Rustic Little Rumney
By Kathi Caldwell-Hopper
I had the best of intentions. I always do. It was clean-up-my-messy-house-day and I planned to get everything neat and tidy and spotless. It was time to put away the beach towels and coolers and sunscreen from my adult daughter’s recent four-day visit, among the chores to be completed around the house.
However, it didn’t happen, because I got thinking about Rumney. I remembered the old, rustic barn beside the road and the pretty landscape and the lure of maybe finding an antique shop as I had in the past.
You may well ask, “Why Rumney?” Why would I want to spend the day visiting a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village?
First of all, I have very fond memories of the town from previous visits. Many years ago, on an autumn day, I discovered the rural treats that wait in Rumney. I can’t recall why I was driving through the area, but I took a turn off Rt. 25 into the village and found a shop that specialized in antique paper goods. They had some great old postcards and sheet msic. I had lunch at a nice restaurant and stopped by a pottery business. It was a beautiful fall day with bright sunshine and foliage, so wonderful that I always remembered it.
The lure of revisiting the town was strong, especially on a sunny summer’s day. The housework could wait, I told myself, because I wanted to also do some landscaping drawing and try out a new set of pastels I recently acquired. (I find drawing and painting outside in summer to be very relaxing and after all, everyone needs to relax now and then.) Rumney, with its rustic backroads and scenery would be a great place to get away from it all.
To reach Rumney from the Laconia area, I took Rt. 3/Daniel Webster Highway through Meredith to Bristol. I love the Bristol/Newfound Lake area, and on this day I was tempted to stop and relax lakeside, but I was on a bit of a mission to get to Rumney
Taking Rt. 3A from Bristol toward Bridgewater, I savored the road with its beautiful scenery and lake views. In Plymouth, I rounded the traffic circle toward Rumney, and soon passed Polar Caves on Rt. 25, an attraction that holds a special place for me, because it was where I took kids many m when they were little.
The road is considered a major route, but if you are looking to get away from it all and take in some pretty fields and mountain views, this is the place to be. My goal was to find that old barn (I never did, and I suspect it may have been razed), but as I drove into the village area off the main road, I immediately felt the peace and tranquility. The village green is pretty, with a little gazebo and benches and I thought what a nice spot it would be to relax during lunchtime…or anytime.
I decided, on a whim, to visit the Mary Baker Eddy House at 58 Stinson Road in Rumney. Again, it brought back fond memories of a previous visit some years ago when I toured the little Cape-style historic home with the property’s caretaker. This time, I noticed the open flag was flying in front of the little house and decided to stop. I was met at the front door by Cindy Love, the resident overseer of the property. Cindy invited me in and asked me to sign the guest book in the little entrance area where some books on Mary Baker Eddy and other items were for sale.
The last time I visited, I was given a brief bit of information on Mary and then taken on a tour. My visit lasted maybe a half-hour because the home is modest in size: A two-up and two-down sort of structure. This time, I spent about an hour and a half at the home, because Cindy gives an informative talk after inviting visitors into the parlor. Guests are told they may sit on any chair unless a ribbon is placed on the chair to indicate it is fragile. A family of four was also visiting and the two pre-teen daughters sat on the green silk fainting couch where Mary Baker would have once rested; I doubt if they had ever seen such a pretty but unusual sofa before!
Cindy shared the story of Mary Baker Eddy and the many hardships and ill health Mrs. Eddy endured before, during and after the Civil War times. Although Rumney and the surrounding towns were busier back then, it was still a remote area and one can only imagine how lonely it may have been. Mary’s husband, a dentist, ran a practice from the room across the hall on the first floor. In such a small home, there was probably no other place for Mary to sit and sew and write and read than in the parlor. It was here that the dentist’s patients would wait for their appointment. Back then, a visit to the dentist likely meant pain and patients were understandably nervous. Mary was a comfort to many, offering a gentle, supportive presence that was a precursor to her later spiritual work.
After the talk, Cindy led me on a tour of the home, pointing out architectural features. We talked about what the original house would have been like, how Mary coped with life in the country and the ups and downs of living with her husband. (The dentist abandoned her and ran away with another woman; he returned and while she tried to make the marriage work, she eventually tired of his behavior.)
I was struck by the sense of quiet and the atmosphere of history in the home. Mary’s long struggles and ill health and eventual spiritual healing that led to the start of Christian Science were forming while in Rumney. Certainly, she went on to lead an exceptional life.
I asked Cindy, before I left, where the road in front of the house led, since I had never ventured further than Mary Baker Eddy’s home. She replied, “It leads to Stinson Lake and it’s just a few miles up the road.”
Intrigued, I decided to take a little adventure drive to see the lake. Although I have heard of Stinson Lake, I had no idea it was nearby and I was a bit surprised that there was a lake up there, as I drove up, up, up the hill. Eventually I came to the lake area, and it was a pretty little body of water with many cottages hugging its shores. I did not venture far, because a road crew was doing construction, and it would have made travel on that particular day a bit difficult. I plan to return in the fall to follow Stinson Lake Road to see where it leads in true day-tripping fashion.
I turned around and headed back down Stinson Lake Road and on a whim, decided to stop at the Rumney Village store for a snack. The store is just what you imagine a village country store to be: with a porch, and lots of locals shooting the breeze about all the local and national news.
