Passage of Time
Has Left it Alone
By Stacy Milbouer / Fiddlehead Contributing Editor
A lot of people glean their image of New England from movies, Norman Rockwell paintings or old Currier and Ives prints – quaint vignettes of dirt roads, mom-and-pop shops, brick buildings, snow-covered pines, general stores and neighbors who seem to know everyone in town.
It’s an idealized picture. But the small town of Temple lives up to the fantasy and then some.
It’s like a little Brigadoon – situated high in the hills, 2,190 feet above sea level at its highest points – South Pack Monadnock and Temple Mountain lining the western border of town. Temple’s lofty elevation inspired one resident, in 1823, to claim that on a clear day, 20 meeting houses in surrounding towns could be seen.
Perhaps that’s why it seems almost untouched by the passage of time. There are no malls, no fast-food places and more forest than asphalt. There are picturesque farms, small businesses and stunning scenery, well-preserved architecture, lots of dirt roads and a profound sense of early American history.
As of the last census, 1,366 people lived in town.
A walk through the village is really a stroll back through time. The original white, wooden Temple Town Hall building was constructed in 1842 as a meeting house, and through the years it has also been used as a Grange Hall as well as town offices. A new municipal building was constructed in 1990, but the 176-year-old building is still used for functions today.
Next door is the Congregational Church of Temple, which was formed 247 years ago and still serves as an integral part of the community. Close by is the Willard & Cournoyer Temple Town Store and a small U.S. Post Office.
But it’s the Village Cemetery in the middle of the town that speaks to the Colonial American roots of Temple. Buried there are many original settlers and Revolutionary warriors, including, according to a New Hampshire historical marker, “Rev. Samuel Webster, Patriot-Preacher; Francis Blood-Moses Child, whom Gen. Washington sent on spy mission to Nova Scotia; and Ebenezer Edwards, who fought at Concord Bridge.”
The first person was buried there in 1772, but an ornate iron gate at the entrance, shows it was later dedicated “In Honor of the Wives and Mothers of 1776.”
It may seem ironic that a short walk from this Revolutionary War burial ground is the historic Birchwood Inn & London Tavern, which has been owned by native Brits Andrew Cook and Nick Finnis for the past 13 years.
In addition to running the inn, there is an authentic British pub on the premises. Visitors can grab a pint and taste traditional British dishes like cottage pie or bangers and mash.
The inn was established in 1775, but the current brick-and-wood structure was built as a tavern in the early 1800s in the Federalist style and has been in use one way or another for the past 200 years. It was the only public accommodation in town during the entire 19th Century and once served as a post office, general store, meeting hall and antique shop – in addition to a place to lay one’s head and fill one’s belly.
The dining room walls are decorated with the work of 19th-century muralist Rufus Porter, and notable guests like Henry David Thoreau have stayed there over the centuries.
Again, history is everywhere. An historical highway marker indicates the site of the old Temple Glass Works, founded in 1780 and the first glassworks in the United States. The town’s Historical Society is the steward of the glassworks site, its artifacts, other town documents and historical objects, and School House No. 6, the town’s last one-room schoolhouse, built around 1820 and closed in 1899, still in its original condition. The building was moved to a field adjacent to the town center in 2001.
And Temple lays claim to the nation’s first and oldest town band, formed in 1799 the year George Washington died. In fact, several months later, on what would have been the president’s 68th birthday, the band played at a memorial for the late father of our country. The Temple Band still performs today.
The town itself was settled only a few decades before in the mid-1700s when it was known as Peterborough Slip, which also included what is now the town of Sharon. Some say it was first settled by Joshua Todd, others say it was the Heald family – both were vital in the early days of the community.
In 1768, eight years before the American Revolution, the town of Temple was incorporated and named for John Temple, lieutenant governor under John Wentworth. Temple was the son-in-law of James Bowdoin, for whom Bowdoin College is named.
As it was when it was founded, Temple is nearly pristine in terms of its natural beauty. It’s situated in the verdant Monadnock Region of southern New Hampshire and several peaks in the Wapack range lie within its boundaries. One of those is the 2,045-foot Temple Mountain (which is also within the town of Sharon) and is crossed by the 22-mile Wapack Trail.
The northern face (350 acres) of Temple Mountain was once a ski area and is now a state reservation area popular with hikers and cross-country skiers. Pack Monadnock and North Pack mountains border the northern part of town.
