The Oldest House in pdf format

The Oldest House in One of the Oldest Towns

By Helen A. Parker

"Old home! Old Hearts! Upon my Soul forever
There peace and gladness lie like tears and laughter
Madison Cawein. Old Homes.

On a beautiful morning in the early part of June it was my good fortune to make a pilgrimage to the home of my great-grandfather, General Michael McClary. I had been there several times before on trips of business or duty of one kind or another, but then my time had been limited for seeing thoroughly the beauties of the place and letting the associations it had with my forebears sink into my mind and become as it were a part of me. This time I was going quite by myself with no care or worry to fret me and time enough to make the day as long as I wanted.
I took the 9 o'clock electrics from Concord and rode through Pembroke with its lovely scenery on each side and the cool air blowing through, and then had a ride of about half an hour on the little old fashioned Suncook Valley train from Blodgett, where after considerable delay of backing the engine to attach a passenger car to the freight car, as much puffing of smoke and as many hops off and on of the engineer to wave signals as on one of our big Western Limiteds, we were finally off.
The scenery most of the way to Epsom is not particularly pretty- a little so just out of Blodgett before you reach Allenstown-after that the country is bare and uninteresting until near Epsom it begins to look green and woodsy again, with pretty hills and farms scattered here and there with white houses with green blinds built on them. I walked from the station from preference as I wanted to make it a real old fashioned trip and do it in the old fashioned way. An old man who got out of the train with me went limping along just ahead, taking the middle of the road fearless of automobiles and wagons. If he could walk then surely I could.
As the way to the old McClary house is almost entirely uphill and some of it very steep and covers a distance of three miles or more, I felt I was performing quite a feat in these days of automobiles when it is much as ever one thinks one can walk at all. But I felt well repaid for the effort as in all my previous trips to Epsom I had never fully realized the beauty of this, one of New Hampshire's oldest towns, and the especial beauty of situation of my grandfather's house in it.
After going over a long stretch in the Gossville district, past the library building which has been recently erected and does immense credit to the town, the Baptist Church (the only church now), and a pretty brook where the water is always running fresh and cool, a steep hill brings you out at the old burying ground beyond which the road (still uphill!) goes past a number of old houses quaint and attractive. They are built quite close together and most of them have farms attached. After this comes a long avenue comparatively level lined each side with tall, beautiful elm and maple trees.
It reaches a corner where the road divides at the foot of McCoy mountain. There is a tablet there in memory of Isabella McCoy who was captured by the Indians way back in the summer of 1747. I always stop there and think of how she was marched way up into Canada and how frightened she must have been and how sad she must have felt to be leaving her family and friends. But she was more fortunate than most of her sisters of that time in that the Indians treated her kindly and gave her apples they gathered from an orchard nearby- one at the end of each day's journey. It is a very wierd spot with dark thick woods, just the kind of place one can imagine such a scene to happen as did to Mrs. McCoy.
Now for the last and steepest hill of all-like climbing the side of a mountain-and there is the opening to the old house. It is set in quite a way from the road on top of a high rise of ground. You hardly notice the house at first as it is a pale gray color and surrounded on all sides by tall trees. The opening leading to it on one side is thickly lined with lombardy poplars and willow trees. The latter were planted by one of Gen. McClary's daughters, my great-aunt Nancy Lord. She rode up from Portsmouth on horseback soon after her marriage and dismounting at the foot of the lane stuck her willow whip into the ground and from it grew the beautiful thick row of willows. On the other side at the foot is a frog pond where frogs of all sizes from big mister bullfrog to the tiniest baby frogs croak and splash in the water. There have been several attempts to fill it up (for what reason I do not know), but in vain. Hence it is thought the bottom is full of quicksand. At any rate the frogs still have it their own way there and it is always at least wet in the driest weather. Above the frog pond are some stout pines, quite a grove of them, and a big cluster of honey locust trees. How beautiful and fragrant the white blossoms were this lovely June day!
And there behind two giant elms that met at the front door stood the old house unchanged as when I saw it last. It is painted gray and set square and true with narrow clapboards overlapping neatly and fastened with nails every one of them made by hand. The wood is so strong and perfect that there is not a worn or broken place apparent in the whole structure. It was built in 1741 by the Hon. John M c C1 a r y, my great-grandfather's father, and replaced the log cabin that his father, the first one of the family that came to this country built. At first it was a one-story structure but was altered and enlarged at different times until it has become the venerable mansion it is now.
The Hon. John McClary lived here to the good old age of 82. It is interesting to note that he was a brother of Major McClary of Bunker Hill fame and took himself an important part in the American Revolution both in the army and politics. He was one of the leading men of his time in Epsom, being town moderator for over 40 years, Justice of Peace, and general adviser in all affairs of the town and vicinity. He was a member of the Committee of Safety, a very important branch at that time, and later was elected to the State Council and Senate. He is said to have been tall, commanding and dignified and that he made a fine presiding officer. I opened a drawer in an old desk and looked again at a picture of my great-grandfather, Gen. Michael McClary, and I should think he must have resembled his father as his features are strong and handsome with a fine set and shape of the head.
