Thornton Gore, or “The Gore” as it was known locally, is one of many towns and villages that once thrived in New Hampshire but have now disappeared into oblivion, consumed by the forest from whence they first emerged. Towns such as Chickenboro, Peeling, Whitcherville, Passaconaway and Pike were once thriving communities. They now lay hidden in the forests and mountains of New Hampshire. They were settled by men and women willing to cut their way into the wilderness to build a new life. They forged communities that were self-sustaining and infused with the spirit of community: building churches, schools, boarding houses, town halls, mills, taverns, roads and cemeteries to bury their loved ones. Then they left, leaving behind only the vestiges of their community
I often ask myself the question: why have some towns survived through the years and continue to prosper (such as New Hampton, where I live) while others have been abandoned and forgotten? There is one common denominator that all these abandoned towns have when answering this question: economics – they were abandoned because the inhabitants could no longer sustain themselves financially, whether it was the rocky soil of New Hampshire, depletion of the forests, or a changing economy. These lost communities now exist only as skeletal remains, like dinosaurs of the Mesozoic era. Their existence has been forgotten, except for their ruins that lie on the forest floor and in records stashed away in museums, libraries and local historical societies. I have been tramping into some of these lost communities for several years. When hiking the Appalachian Trail I found the remnants of mountain farming villages: orchards, cemeteries, dilapidated tobacco barns, fence posts, and cellar holes. Closer to home I have spent considerable time exploring and researching the abandoned towns of Livermore and Redstone. I am continually drawn to lost towns and the legacy they have left behind.
Last week I decided to visit the lost town of Thornton Gore with Reuben in tow. I knew the remnants of this once vigorous community were located off the Tripoli Road, not far from the interchange with I-93. But I didn’t know the exact location. I decided to pay a visit to my friend Steve Smith, owner of the Mountain Wanderer Book Store in Lincoln. Steve is the co-editor of the AMC White Mountain Guide and is a “walking library” on the geography and history of the White Mountains. After chatting with Steve about Thornton Gore and other sundry issues I made my way back to Tripoli Road and the trailhead to the lost community.
Thornton Gore was initially settled in 1804 by a few families, probably sharing religious values as Free Will Baptists and wishing to eke out an existence in the mountainous terrain, building small subsistence farms. Most farms were mainly wooded, with a few acres of pasture, hay and crops. The majority of the land, which was forested, was a valuable resource for lumber, firewood and maple sugar.
From 1820-30 the population grew significantly. A school was built in 1823 and later a grist mill was constructed on Eastman Brook, as well as a sawmill. By the 1850s there were 22 farms, a church, a post office, school and numerous roads connecting the farms and mills. Potatoes, besides being a valuable food source, proved to be an important cash crop. In 1850, 3,370 bushels were sold to the starch factory in Woodstock. Almost a half ton of maple sugar was produced, 300 pounds of butter were sold, as well as wool, to the Dole Woolen Mill in Campton and by mid-century Thornton Gore was a fairly prosperous mountain community.
However, in the 1860s the population began a decline. With the advent of the Civil War and the changing economy, many of the able-bodied men went off to war or began farming on more productive soils in Southern New England, New York and Ohio. Textile mills in southern New Hampshire offered employment for men and woman. Farm goods became less expensive than those grown locally due to the railroad moving northward from Plymouth to Woodstock. The community struggled to survive, building a larger sawmill and a bobbin mill. With the abandonment of many of the farms, the land began to turn back into forests and in 1895 George James of the New Hampshire Land Company began to buy large tracts of land. By 1900, the company owned most of Thornton Gore, selling timber to local lumber mills. He built a rail line, the Woodstock & Thornton Gore Railroad, to haul timber from the vanquished land to his mill in Woodstock. The mills in Thornton Gore were shuttered, farmland sold off and inhabitants migrated elsewhere. The town vanished into the forested landscape.
Karl Harrington described the road from Woodstock and Thornton Gore as it once existed. ‘“A fertile valley, opening with a curve to the east, the road lined on both sides with well-tilled farms. The lower hillsides were cleared for pasturage or mowing. Huge barns testified to the productivity of these grassy slopes, and the ruins of mills, schoolhouses, and farm buildings of every sort indicate how desolating has been the influence of modern civilization in this typical abandoned-farm region.”’ (Rick Russack, Thornton Gore, WhiteMountainHistory.org)
I began my exploration by finding the original road, called Gore Road, leading from the Tripoli Road into the section of the village located along the confluence of Talford and Eastman Brooks. It was about a half mile ramble down the well-kept path, which was once the main road into Woodstock. I first passed an apple orchard, with apple blossoms bursting from the branches. A large foundation, stone walls and dam lay directly across, most likely the homestead of one of the larger farms that once graced the area. I next passed a large cemetery with more than two dozen gravestones. It was a stark reminder that people in the community came here to their final resting spot; people who worked the land, labored in the mills, raised families, attended church, graduated from school, got married and most likely loved their land. American flags were standing next to several of the headstones, indicating military service. Peace and serenity seemed to fill the surroundings. As I passed the cemetery, stone walls began to line the road. This was evidence that at one time these were open fields, most likely pasture for sheep and cattle. Now the stone walls are being smothered by the encroaching forest as it slowly regains its dominion.
As I continued on the pathway, the river began to make its presence felt as the sound of the rushing water flooded the air and I soon found myself standing on the bank of Talford Brook, looking across to the opposite side. I could see the bridge abutment and remnants of the Thornton Gore Road. I understood why this became the home for so many. The water provided the mills with power to turn wheels and gears. It also was a source for drinking, cooking, watering livestock, and all the other necessities that we take for granted. While wandering around the area I found a road and a stone abutment heading off into the forest – most likely a road used to haul timber to the sawmill. Following the road, I came to a set of cascades on Eastman Brook and the stone work and gears of a water powered mill. This could have been the sawmill or the bobbin mill. Further exploits along Talford Brook took me to a sluice-like structure and other stone works that may have served as a former mill site.
Wildflowers were blooming everywhere: painted trillium, star flowers, violets, Indian cucumber and hairy Solomon’s seal. I found a large expanse of false hellebore or Indian poke in a swampy area. The roots and leaves of this plant are potentially fatal if eaten. Legend says that some Native American tribes used Indian Poke to test the strength of their leaders. Those who ate the plant and survived were fit to lead the tribe. A carpet of marsh blue violets covered a section of the old road that was now a marsh. I turned back and wound my way to the stream where Reuben wallowed in the clear, cold water, and drank lavishly. I wanted to continue my explorations, knowing there were more ruins and cellar holes spread over the area, but time was limited. I look forward to returning to Thornton Gore and continue my explorations. I’ve been told that more foundations can be found northward along Eastman Brook.
If you have an inkling to reconnoiter the Thornton Gore community it is easily accessible off Tripoli Road which can be reached by driving north on I-93. Take Tripoli Road, heading towards Waterville Valley. Drive past the Russell Pond Campground and a small USFS information cabin. Begin looking on the right for the gate to Forest Service Road 416. Wait until the black flies have died off. Bring a lunch and rest along the cascades of Eastman Brook or the sandy shoreline of Talford Brook. Spend some time contemplating the past of this once thriving village and mill site and enjoy the beauty of the mountain streams and the wooded landscape.
The history of Thornton Gore was gleaned from the WhiteMountainHistory.org website.
For questions or comments contact Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org