Thursday, October 24, 2013

The History of the Whitcomb House

The Bridges Inn is located in a house built by the Whitcomb family, on a site originally settled by the Strattons.  It is of a distinct style, only found in New England, where there was a high-concentration of Yankee farmers.  We might call it an extended or connected house, while historian Thomas Hubka refers to it as, "Big house, little house, back house, barn".


In the above picture, there are four different pitches on the roof, representing what is likely four phases of construction.  The barn is visible with the two garage doors and a flag, followed by the back house, which ends at the bay window (popular during the late nineteenth century).  The little house, employing Hubka's terminology, would include the bay window and the three windows above it.  Finally, in the front of the house facing Main Street, we find the original Stratton residence. Also visible in old photos of the house is a wrap-around porch that was removed about a half century ago.

Proceeding with a mixture of observation, guess work, and Hubka's research, we will take a look at how this unique house came into being.  The Whitcombs purchased the house in 1841, which at that time, may have been a typical cape, as in Cape Cod-style home, two rooms wide and one room deep, called by Hubka a hall-and-parlor house.  It is typical for that style of house to be built as a single story.  When the family could afford it, they would jack up the cape and build an entire first floor beneath the original home, sometimes with a lavish wrap-around porch, seen in the black and white photo below.

Looking at the photographs, we can clearly see that the front part of the house has a granite foundation, while the second part of the house, near the bay window, changes over to a brick foundation.  I conclude that the the Strattons built the granite part, while the Whitcombs constructed the parts of the house built on a brick foundation.  After purchasing the property, the Whitcombs, being Whitcombs, built an entire house attached to the original home.  This 1841 demarcation runs approximately up from the window in the center of the photograph below, where a door used to be.

Looking at this old photograph (below), a prominent door existed next to the bay window.  This corresponds to the style that Hubka calls a center-chimney house.  If there was a center chimney, it would have been right in front of the side door next to the bay window. 

Yankee farmers were nostalgic for their fireplaces and reluctant to give them up.  The mantle and a roaring fire are all very romantic.  However, they are also quite drafty and waste heat, burning wood inefficiently.  Hubka reports that beginning in the 1840's, New England farmers made the move towards wood stoves.  Many farmers built what is called a summer kitchen, a room for the stove, which was used year-round despite the name.

In the picture above, the old wood stove can be seen, as well as where its chimney used to connect to the wall.  In the background are the stairs that would have been immediately in front of the side door (now gone).  These stairs are steeper and more narrow than the other set of stairs, in the front of the house, which makes me wonder if these stairs were built after a chimney was removed.  The black and white photo above shows two chimneys, one for the wood-powered cooking stove and one for the boiler in the basement, to produce steam heat.  Prior to that, if there was a central chimney, it would have been where the staircase is, in the photo above.

The summer kitchen may have been built sometime after the Whitcombs moved in.  It is included in what Hubka calls the back house.  He says that after the 1830's, New England farmers could not compete with agricultural products shipped down the Erie Canal from Ohio River valley farmers.  Struggling to survive, they became involved in home industry, especially during the winter months.  In the back house, which we call the tea room at the Bridges Inn, yankee farmers may have processed food, carved trinkets, and produced items for sale, such as wooden chairs and tool handles.

Finally there is the barn, beginning with the sign (at the left of the flag) until the end; radiators installed in the barn indicate that the barn was once heated.  The garage doors may have been built for carriages. The short, wide windows would have been just right to slide down bale of hay, to eagerly awaiting horses.  New England farms struggled through the nineteenth century, until the advent of refrigerated railroad cars created the dairy market and brought financial stability to the farmers.  At that point, however, it may have been too late.  Many New Englanders left home for the promises of the West, and many New England towns celebrated Old Home Days to invite their children back from the cities.

The Whitcomb House may be unique in that it was never a working farm.  The railroad came through West Swanzey, so products were produced for the market.  The Whitcombs owned some land and had access to trees, allowing them access to plenty of lumber.  They produced buckets and other containers, before the age of corrugated cardboard, shipping them on the railroad.  The ruins of their factory can still be seen down Prospect Street, beyond the Inn, with a prominent smokestack, protruding from what must have been a foundry (to make nails for the buckets).