To return to the house- the land on which it is built consisted originally of 100 acres granted from King George though considerable has been added since. In those days people built their own houses, each boy doing his share and the father superintending the whole, the neighbors assisting at the "raising". So I suppose each of Esq. John's sons worked on it and the wood used was all grown on the place. The furniture too, much of which is very old and beautiful, was made at home or by traveling journeymen who came to the house, except what was brought over in the ship with the first one of the family who came to America. The dining room set of chairs for instance is hardwood (cherry I think), arrow-back shape, and was made of wood off the place. It was a wedding gift to one of my great-aunts from her grandfather, and is in the dining room now, a fitting ornament. Grandma McClary's silhouette, in its gold frame, hangs over the old fashioned sideboard. But I have jumped from the front door to the dining room-quite a distance in that rambling old house.
As one enters the small old-fashioned front hall the thing most noticeable besides the tall eight-day clock on the first landing of the staircase is the gray wallpaper. It is a peacock pattern in different shades of gray, and black and white. It was imported from France as the house was built before wallpaper was made in this country, and the view one gets of it, especially as I did that day sitting in one of the front rooms, is lovely. It is so thick and strong that there is not a break or tear in it after all those years.
The house faces north and this northeast room is cool and lovely in summer. The choicest furniture is here, some made as I mentioned from wood off the place and some brought over from Londonderry, Ireland. Here are mahogany chairs of ancient pattern having the General's favorite son John's initials in gold on the back. Grandma McClary's large wing chair by the fireplace and a beautiful mahogany table between the windows with a gold mirror over it. In the drawer are the brushes that were used for the weekly wax polishing . The walls of this room are hung with interesting old prints, some French scenes of Napoleon's time and some of our own country in Revolutionary times. The large fireplace with its handsome brass andirons gives an air of cheer and comfort; and there is a fireplace like it in the other front room.
This room faces north west and in the old days was used as a guest chamber, and surely if "the ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it" this house was well adorned-for in it Esq. John McClary received friendly and official visits from leading men, civil and military meetings were held here, and here for a half a century his son gave hospitality to his townsmen and distinguished men of his time, such as Generals Sullivan, Dearborn and Stark, and Governors Gilman, Langdon, Plummer and Smith. The New Hampshire branch of the Society of the Cincinnati of which Gen. McClary was a member held three of its annual meetings here. Daniel Webster also was a frequent guest being an intimate friend of the family. One of the chambers upstairs contains the set of mahogany furniture that was in the room he occupied and is named "the Daniel Webster room". There is the large four-poster bed he slept in, a large swell-front bureau, dressing table and small light stand, chairs, and the washstand with its little old-fashioned blue and white bowl and pitcher. A handsome blue and white wool square, hand woven, covers the centre of the floor.
The down stairs north west room has a beautiful clump of lilac bushes growing up to the windows on one side and from the other the view of San-born hill and Mt. Kearsarge is wonderful.
I love to rummage in a closet by the fireplace which contains a host of interesting things-photographs, old letters, some from distinguished people, such as Paul Revere and Webster, old fashion baskets and boxes galore, a sampler worked in memory of Gen. McClary by one of his daughters, and the old brass warming-pan which I brought out and hung by the fireplace in the next room. This used to be the dining room. It is called the "long room" from its shape and extends the whole width of the house with windows east and south. The fireplace here is the largest one in the house with an old dutch oven at one side for baking. It is hung with a row of hooks all sizes for hanging pots and kettles. A huge iron teakettle is hanging there of odd shape and black as the blackest ebony. There is" the long handled iron shovel they used to bank the fire and an old toaster besides the usual set of ordinary sized shovel and tongs. A gate legged table and a large mahogany secretary with brass handles and two secret drawers are the most interesting pieces of furniture in the room. The old china and pewter is arranged on deep shelves in two cupboards there in the "long room".
A door with a length of old-fashioned bull's-eye glass in the top panel in shades of green and white leads from this room to a passage way with doors east and west. From this is the present dining room. The fireplace is a corner-chimney one, built recently, but very pretty and in keeping with the rest of the room. The windows look out on a grove of pines on one side and another long row of lilac bushes the other. I must not omit the beautiful mahogany dining table with its delicate carved legs and smooth satiny surface. It was capable of seating many besides the family, and I like to think of Daniel Webster seated there, Gen. Sullivan and Lafayette and other distinguished men, Gen. McClary and his wife dispensing the hospitalities and the children on their best behavior. It is said no nation has so much patriotic pride in its ancestry as our own, and I may be pardoned for a special mention of my great-grandfather.
