A Brief History

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North Star House was built circa 1855 by Thomas G. Hayden, a prosperous farmer working the fertile Connecticut River Valley soils. It is likely that North Star House replaced an earlier structure, possibly using the same stone foundation that exists today. North Star House’s “balloon framing” (long vertical supports that extend from the foundation sill plate all the way to the attic) came into vogue nationally in the late 1840s. Prior to the availability of powered saw mills, all houses in the area were built of much heavier post and beam construction, requiring time-consuming joinery (with pegs rather than nails) to attach each structural member. During the 2011 renovation of North Star House, a number of 1858 documents were found in the house, indicating that the structure dates from that year or earlier.

Prior to the construction of North Star House, in 1846, the New Hampshire Legislature had chartered the construction of the Sullivan County Railroad to run from Bellows Falls to Windsor (by way of Claremont and Cornish). Irish immigrant labor, working with black powder for blasting and horse-and-cart gangs for moving vast quantities of earth, was recruited to build the railroad. There is documentation of Mr. Hayden and his wife, Sophia, selling a sliver of land to the railroad in 1847. At that time, the property was known as the Silas Spaulding Farm, a likely reference to older farm buildings existing on the site.

Local farmers earned valuable income assisting with the construction of the new railroad. Charles E. Bugbee recorded an anecdote about the Balloch Farm:

“One spring…after William Balloch had finished his spring farm work he hired out with his ox team to work on the railroad which was being built through the Connecticut valley and ran across his farm.  He was put to work hauling fill for the grade a little north of his farm.  When he arrived at the bank to get his first load he found a crew of Irish immigrants doing the shoveling.  They informed him that it was customary for a new man on the job to treat them. They all went over and [Balloch’s wife] produced a jug of strong whiskey which was passed around. From then on, William was a favorite with the crew. They would hurry to load his cart first and often hurry him off with only half a load.”

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View of a northbound train with Mount Ascutney in the background.

It is difficult to overstate the profound impact the advent of the railroad had on North Star House and surrounding environs. The following announcement in the Bellows Falls Gazette of January 4, 1849, provides an account:

 

 

“THE CARS HAVE COME!
On Monday, January 1, much to the astonishment of some, and gratification of all, the first train of cars ever seen in this vicinity passed over the Cheshire Road and Sullivan to Charlestown, N. H. The day was fine, and a great assembly of people had collected here to witness the grand entree of the Iron Horse. The engine came up in grand style, and, when opposite our village, the monster gave one of its most savage yells, frightening men, women, and children considerably, and bringing forth the most deafening howls from all the dogs in the neighborhood. This day, Thursday, the Sullivan Road is to be opened with the usual ceremonies, to Charlestown, and then the arrival of the cars will be a common everyday business affair.”

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Passenger train crossing the Connecticut River. The Cornish-Windsor covered bridge is visible in the background, to the north.

With the completion of the major bridge across the Connecticut River between Cornish, New Hampshire, and Windsor, Vermont, the Sullivan County Railroad was opened from Charlestown to Windsor (coursing just east of North Star House) on March 31, 1849. The railroad brought summer visitors to the region and provided access to distant markets for locally raised crops and cattle.

In the 1880s and 1890s, the Connecticut River Railroad took financial control of the other railroads that formed the Connecticut River Line between Brattleboro and Windsor, eventually being acquired by the Boston & Maine Railroad in 1893. As the mills of Windsor, Claremont, and Springfield grew, the railroad prospered, moving raw materials to the mills and finished products to market.

At the same time, the 1890s saw profound change in farming. Farms became increasingly specialized in producing milk and cream (as opposed to general subsistence farming), taking advantage of transportation to distant creameries where the milk was processed. While it appears that a “Balloch” Station was first established prior to the 1880s just north of North Star House where the railroad tracks cross over what is now Route 12A, the station was expanded at this time to support shipment of milk and butter from area farms. For a picture of daily life in this area, the Balloch Diaries include many mentions of trading and dining with the Haydens of North Star House.

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The Balloch train station, circa 1905.

“Milk trains” served the Whiting Creamery in North Walpole, NH, the Bellows Falls Cooperative Creamery in Vermont, and creameries near Boston. Butter, the least perishable dairy product, was the first to be shipped. Later, as refrigerated rail cars came into being, separated cream and milk were shipped in 40-quart cans. Historical timetables provide a good picture of the trains servicing Balloch. They were powered by steam locomotives and featured open vestibule coaches, baggage cars, and railway post offices.