The house stayed in the Whitcomb family until after Edna Whitcomb's death in 1961. By then, most of the construction was completed. For about thirty years, private families lived here.  Then in the nineties, the Munsons converted the home into a bed and breakfast. They sold the property in 2001, and in 2006, the current innkeepers bought the historic property.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Colorful Cheshire County

This region of southwestern New Hampshire is also known as the Monadnock Region and Cheshire County. Whatever you call it, you have to appreciate its colors at this time of year. Although heavy rain and wind took down several leaves earlier this week, this area is still filled with an array of beautiful autumn colors.

Below are some photos of this region, some compiled from facebook postings, with credit given to the photographers.
We took this photo of this beautiful maple on Belmont Street in Keene

Photo of the Bridges Inn (taken during a previous autumn)

Another photo of the Bridges Inn (taken during a previous autumn)

                 Ashuelot Covered Bridge - Winchester         Slate Covered Bridge - Swanzey
                John Burk Nature Outdoor Photography                    Donna Doherty

                Marlboro Jaffrey Line - Mt. Monadnock               Wilson Pond - Swanzey 
                             Tauna Gravel Calise                                  Diane Purrington

The State of New Hampshire has a website listing events and scenic places throughout the state
You'll also find a foliage tracker app at
We're fairly booked at the Bridges Inn at Whitcomb House for October. Most of our availability at this point is during the week. If you can't make it to New Hampshire during October, we think this region is beautiful at most any time of the year.

Round images by Suerae Stein of Red Barn Artworks - they are for sale as ceramic ornaments at the Bridges Inn at Whitcomb House.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Arts and Culture in Peterborough, New Hampshire

Visitors to the Monadnock region have commented that each small town is unique. Each town has its own flavor, so it's not any great leap to say that Keene is different from Peterborough. While both towns are in southwestern New Hampshire and only about eighteen miles apart, each has a distinct character. It is the result of the people who live there and the culture they have created over the years.

Large and long-lasting institutions also tend to influence local character.  In Keene, for instance, the local college, Keene State, contributes greatly to the arts and culture.  In Peterborough, however, the influence is a little more subtle. Visitors will immediately notice that the small town has a rich culture of arts, such as the Peterborough Players professional theater.

Harder to see is the MacDowell Colony (shown below) which is only open to the public one day out of the year. Sunday August 11th was that day this year, in 2013.  The Colony opened its doors to let the public visit the grounds, meet the artists, and experience their work. There are several small cabins in the woods that are made available to qualifying artists for short periods of time.  With their needs taken care of, in a forest setting, the artists can then focus on their work. The winner of this year's Edward MacDowell Medal was composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.

The Colony is out in the woods, not too far from the center of town, but you'd never know it's there. You would, nonetheless, be aware of its influence.  

Peterborough has some great places for the arts.  Check out the Sharon Arts Center that supports and serves artists and craftspeople, and to engage the community in the artistic process. There is also the Mariposa Museum of folk art and native culture that will delight people of all ages. The Monadnock Center for History and Culture at the Peterborough Historical Society will give you a glimpse of the history and culture of this region. Monadnock Music offers a variety of musical performances such as chamber music, opera, and vocal and piano soloists at a number of venues in Peterborough and other nearby communities. Shown below is Gil Rose conducting Monadnock Sinfonietta.

While visiting Peterborough, you'll find eateries, restaurants, bookstores, gift shops, outdoor activities, and much more to make your experience more complete and memorable. However, because the focus of this blog is on the arts, we are not attempting to cover everything that's great about Peterborough.

We would encourage guests of the Bridges Inn to plan a day to explore this great small town, along with some of the others in the vicinity.  Experience for yourself the nuances in local character and culture, and see if you think these two neighboring towns in southwestern New Hampshire have their own personality.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Old Home Day / Denman Thompson Play

Saturday, July 20th was Swanzey's day in the spot light.  It was Old Home Day, discussed in an earlier blog, which capped several days of activity, beginning on Thursday night.  Thomas Hubka gave a talk on his book, "Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn".  Swanzey is located among a small group of Yankee communities that built connected farmhouses.  New Hampshire farms struggled to survive and needed to get involved with some kind of home industry, which is why this is the only area in which you will find these connected houses.  In fact, the Bridges Inn at Whitcomb House is an example of one of these expansive homes.

On Saturday, the festivities began with a parade and a 12.5 mile bike ride through the covered bridges of Swanzey. There were classic cars.

As well as train rides and hula hoops; plus there was a huge sandbox and many fun activities for kids.  There was also an information gazebo, where you can see the ever-hard-working Kathy Habiby.  There were numerous food vendors and a farmers market with local seasonal items from fruit and vegetables to preserves and maple syrup. There were alpacas, too, and a miniature horse from Crescendo Acres Farm.