The second son of Esq. John Mc-Clary and a nephew of Major Andrew McClary who fell at the battle of Bunker Hill, he was born in Epsom in 1753 and was a "smart active lad" according to the historians, with a decided military taste. At the beginning of the Revolutionary War he was ensign in Col. Stark's regiment and was fighting in a very precarious position under slight cover. The enemy was driven back twice but the brave company of soldiers did not leave their post until all their ammunition was' gone. He was soon promoted to Captain and transferred to Col. Scammel's regiment. Serving four years in the army he took part in some of the most important battles of the war, and endured with his men severe hardship and privation. Upon his return from the war he married Sarah Dearborn, a daughter of Dr. Dearborn of North Hampton, N. H.
His army life was followed by an important political life. For nearly fifty years he held some important office. He took an active part in organizing the State Government and was Adjutant General twenty one years, Senator seven years, and for a long time U. S. Marshall-an important office in the war of 1812. When he retired from the Senate he was offered the nomination for Governor but declined it.
But although well known and honored throughout the state the old writers seem to lay special stress on his power and popularity in his native town. He seemed to be the controlling spirit in Epsom and for over fifty years served his townsmen as moderator, Town Clerk, Representative or Auditor and without doubt was the most influential man who ever lived there. An old citizen remarked,-"If I had a family of children who would obey me as well as the people of Epsom do Gen. McClary I should be a happy man." He also did much as Justice of the Peace and Probate Judge, and took an important part in organizing the New Hampshire branch of the Society of the Cincinnati. He was their first treasurer, holding this office twenty five years. He was courteous and pleasing in manner, interesting in conversation, graceful in movement, generous, hospitable and public-spirited. His acquaintance and correspondence was remarkably extensive, including many of the most distinguished men of the country. And yet mingled with the happiness that came from a plenty of this world's goods and many honors there was also the usual amount of sorrow. The oldest son, John, known in Epsom as "the Hon. John" from his being the first President of the first New Hampshire Senate, was a young man of great beauty and promise. Besides being Representative and Senator in his state he had a clerkship at Washington. When but 36 he was killed by the falling off a building while helping at a house raising in the neighborhood. His father never recovered from the blow. His second son Andrew was also very bright and attractive but a disappointment in that he had a wild roving disposition. He joined the army in the war of 1812 and was made Captain. Soon after he sailed for Calcutta and was lost at sea. The three daughters, Nancy, Elizabeth, and Mary were very attractive and grew up to be a comfort to their parents. They all married and two lived to old age.
My interest in Gen. McClary and his family may have led me from the main purpose of this sketch which was to describe his home, and yet though now gone he seems a part of it and the dining table, the friendly chairs and sideboard speak of him as though he were really present.
Out from the dining room is the kitchen and it is one of the nicest rooms of all. It is good-sized with windows looking north and south. At the south there is a beautiful view of the three mountains standing close together- McCoy, Nottingham and Fort. They look so near, especially Fort Mountain, that you feel as though it would be a short walk up. But just try it and see how you come out! It is a case of "so near and yet so far." But what a view repays you when you have persevered to the very top. There lie the blue hills in Massachusetts, Wachusett, the Presidential Range in the White Mountains, Monadnock, and Portsmouth Harbour at the east where the signal service was in the World War.
There is a large curious cheese safe standing by the wall in the kitchen. It has a buttoned door opening on wide shelves that were used for laying away the new cheese. From the kitchen you pass through a small entry and out on a back door stone smooth and flat in shape of a half circle. A little distance away is the old wooden well gray with age but in good condition. It operates with a wheel and crank and the water is ice cold on the hottest day in summer. I might speak of the large pastures, the blueberry field, the wild strawberries, and the different kinds of trees, for besides those I have mentioned in front of the house there are many more pines behind, also spruce and cedar, maples, and apple, pear and cherry trees. The long row of farm buildings that used to be there are now gone. There was a barn 80 feet long with an open shed, a hog house, carriage house, tool house and a woodshed -a fine equipment for the prosperous farm that was carried on for many years.
There is also a cunning cool little bedroom off the "long room" that I have not mentioned, several chambers upstairs besides the "Daniel Webster room", and a large attic full of spinning wheels and reels, more furniture, old chests filled with bed quilts and blankets of home manufacture, candlesticks, moulds and snuffers, and the cradle that seven generations of the family have had the honor to be rocked in.
I must content myself with speaking of but one more thing belonging particularly to the house-namely, a secret stairway. It consists of an invisible opening in a wide panel in a passage leading from the back entry. If you succeed in opening it which is quite a trial of patience, you see a steep flight of stairs. They lead to a storeroom above that opens into a back hall communicating with the upper chambers. Family tradition has it that Aunt Nancy's grandfather built it for her express use, she being the belle of the family and a lover of parties and good times. It is many years since she tripped up the narrow stairs and it looks rather dark and spidery but all the young people who come to the house ask to see the "secret stairway".
And now it is getting time for me to say goodbye again to the old house. I take a last look through all the rooms to see that all is right and then lock the door and leave it alone with its dreams and memories.

From the GRANITE MONTHLY August 1925