From the earliest known timetables (1903), Balloch was served by two to three trains a day in each direction.  White River Junction was two stops and 34 minutes away. Springfield, MA, was 21 stops and almost four hours away. In 1903, a passenger could leave Balloch at 7:25 a.m., change trains in Springfield at 11:20 a.m. and arrive in Hartford at 12:20 p.m. or New York at 3:31 p.m. Passenger access ended at Balloch in 1929 or 1930, bringing to a close some 40 years of continuous service at this little station.

Detail of an 1860 map of Sullivan County showing North Star House as occupied by “T G Hayden.” The boundaries of the towns are colored by hand—red for Claremont, green for Cornish.

The Haydens worked the 100-acre farm for more than seven decades. In 1875, the North Star House property passed from Thomas and Sophia Hayden to their son Albert and his wife, Lettie. The Haubrich Family (Fannie and Fred) purchased the property from the Haydens in 1918 and added 50 acres of open field to the east known as the Dahms Pasture (now reclaimed by forest) in 1922. As with many farmers in the area, the Haubrichs had struggled during the Great Depression. The property was first subject to a tax sale in 1935 with several additional tax sales in subsequent years; they redeemed the property eight years later, in 1943, and then passed the title on to their son Leonard. Leonard Haubrich, a veterinarian, raised and bred cattle on the farm, pioneering artificial insemination techniques. The red barn on the property shows the substantial woodwork and thick iron deadbolts used to restrain the bulls in residence.

Henry C. Hawkins with newly planted apple trees in the 1950s (after a second floor was added to the rear wing). The giant elm in the background is gone, but the apple trees have grown to maturity over the past 60 years.

The year 1946 brought the end of owner farming at North Star House, with Henry and Louise Hawkins taking title to the property. Mr. Hawkins was president of Claremont Savings Bank. Newly improved roads allowed him to commute to the bank in downtown Claremont while living in “the country,” just within the Claremont town line. Several of the farm barns, already in disrepair, were removed, while the big red barn at the north edge of the property was stabilized and improved. The remains of a large barn foundation with round silo can be seen on the property closer to the house. The Hawkins renovated the rear portion of the second floor, raising the roof line and converting what had been attic storage into two new bedrooms.

The Hawkins sold North Star House to New Yorkers David and Mary Elizabeth (“Mary Lib”) Allison in 1969, relocating a quarter-mile down the road to the majestic Asher Benjamin–designed farmhouse on the east side of the road. The Allisons first used North Star House as a summer home, moving there permanently in 1977. Shortly thereafter, they worked with local architect Stephen Tracy in the design of the rear-wing addition to the home, including a large screened porch and (for the very first time) a garage for automobiles. They became fully involved in the affairs of their adopted town: Mary Lib served on the Claremont Fiske Free Library Board of Trustees and was renowned for her baking, while David, who had been a writer and editor with McGraw-Hill in the 1950s and 1960s, won a seat on the Claremont School Board, served as chair of the Planning Board, and was elected to represent Claremont in the state legislature.

bromley bday party 019During the Allisons’ tenure, Lee Stevens had begun cultivating the former surrounding hay fields as a tree farm, growing large landscape plants for his Log Cabin Nursery in Claremont. Neighbor John Hammond reclaimed hay fields on the east side of the road, growing high quality hay for his horses at the Balloch Crossing Farm. Mr. Stevens and Hammond continue to farm the land in 2016.

Mary Lib Allison died in 2003. Upon David’s death in 2010, Bill and Jenny Lipfert, long-time neighbors of the Allisons, purchased North Star House and its adjoining property on both sides of Route 12A. Starting in early 2011, the Lipferts restored North Star House, retaining the slate roof, historic exterior trim, wavy glass windows, wood floors and interior millwork. All of the old steeple tip hinges and Bennington brown glass doorknobs were reused after being cleaned and oiled.

In the course of removing false ceilings and old partitions, a wealth of historical artifacts were uncovered. These include an 1879 report card from Claremont’s Stevens High School (founded in 1868), plates, bottles, shoes, dolls’ dresses, letters, pots, pans, and unusual pieces of hardware. In the 18th and 19th centuries, hiding shoes in the walls near chimneys was believed to ward off spirits and ghosts, a bit of folklore that dates back to 14th-century England. North Star House was brought up to modern structural, life safety, energy, plumbing, and electrical codes. With continued care, it should be welcoming guests for the next century.

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View of the house in early summer.