There was also a display dedicated to the Whitcomb Hall renovation fund.  For more information, see previous blog post.

For three nights, local residents performed the 72nd revival of Denman Thompson's classic play, "The Old Homestead".  These volunteers, whose duties range from acting to make-up and lighting, are keeping a tradition going.  If you live in the area, you could consider attending or helping next year.                                              
Denman Thompson was born in Swanzey and went to New York City, where he found success as an actor and playwright.  His drama and musical about Swanzey takes place in 1886, which we know because Mr. Whitcomb is told that he is ten years too late for the centennial.  Joshua Whitcomb is one of the characters, representing as a typical resident of Swanzey.  He is represented as a fool, a loving fool, but a fool nonetheless.

The play really captures one moment in history.  The musicals, I'm sure, represent what people did on farms before radio and television.  The mannerisms feel very authentic as well.  But it is priceless as a piece of the early story of urbanization.
Photo from The Old Homestead website 
Denman Thompson had family in Swanzey and he spent a few of his teenage years in the town.  One can imagine him as a youngster, awed and intimidated by Mr. Whitcomb.  Perhaps Denman felt that the large Whitcomb family acted like Swanzey was their own private town.  To be fair, the Whitcombs had a lot of power and influence, but they also gave back and contributed quite a bit, including running successful business enterprises and the resulting local jobs.

Later in life, when Denman achieved some measure of success in the city, he came back to Swanzey with the courage to say things about Mr. Whitcomb that nobody else dared to.  Like Toto pulling back the curtain in the "Wizard of Oz", the illusion was shattered.  In the play, Mr. Whitcomb was portrayed as a hillbilly, who leaves his wife in the final scene to marry a widow in the city.  The young couple who remained in Swanzey, Ebenezer and Rickety Ann, were not quite the town's most upstanding citizens.  The play stands as a monument in time, in which children of Yankee farmers were all-too-eager to give up their traditions and move to the city.  It marks the decline of agrarian New England.

This moment was discussed by Professor Hubka as well.  He said that the railroad, refrigeration, and other new technology created the dairy industry around the turn-of-the-century.  Finally the economic life of New England farms was stabilized, but it was too late.  The lifestyle was in terminal decline by that time, just as would happen with manufacturing in Swanzey a century later.

Some events from the past seem to repeat themselves, despite our best efforts to prevent them.  Other events take a lot of effort and hard work just to make them happen each year.  The Old Home Day and production of the play have continued for all of these years for one reason, which is due to all of the volunteers.  Thank you to everyone who contributed to events!

Next year, we'll have to do it all over again.  Swanzey Old Home Day and The Old Homestead play will likely be repeated on the third weekend of July in 2014. Watch this blog and the Bridges Inn Facebook page for announcements next year.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day trip to the Windsor / Cornish Area

In previous blog posts, various single day excursions from the Bridges Inn have been discussed, such as the Covered Bridge Loop.  In this blog post, we will explore another exciting destination to Windsor, Vermont and Cornish, New Hampshire, just over an hour drive from the Bridges Inn.

A day-trip to the Windsor / Cornish area is ideal for guests staying at the Bridges Inn. You can take Route 10 North to Route 12 North, passing by delicious Walpole, NH, home of Burdick's Chocolate, Alyson's Orchard, and the Walpole Creamery.  Then you can catch Interstate 91 North to Windsor.

Windsor, of course, is the birthplace of Vermont.  It was active in colonial and revolutionary times.  Vermont was actually the fourteenth state, carved out of New York as the result of a dispute over land given by the King of England prior to independence.  Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys play into this history.  Windsor went on to become a cutting-edge center of machine tool technology and production.  In the context of the nineteenth century, machine tool is a euphemism for rifles, and many of these were manufactured in the Windsor, VT - Claremont, NH area, known as precision valley.

Pictured below is the American Precision Museum, celebrating the region's unique place in the development of modern mass-production and machine technology. The exhibit is a look back at the industrial revolution, and it currently features a display related to Vermont's role in the Civil War.  Vermont contributed both men and state-of-the-art rifles with interchangeable parts.  2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the Precision museum's display is part of a larger summer of events, with more information available here.  Seen below is a belt-driven milling machine, one of many pieces in working condition.

