Cel­e­brat­ing the Past

New Hamp­shire his­tory buffs revel in deck­ing their 1763 home in au­then­tic Colo­nial fash­ion for their an­nual hol­i­day open house.

Country Sampler - - Contents -

Af­ter mov­ing cross-coun­try to find the Early Amer­i­can home of their dreams, New Hamp­shire res­i­dents wel­come guests with a lav­ish an­nual open house.

LINDA AND JOE HAR­RIS

took a big leap four years ago when they sold their home and shop in Al­bany, Ore­gon (featured in the Septem­ber 2009 is­sue), and moved cross-coun­try in search of a his­toric New Eng­land home. While rent­ing a house in Con­necti­cut, the cou­ple spot­ted a 1763 Not­ting­ham, New Hamp­shire, res­i­dence for sale on­line. The struc­ture, known as the Ma­jor John Gile House, had all the right at­tributes. “The minute we saw its fire­places, I knew we were go­ing to buy it,” Linda re­calls.

The his­tory buffs had pre­vi­ously re­habbed two old homes and built a new one in the Pa­cific North­west styled af­ter an 18th-cen­tury salt­box. Over the years, how­ever, they had trav­eled ex­ten­sively through­out New Eng­land and de­cided that was where they’d even­tu­ally like to set­tle. “We knew we wanted a his­toric home and we’d need to go where we could find the real deal,” Joe says.

Af­ter pack­ing up all their be­long­ings and mak­ing the long trek east­ward, the Har­rises got to work un­box­ing their fur­nish­ings and col­lected trea­sures as they moved into their newly ac­quired res­i­dence dur­ing a Thanks­giv­ing snow­storm. The home was in good shape thanks to the ex­ten­sive restora­tion work done by pre­vi­ous own­ers, but, since tak­ing up res­i­dence, the Har­rises have found unique ways to en­hance its authen­tic­ity. “We put our mark on some rooms that hadn’t yet been re­stored,” Joe re­calls.

For ex­am­ple, upon learn­ing that Ma­jor Gile, a vet­eran of the French and In­dian Wars and the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War, orig­i­nally built the house as a tav­ern, the cou­ple hired a lo­cal crafts­man to build a caged bar along­side what would have been the tav­ern en­trance. Ever mind­ful of the de­tails, the cou­ple spec­i­fied that the cage be op­er­a­tional, so it can be pulled down to close off the bar just as it would

have been dur­ing the 18th cen­tury. The cou­ple also re­moved a horse­hair plas­ter ceil­ing in the tav­ern room to ex­pose the orig­i­nal shimmed and pegged beams.

As a back­drop for the myr­iad pe­riod an­tiques they have col­lected over the years, Linda and Joe care­fully se­lected his­tor­i­cal paint col­ors in muted tones when re­paint­ing the rooms. In the li­brary, for ex­am­ple, a mush­room hue brings out the pan­eled fire­place wall. The fire­place in that room once served as a cooking hearth and oven. A pre­vi­ous owner re­opened the home’s many fire­places, which were plas­tered over dur­ing the 19th cen­tury af­ter be­ing deemed in­ef­fi­cient.

Not long af­ter mov­ing in, the cou­ple opened a new shop, Pump­kin Hol­low Prim­i­tives, in an old Maine salt­box on their prop­erty. Flo­ral de­signer Michael Maskery, of The Fru­gal Flower in nearby Sud­bury, Massachusetts, stum­bled upon the shop, and he and Linda struck up a friend­ship, which led to her en­list­ing his help in dec­o­rat­ing her home in a style rem­i­nis­cent of Colo­nial Wil­liams­burg for a hol­i­day open house, which they have been host­ing since 2015.

In prepa­ra­tion for the an­nual event, Linda walks Michael through the house to de­scribe what she en­vi­sions. “I want the decor to be as au­then­tic as pos­si­ble, given to­day’s world,” Linda ex­plains. Some rooms have a sim­ple, el­e­gant hol­i­day aes­thetic, such as the front par­lor, where the hand­made sconces are trimmed with silk rib­bon and over­size pinecones, while oth­ers get a more lav­ish treat­ment, like the gar­den room’s huge ped­i­ment stud­ded with fruits and mag­no­lia leaves. Smaller decor is as­sem­bled at the house, but Michael’s team con­structs larger pieces off-site be­fore they are trans­ported and se­cured in place.

Al­though some spa­ces fea­ture the same tried-and-true el­e­ments from year to year, such as the clove-stud­ded or­anges and cin­na­mon sticks that al­ways grace the butt’ry, most of the time Linda and Michael aim to mix things up when it comes to the hol­i­day trim­mings. One thing you’ll never see, how­ever, is a Christ­mas tree—that hol­i­day icon did not be­come pop­u­lar un­til the 19th cen­tury and would not suit the pe­riod of the home.

In 2017, the en­tire two-story house was dec­o­rated and opened for view­ing, in­clud­ing Ma­jor Gile’s bed­room, which Linda and Joe rent as a bed-and-break­fast suite through sev­eral on­line ser­vices. The cou­ple has hosted his­tory afi­ciona­dos from around the world, and they rel­ish the op­por­tu­nity to share an 18th-cen­tury liv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with 21st-cen­tury ameni­ties. “Like ev­ery­one else who has lived here be­fore us, we are re­ally just care­tak­ers,” Joe ex­plains, not­ing that the cou­ple feels priv­i­leged to be part of the his­toric home’s story and rec­og­nizes that they will one day pass the honor to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

In the butt’ry (more com­monly re­ferred to as a but­tery to­day)— a room typ­i­cally used to store dried foods, herbs and food­stuffs— hy­drangea blos­soms from Linda’s gar­den dan­gle from over­head beams. As­sorted uten­sils, can­is­ters and crocks line the shelves and cab­i­nets, while a whim­si­cal deer fig­ure looks right at home nes­tled in a bed of green­ery.

Linda and Joe add a fin­ish­ing touch to their out­door dec­o­ra­tions as they pre­pare for their an­nual hol­i­day soiree.

Right: Ma­jor John Gile’s will guided the Har­rises when they worked with a mu­ral­ist to cre­ate an ac­cu­rate de­pic­tion of the prop­erty in its early years. The mu­ral in­cludes the dwellings, barn, grist­mill, black­smith shop, cider mill and live­stock listed in the in­ven­tory of Ma­jor Gile’s pos­ses­sions at the time of his death in 1800.

Be­low: The Har­rises’ new split-rail fence encloses their his­toric home, a cen­ter-chim­ney 18th-cen­tury Colo­nial. A sim­ple wreath of greens adorned with berries and pinecones dresses up the home’s Nor’easter door (de­signed to pro­tect the en­trance dur­ing a storm).

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