It’s that natural beauty that attracted the Temple Forest Buddhist Monastery to a hilly location on Route 101 four years ago. The sanctuary is home to about a dozen monks, wearing saffron-colored robes and practicing the Thai-forest tradition of Theravada Buddhism. That tradition includes simple dwellings in natural, peaceful settings where meditation practice and Buddhist, monastic ways of life are practiced.
And there’s no lack of natural beauty at this location with clean air and majestic views from every spot and amazing, Buddhist statuary along inviting walking paths throughout. The monks welcome visitors to meditation groups and meal offerings.
It’s really all about community, spiritual and otherwise, in this town. There’s nothing that stands as more of a metaphor for this small, tight-knit town steeped in history and neighborliness as its community driveway cooperative.
During World War II, town road crews began plowing residents’ driveways as a kindness and tribute to locals serving in the armed forces. That tradition continued after the war until 2011. That’s when the state informed Temple officials that such municipal services on private property were not allowed.
In response, a group of residents formed the Temple Driveway Plowing Cooperative to, according to the town website, “provide efficient, economical, and ecologically sound plowing to approximately 230 private driveways and those of local businesses and non-profits.”
The cooperative charges a fee based on assessed property values, which ends up being significantly less than average snow plowing prices – about $28 for the average home.
In addition to its strong sense of community, Temple’s lush geography has made it attractive to farming and agricultural-based businesses for centuries.
A flock of fluffy sheep provide the wool for felt, hand-dyed yarn, batting, roving and homemade fiber gifts at Fiber Dreams Farm. Owner Jen Connolly said she also raises “everything that doesn’t go ‘moo’” – chicken, pigs and turkeys.
The mooing takes place at Connolly Brothers Dairy Farm across the street – owned by Jen’s husband, Chris, and his two brothers Patrick and Michael. Connolly Farm produces raw milk from Jersey cows, grass-and-grain-fed meat and chicken, artisan cheese and homemade ice cream.
Jen, who moved to town when she married, said she’s lived all over the state and finds Temple the perfect balance of community, natural beauty and a place to do business.
“It’s a quiet place,” she said. “Some people commute to work, but a lot also telecommute, are artists or artisans or have small businesses, like we do. It makes for an interesting mix.”
Another thriving agricultural business in town is Ben’s Sugar Shack on 83 Webster Highway. Owner Ben Fisk started making syrup when he was five and at age 15 won the Maple Producers Carlisle Trophy for the best syrup in the state. The business also has a shop, which not only sells syrup but other maple products like maple coffee, maple fudge and maple cotton candy.
Ben’s Sugar Shack is open year-round and offers maple sugaring tours, which follow the entire process of syrup production from tapping the tree, to boiling to canning.
Not only can you learn about the maple syrup process in Temple but falconry as well. The New England School of Falconry at the Timberdoodle Club on 26 Webster Highway (10 Stonegate Farm Road) is one of only a few falconry schools in the country (see sidebar).
And animals also serve as inspiration and therapy at Touchstone Farm on 13 Pony Fam Lane. It’s all about horses and healing at the not-for-profit farm – the 20-acre home to Horse Power and Pony Farm, offering equine-based programs, camps and lessons for people of all ages and abilities.
Temple’s Poetic History
Fortunately for Temple – and American history – native son Henry Ames Blood, a renowned poet/playwright of the day, wrote what is considered the definitive early history of the town – “The History of Temple, N.H.,” published in Boston in 1860.
By contemporary standards his prose is flowery and given over to hyperbole, but poetic and lyrical nonetheless. He talks of founding father Joshua Todd, “our great, revered ancestor and respected pioneer” who, at the age of 32, “penetrated the wilderness … the dense primeval forest (which) covered every acre … as far as one of our western mountains.”
Todd, Blood wrote, purchased “certain lands” and set out on a “brave man’s errand … to conquer penury and starvation with his axe and bury them with his spade and shovel.”
Blood was himself a fascinating local, historic figure. He was born in Temple in 1836, educated at Dartmouth College, taught in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Paris and then moved to Washington D.C. in the early days of the Civil War where he worked for the government.
In fact, he was working in the Capitol at the time of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. His letters to his mother in the aftermath of the assassination and the trial of the conspirators were discovered in 2005 in one of the homes of Robert Todd Lincoln, and are now part of Lincoln history.
Blood described mid-1700s Temple as “an endless, boundless and magnificent sea of forest foliage, green and golden in sun or shadow, and just flushed with the rich-hued blood of autumn.”
Truthfully, not all that much has changed.