One of the many destinations in Windsor is Great River Outfitters.  They offer rafting trips on the Connecticut River (shown below) and are located adjacent to one of the coolest outdoor parks that I have ever seen.  The entire campus is called Artisans Park.  The outdoor park is a meditative walk through lush, landscaped groups that includes the Tunnel of Oblivion, a massive hedge-row labyrinth/Path of Life Garden (shown below), a collection of Easter-Island-esque standing stones called "Community", and the Tree of Wisdom.

Also at Artisans Park is Harpoon Brewery, a fine microbrewery and restaurant with a beer garden.  Located next to Harpoon is the Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company and the Sustainable Farmer.  Here you can get high quality local products, in addition to pizza on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.  It is cooked outside in an impressive, large wood-fired oven made of cooper.

While you are in Windsor, make sure to check out Simon Pearce.  You'll find great glassware and pottery, some of which is available at a substantial discount.  The production floor is available for viewing.  In nearby Quechee, Vermount, you can visit the Simon Pearce Mill and restaurant.

After seeing the sights of Windsor, Vermont, travelers can venture over the longest single-span covered bridge that carries vehicles in the world.  Situated very close to the Precision Museum, the Windsor-Cornish Covered Bridge, built in 1866, spans the Connecticut River, connecting Vermont and New Hampshire. Directions to the Windsor-Cornish covered bridge from the Bridges Inn can be found on the covered bridge page of our website - scroll down to the bottom of the page.

After crossing into New Hampshire, it is a short drive to Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, open seasonally from May until October.  Home to Augustus Saint-Gaudens, many of his sculptures are on display at this luxurious old mansion.  The gardens are lovely as well.  Famous in his time, Saint-Gaudens designed the Lincoln Memorial (bust of Lincoln, bottom left) and many other well-known sculptures and coins.  This is the only site in New Hampshire operated by the National Park Service and, as such, adheres to National Park admission policies.

Returning to the Bridges Inn, it is possible to do a loop, going through either Newport, NH on Route 10 South or I-91 South to Brattleboro and then taking Route 9 East to Keene, where you'll pick up Route 10 South.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Fruitlands Museum

The southwestern New Hampshire area is full of interesting and unique things to see and do.  As a lifelong resident of the region, I am still finding places that are new to me.  The other weekend, a guest who was staying at the Bridges Inn informed me about Fruitlands in Harvard, Massachusetts.  I had never heard of it before so I went to see it for myself, along with the Innkeeper's grandchildren.  It was great.

Harvard is about an hour from the Inn.  The Fruitlands comprises 210 acres, with pristine views and hiking trails.  There is also a very nice cafe and gift shop.  However, the reason to go there is to see the preservation of extinct cultural heritage.  The past comes to life.

There are five separate museums on site.  One is dedicated to Miss Clara Endicott Sears.  She was a wealthy Boston socialite who founded Fruitlands.  In the early nineteen hundreds, she discovered the Alcott farmhouse, tucked away on a corner of her property in Harvard.  The Alcotts were connected to the local transcendentalist movement.  The father is known for education reform and one of his daughters, Lisa May, is a famous author.  A second museum at Fruitlands is the Alcott farmhouse, maintained as it would have looked for the family in 1843.

Harvard, MA was the location of a vibrant shaker community.  When the community closed in 1917, Miss Sears had the office building, constructed in 1796, moved on site.  A third museum tells the shaker story, shown below, complete with artifacts.  They were a hard working people and produced most everything that they needed, with a surplus to sell, such as seeds or furniture.

Other on-site museums feature historic artwork, including 19th century portraits and Hudson River School landscape paintings.  A striking image was Thomas Cole's Dream of Arcadia. Another notable painting was a work by Albert Bierstadt (shown below).In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, America was seen as primeval forest, a raw material to be formed by Europeans, and called the new Arcadia.

Perhaps the highlight of Fruitlands is the collection of Native American artifacts and history.  We learned about the numerous Algonquin tribes of New England and their 1676 battle against the British colonists, called King Phillip's War.  Pictured below are Gabriela and Eduardo outside of a reproduction of a traditional house and also inside of the museum trying out the hands-on activities.  The collection is not limited to New England natives, as it includes items from throughout North America.

As you may notice from the pictures, each of the museums has plenty of activities things for the children.  Fruitlands is geared towards families.  There is even a fifth museum featuring a local artist who has work on display.  The kids had a lot of fun at this exhibit.  We encourage people to take the time to explore this little-known treasure trove of history.

