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The Great Wall of Sandwich and the Statue of Niobe

Christine Randall - June 26, 2013





Great Wall of Sandwich

A statue of Niobe stands atop the “Great Wall of Sandwich”.

Over the past several months, I’ve become a big fan of the hobby called geocaching, which is basically a game of outdoor treasure hunting for adults using a GPS unit to find a hidden cache (not usually filled with anything of real value, I might add). Aside from the thrill of the hunt, one of the best things about geocaching is that it brings you to some places that you might not have otherwise known about, and this happened to me recently when I had time to go on a brief geocaching adventure in Sandwich.
The cache is hidden at Little Pond on Little Pond Road, which is located off Route 109 just outside of Center Sandwich. As I drove down Little Pond Road toward the pond, I passed a long, wide wall about 10 feet wide and about five or six feet high that stretched for at least a third of a mile alongside the road before disappearing back into the woods. The wall is anchored on one end by a 10-foot-high pedestal holding a beautiful, seven-foot-high statue of a female figure that appears to be trying to protectively hold a child. The statue looks like it is made out of white marble, and it also looks like something you might typically find in a museum in a wing featuring classical Greek mythology, not standing on a wall in Sandwich!
The expanse of the wall and the grandeur of the statue had me half-expecting to see a huge mansion on the property, but the building that is actually on the site, at 24 Little Pond Road, looks more like a modest-sized private residence with no-trespassing signs to reinforce the fact that it is not property that is freely open to the public. Thinking that there must be an interesting story behind the wall and statue, I stopped to take some pictures and resolved to find out more — after I located the geocache down at the pond, of course (which I managed to do)!
I have learned that if you want to find out anything of a historical nature in Sandwich, the best place to start is the Sandwich Historical Society. If the people working there don’t have the answers to your questions, they are happy to direct you to people who do. In this case, I found out that there is a great deal of fascinating information about the wall, the statue, and the man responsible for both.
The wall, interestingly enough, is known locally as “The Great Wall of Sandwich.” The Great Wall of Sandwich? I think it’s a safe assumption that most people have heard of the Great Wall of China — but how many know about the Great Wall of Sandwich?
According to the Sandwich Historical Society, the wall was built by a 19th century industrialist and Sandwich native named Isaac Adams in the late 1800s. On the Historical Society’s website, a description of the wall states, “The Great Wall is a massive structure, that is generally shoulder high and 10 feet wide. Isaac Adams had it constructed between 1874-1875 by approximately eighty men working under the supervision of two master masons: Jacob Roberts of East Sandwich, who was the chief, and Curt Prime of Moultonborough, his assistant. The Great Wall has several disconnected branches, and in the aggregate, extends over a mile. Its core structure is trapezoid shaped and encloses almost twenty acres. During the period 2004-2009, dense vegetation was cleared away and the Great Wall was repaired. Visitors now can easily walk around the Great Wall at their leisure.”
The story of Isaac Adams seems to be a typical tale of “local boy leaves town and makes good, returning to home town a rich man” — but with a slight twist. Isaac Adams was apparently not well-liked by his neighbors, both when he left town and after his triumphant return. According to the Historical Society’s website, “When he was nineteen, Adams decided to leave Sandwich and resettle in Boston, where there were greater economic opportunities. Adams asked his neighbors to lend him the coach fare, which he would repay once he got a job in Boston. His neighbors refused this request, telling him that he was of “no account” and they would never see him or their money again.
“Bristling at this rebuke, Adams swore that he would work his way to Boston, become successful, and return to Sandwich rich enough to buy any land he wanted. Adams kept his vow. After inventing the steam-powered press that revolutionized printing, he returned to Sandwich a multimillionaire. He bought up many farms in the Sandwich Lower Corner neighborhood and proceeded to knock down all their buildings. Some of the feathered split granite that made up those buildings’ foundations found their way into the Great Wall Adams constructed in 1874-1875.”
Adams didn’t stop there. On pedestals in various locations in his estate, Adams placed three large statues that he apparently had picked up in his travels in Italy. The statues were made of zinc that had been painted white to resemble marble. The three statues represented characters from Greek and Roman mythology, including the twin deities Apollo (god of the sun) and Artemis (goddess of the hunt), and a lesser known queen of ancient Thebes named Niobe.
The statue on the wall at 24 Little Pond Road that I saw is that of Niobe. In Greek mythology, Niobe was the queen of ancient Thebes who had 14 children: seven daughters and seven sons. She was so excessively proud of her children that she offended the goddess Leto, who only had two children, the twins Apollo and Artemis (known as Diana in the Roman version). Leto sent Apollo and Artemis/Diana to Thebes to kill all of Niobe’s children, and some versions of the myth say Niobe’s husband then committed suicide when he heard the news. The gods subsequently turned Niobe into a stone pillar, and she is shown weeping for eternity for her lost family. The statue also shows Niobe holding one of her daughters to her after the onslaught.
So why did Adams select these particular statues of both the tormented and the tormentors to adorn his estate? The article from the Historical Society suggests the following reason:
