother spent an entire summer living beside a mountain brook three miles from the nearest car, electric line or telephone pole.

Later, Sally worked for the AMC through two winters at Pinkham Notch, near the famous Tuckerman Ravine ski area.

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I provide this background to help you understand that, when in 1947 the Harrises decided to buy a vacation retreat, they weren't looking for your standard summer cabin on the lake. Slim's letter of inquiry to the Strout Realty agent in Milan, New Hampshire - asking about"wild land in the Stark, N. H. area"- should have given the realtor a clue. Even today, the Milan-Stark area is not exactly a "destination location;" in the 1940s, it was well north of the summer playgrounds of the folks from "down country."

The Strout man had some ideas. He thought a place a half-mile from Twin Mountain Village -"where there are advantages such as stores, post office, bus service, railroad"- would be"ideal for someone who desires an opportunity to live in seclusion and at the same time not too far away from the outside world."Nope, not what they had in mind. Neither was"a 1/2 acre plot located on a gravel road"near Philips Brook, nor were the"desirable camp lots"near the Dummer-Stark town line,"which border a back road for 1/8 mile or more and extend back into the forest from 50 to 100 ft. from highway."An old fish hatchery in Dixville Notch was visible from the road, and a little too public. The Strout man was running out of properties to show, and suggested they might have to go farther afield, perhaps to the Rangley Lakes in Maine.

Then, he had a brainstorm. He knew by now that when Slim talked about "isolation," Slim meant ISOLATION, and he thought of one property that might be just right. It wasn't on the market, but the owner might be convinced to sell it. At Dummer Corner, on a cold November day, he introduced the Harrises to Edgar and Mildred Bacon.

Edgar Bacon, you may recall (Chapter Two), bought the Willie Forbush property on Dummer Hill in 1943, the property that Willie had lost to foreclosure in 1933, and that had since been in the hands of an absentee owner. The land was some three miles from the Bacon home, half the distance over a Town-maintained road and half over a woods track that ended at the property. It was described as"a tract of land containing 50 acres more or less, located on Dummer Hill in said township of Dummer, N. H. Buildings consist of camp about 16 x 20 and shed attached."No one had lived at the site since Willie left, but Edgar planted the field each year, alternating between potatoes and timothy grass, the latter a crop he cut for hay.

After introductions and general visiting, the Strout man introduced the subject of Edgar's land on Dummer Hill. As Sally recalls the conversation, it went something like this:

Realtor:"You have some property up on Dummer Hill, don't you, Edgar?"

Edgar:"Yes, I do, but it's not for sale."

Realtor:"It might be worth it to the Harrises to see it, anyway, just to get an idea of the kinds of properties that are around."

Edgar:"I suppose."

Realtor (after an appropriate pause):"You wouldn't be up for a little field trip, would you, Edgar? Give these folks a ride up the hill and let them see what it's like?"

Edgar (after a pause):"I suppose we could do that."

And they did. They were able to drive to "The Fork" - where the woods track left the Town road - then walked the last mile or so through the woods to the field where Willie Forbush's house once stood. (In my mind, I see them walking as I first walked it in 1969 - through dark, lush, mature mixed hardwood forest. But in 1947, most of the forest was young, almost all the Hill having been cut over in recent years (Chapter One). The track was not much different, but they walked "through the woods," not under a forest canopy.)

The first view had to be considered bleak - snow on the ground, gray skies, a spindly forest surrounding a big open field, and one small cabin on the edge of the clearing. But, for Slim, it was exactly what he was looking for. On the spot, he expressed his interest in purchasing the land. Edgar was still not reconciled to selling the land, but he set a price - $1,200 - that he must have thought no sane person would accept. (He had paid $150 for the land only five years earlier.) Slim agreed without discussion, a $200 down payment was made, and - except for the legal paperwork - Camp belonged to the Harrises.

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Postscript: Sally thought that Edgar always felt a little guilty about taking advantage of the "city folks," and atoned by helping out in many ways. He brought supplies in to Camp, including the big cast-iron wood stove that Cal wanted and the aluminum sheeting that Slim wanted for a new Camp roof. He and Mildred became good friends with the Harrises, and Mildred became Cal's main contact with the outer world after both Edgar and Slim were gone.

Another postscript: Thirty-three years after Camp was purchased, Winston Emery made a detailed survey of the property. The "50 acres more or less" turned out to be considerably more. Our Camp lands actually totaled 92 acres.

One more postscript: The legal description of the cabin said it was 16 x 20 feet; actually, it is 16 x 23.

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