Note: The above photos are from the Fruitlands' website.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Potash Bowl in Swanzey, NH

There are many free events for the community in the town of Swanzey during the summer.  These events are a long-standing tradition.  It is a real slice of Americana, such as portrayed in Denman Thompson's classic play "The Old Homestead".  He was a Swanzey native from the latter part of the eighteen hundreds.  Every summer, his play is performed as part of Old Home Day, which is on Saturday July 20th, 2013.  There are three performances of Thompson's play, on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights.  

Another event is the Potash Bowl, a summer concert series.  Pictured above is the Nelson Town Band, performing on June 28, 2013.  They are a talented group of individuals and did a great job.  The ice cream sundaes during intermission were pretty darn good, too.  The potash Bowl continues for two more weeks, the 20th Century Pops on July 5th and  the Tom Foolery Band on July 12th.  We highly recommend experiencing these events for yourself and, if you'd like to spend the night in the area, the Bridges Inn offers a 10% discount for Old Home Day.

Add caption

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Making Improvements - Coombs Bridge Room

Any building as big and old as the Whitcomb House, which was built in 1792, is always going to need something. When Susan bought it in November 2006, she knew there would be projects ahead, but what a journey it has been!

We have done extensive landscaping, repairs to the slate roof, painting inside and out, ceiling and floor repairs/replacement, a new bolier (furnace), plumbing enhancements, electrical upgrades, re-wallpapering the double parlor, and the list goes on. A winter project involved washing and repairing windows of which we have about 60!

In the Coombs Bridge Room, in addition to repairs to the windows -- replacing glass, repairing wooden frames and sashes -- we hung new wallpaper. The general consensus is that the room is cheerier now.

Our guests love the light, welcoming appearance!

Cozy wicker table and chairs with coffe maker, complimentary bottled water, chocolates, etc.
This is not new; just looks more inviting!
BEFORE - This is how Coombs used to look, shown with bathroom

AFTER - This is how Coombs looks now, shown with bathroom    

Consider a stay in the Coombs Bridge Room. All our rooms and rates can be found on our website

Monday, April 22, 2013

Spring and Earth Day at the Bridges Inn

Today it looks and feels like spring has arrived in the Monadnock Region. Green grass is poking up from the soil and buds are starting to form on the trees. Flowers are blooming and the hours of daylight are longer.

As of this weekend, this new Magnolia tree adorns the main entrance to the Bridges Inn.
Today is also Earth Day, not just in the Monadnock Region but all around the world. According to the Earth Day Network, "Every year on April 22, more than one billion people take part in Earth Day. Across the globe, individuals, communities, organizations, and governments acknowledge the amazing planet we call home and take action to protect it."

"The idea came to Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. (More on the history.)

Most of us cannot do much to stop global warming and climate change but everyone can do his or her part to protect the Earth's natural resources; to conserve and preserve our environment; and to otherwise make a positive impact. We try to keep the inn as “green” as possible by recycling, composting, purchasing environmentally friendly supplies, organic coffee, and other organic / natural food products, and doing what we can to keep us environmentally responsible and conscientious.

We treasure the beauty of our surroundings. We planted a Magnolia over the weekend, with help from Maple Hill Nursery.

Digging a hole - note several rhododendrons in the foreground, which have since been planted out back where the "waterfalls" were.

Lowering the Magnolia plant

Protective cover removed - lowering the Magnolia plant

All planted, raking out the surrounding mulch

From a different vantage point, with the gazebo in the background

The forsythia are also in bloom.

We converted our "waterfalls" into a garden with rhododendrons.
And we have plenty of daffodils

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Confused Spring

This year we've seen many of the ordinary signs of spring at the Bridges Inn at Whitcomb House: maple trees being tapped for syrup, snowdrop flowers poking through the soil, and crocuses.

Spring has sprung but on Friday, April 12th, Mother Nature seemed a bit confused, dumping freezing rain and snow on the Monadnock Region. The accumulation wasn't much, but it can be seen amidst the crocuses and near the house (below).

Nine days before, the snowdrop flowers had bloomed (photos taken April 3rd). Snowdrops and maple buckets always bring a smile to my face.

The maple buckets shown below were taken pre-spring (on March 2nd). We were told that it was a good year for maple syrup producers.

Regardless of what Mother Nature is doing, we think you'll find the Bridges Inn pleasant and comfortable. And you'll love our breakfasts. We'll be sure to serve pancakes or waffles with fresh maple syrup if you stay with us.

NOTE: Double-click on the photos to open an enlarged version.