“Perhaps this was Adams’ way of likening himself to the ancient Greek gods and saying to the citizens of Sandwich, ‘You were wrong to mock me as a “no-account youth.” In fact, you should look up to me with great deference because I have far more power and wealth than any of you could ever hope for.’ Rather than punishing his neighbors by mowing them down with arrows, like Apollo and Diana in the myth, Adams merely bought and destroyed their homes, his symbolic equivalent. He may have placed the statues of Niobe, Apollo and Diana along the Great Wall, itself an emblem of his power and wealth, to constantly remind townsfolk of his message.”
Unsubstantiated stories also suggest that Adams built the wall wide enough that he would be able to drive his carriage along the top of it in front of his neighbors, which would probably serve to further infuriate them.
Although Adams himself resided on a portion of his estate now known as Chestnut Manor, in 1875 he added another new building to his property when he purchased a building on Wentworth Hill (now Route 109) and relocated it to 24 Little Pond Road. The building, known as Adams Hall, was built in 1848 and once housed a dance hall on the second floor, with artisan shops on the first floor. Many years later, that building, along with the 20 acres enclosed by the Great Wall, were subdivided from the rest of the property. Boone and Margaret Porter (who interestingly enough, live in a home close by, once known as the Weed Estate in Adams’ time and, in later years, was once owned by actor Claude Rains) purchased that part of Adams’ estate in 2004.
The wall and the statue of Niobe apparently were big tourist attractions until 1941 when a storm toppled the statue from its pedestal, leaving it shattered into almost 200 pieces. The pieces, some very large and others very small, were picked up and stored, and the whereabouts of the pieces was subsequently forgotten for more than 60 years. One of the other two statues, Diana, was sold at an estate auction at some point, and the fate of the statue of Apollo is unknown.
When Boone and Margaret Porter purchased the property at 24 Little Pond Road in 2004, they did so with a provision that they would own the rights to the statue of Niobe if it could be found. “We were aware that the statue existed, due to photos dating from the 1880s or 1890s that we have in our home that show two little girls standing in front of the statue,” explained Boone. “Just nine months after we closed on the property at 24 Little Pond Road, a tenant at Chestnut Manor (formerly the Adams Estate) discovered the pieces of the statue in a barn on the property, buried under a pile of manure. This might have actually saved the statue, by at least keeping all of the pieces together.”
Boone spent the next few years trying to have the statue repaired. “We consulted with experts in Rhode Island and New York, but the experts in New York said that the damage was so great that it would not be cost-effective to restore it and they suggested that we sell the pieces for scrap, while our expert in Rhode Island quoted a price of a quarter of a million dollars to do the work.”
But the Porters then lucked out because, in 2011, one of their neighbors who happens to be a metal artisan came up with a plan to restore the statue at a price that was agreeable to both parties. The neighbor, Adam Nudd-Homeyer, spent close to a year working to restore the statue.
“It took about 400 hours to reassemble all the pieces,” said Nudd-Homeyer. “There were between 150 and 200 pieces when it was all said and done, and a small portion had to be made from scratch. The pieces ranged in size from that of a quarter up to about the size of a small child. Most were either broken/cracked, severely distorted from impact, or both. I repaired all the major cracks, and used pressure and/or temperature to reshape the distortions as much as possible. I reassembled it in much the same manner as it was originally (it is made of tiles that stack like bricks), using solder and a torch.”
The reassembled statue of Niobe was unveiled to the public at a small ceremony at 24 Little Pond Road on May 12, 2012. Nudd-Homeyer, who currently is the director of the Sandwich Historical Society, said he hopes that, someday, the statues of Diana and Apollo can be also located and returned to the Great Wall of Sandwich, and he offered some thoughts on what he believes drove Isaac Adams to build the wall.
“At the end of the day, I personally think that he built the sections of the wall — and placed the statue of Niobe — on the sections most important for him to “claim” upon his grand return to Sandwich. That is, the sections facing the Weed Estate (Niobe faces directly at their main house, now owned by the Porters), as well as along the grand promenade up the hill into Lower Corner. This was at one point the main route into town from Moultonborough, and would have presented an imposing sight.
“It is open to conjecture just whom he meant specifically to target, but a local group of people refused to help Adams out of Sandwich to Boston when he was an enterprising young man, and he vowed to return a wealthy man and buy up all their land — or if he couldn’t, buy up all the land around them. I personally feel that the Weed family may have been the major, or at least one, target of his “revenge”. The bullet marks in Niobe’s upper arm, which we left in place, attest that someone from the direction of the Weed place may have taken the gesture personally, as well.”
The statue of Niobe is easily viewed from the road but, since the property at 24 Little Pond Road is private, interested visitors need to contact the Boones for permission to tour the mile-long wall. To see the statue and the Great Wall of Sandwich, take Route 109 out of Center Sandwich toward Moultonborough, and you will see Little Pond Road branching off to the left. The property is located very close to the intersection with Route 109.
For more information about Niobe or the wall, contact the Sandwich Historical Society at 603-284-6269, or log on to www.sandwichhistorical.org. 

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