Historically, the store was built in 1865, right about the time Mary Baker Eddy was finding her spiritual path. The store is a rarity: it is one of the few surviving examples of a late 19th-century village store. It was originally a residence with a blacksmith shop, and later became a store. Today, it still operates as a store where, if you live locally and realize you are out of milk or bread, you can stop at the Village Store. The store is located at 453 Main Street and also has art work and gifts.
I took my coffee and snack to the Rumney Common, which is nearby. It was hot in the mid-day sun, but the common was cool, surrounded by shade trees. I sat on a bench and soaked up the peace and quiet. Now and then, I could hear someone at a nearby house chatting with a neighbor over the back fence, and a car would rattle by on the road to Stinson Lake, but mostly it was just small-town quiet and serenity. It was just what I needed to relax and enjoy the beauty of the day.
Just around the corner, I spotted a large brick building and was a bit surprised that such a small town had an impressive structure for its library. I like to stop at small-town NH libraries now and then. I don’t have a library card at the many libraries I visit, but you can be assured most of them have some great architectural features and the Byron G. Merrill Public Library in Rumney did not disappoint. Located on Buffalo Road, the library also fronts Main Street and the common. Taking the entrance steps, I looked up at the very large stone columns on each side of doorway. Once inside, I saw the lobby area had lots of mellow woodwork and marble.
The 1904 library was designed in the Colonial Revival style, donated by Adelaide Merrill in honor of her father. Clearly, the Merrill family was one of wealth because the library cost $16,000 to build in its day, quite a large sum of money.
Byron G. Merrill was born in Rumney in 1834 and educated in local schools. When the Boston, Concord, Montreal rail line was surveyed, Merrill acted as rod man under the guidance of Josiah Quincy, another Rumney resident. In 1875, Merrill became superintendent of the mechanical department of the Gelena Oil Company in Franklin, Pennsylvania. He became one of the best qualified experts on lubricating oils and their proper use. He traveled and sold large quantities of oil. Merrill spent his last 30 years in Concord, NH, and was involved in municipal affairs.
A big book sale was taking place when I visited, and I came away with a few great books for bargain prices. While I was paying for my books, I asked the librarian to tell me a bit about the building and its history. She was eager to oblige and like any hard-working, dedicated librarian, she took me on a tour of the building. Every book shelf, every book and detail of the library was important to her and she also pointed out the handicap access area and then took me to see the lower level with another fascinating feature.
If you like to imagine what life was like in a remote, rural village many years ago, you will find the lower level area with a nice small stage area quite appealing. “What is a stage doing in a library?” I couldn’t help but ask. It seems it was once used by the local women’s club and other civic groups for poetry readings and meetings. I could just imagine a local ladies club in the early 1900s or even 1940, during the war years, gathering at the library to work on war-effort projects or getting together to discuss a book or poems, or even to put on a little play for the townspeople. The stage was modest in size, but had beautiful woodworking details. These days, the lower level is used for a teen room, probably appreciated by local kids as an after-school spot to study and gather. For information on the library, call 603-786-9520.
After leaving the library, I realized I had not gotten lost yet, which is a bit of a marvel for me. (I have a terrible sense of direction!). But that soon changed, when I thought I was taking the correct road back to Route 25. As I continued on Buffalo Road, I realized I was wrong. However, the road is the place where rock climbers and hikers convene to use the Rumney Rocks and Rattlesnake Mountain areas.
Rumney Rocks climbing area has two parking lots on the right-hand side of the road approximately one mile from the village intersection. The trailhead to Rattlesnake Mountain is about another 1.5 miles past these parking areas. It was too hot to go hiking on this day, and I was not dressed for such an activity (sandals vs. sneakers or hiking boots do not make for a good hike) but I plan to return with my adventure-loving son or daughter in the fall when the temps are cooler and foliage will create an added beauty to the landscape. For more information on the area, contact the White Mountain National Forest Headquarters at 603-536-6100.
As the afternoon wore on, I decided to head back from Rumney to explore the Quincy Bog Natural Area on Quincy Bog Road. I parked (there is a good parking area) and then took a nice walk towards the boardwalk over the bog. Trail stations are marked and give the history of the bog, the plant and animal life and other interesting information. There are many stations along the trail and this area is well worth visiting. Go to www.quincybog.org for more information.
Just when I thought my day trip jaunt was complete, I happened upon a gem of a farm stand/farm. Longview Farm at 175 Quincy Road in Plymouth was a must-visit stop, with its large farm stand area. The farmers were busy and I appreciated the wide range of vegetables with such unusual additions as lemon cucumbers (of course I had to purchase some of these), as well as fresh tomatoes and all sorts of veggies. I spied an extensive flower garden in the field and asked if they allowed customers to cut their own flowers. They were eager to let me do so, and I found myself in one of the largest, most beautiful floral gardens I have ever had the pleasure to find. After gathering my flowers and paying for them back at the stand, the owners of the farm gave me permission to park nearby and do some outdoor sketching of the gardens. It was a wonderful way to end my day before driving back through Plymouth and onto I-93 and eventually to the Laconia area.
While my housework was still there when I got home, the day trip escape to Rumney was just what I needed to relax and rejuvenate. Next winter, when the winds howl and the snow piles up around my door, I will pull out my photos of Rumney in all its summertime glory and remember Mary Baker Eddy and her little home and the beautiful town library, the rock cliffs, the bog and the farm stand. And those memories will make my rustic day trip to Rumney all worthwhile.