Turtle Bunbury

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Cape Cod & Pine Woods - A Home in Jaffrey, New Hampshire

Photographs by James Fennell.

Louisa Thoron's charming Cape Cod home lies midway between the towns of Jaffrey and Dublin in south west New Hampshire. It's north, south, east and west axis can virtually be centred upon Montreal, Boston, Maine and Vermont respectively. Looked at on a map, it's an outstanding location. In reality, it's better still. The main rooms - including Louisa's bedroom - open onto a landscape of cobalt blue lakes and stately pine trees, with the magnificent snow-tipped peak of Mount Monadnock rising steeply behind. When pioneering ships first reached America after the long and arduous journey across the Atlantic, the jubilant cry of "Land Ahoy!" often referred to this 3165 foot mountain.

This property is situated on the south eastern side of Monadnock, approximately 1600 feet above sea level. It lies just off Harkness Road, an old stagecoach road leading directly into Jaffrey, a prosperous manufacturing centre first incorporated in 1773. The Thoron family have been well established in this affluent part of New Hampshire for more than a century. Louisa Thoron, a doctor based in New York and Philadelphia, is determined to maintain the connection for another generation. She purchased the house in the early 1990s and promptly commenced a major renovation of the interior. She simultaneously oversaw a clearance of the encroaching pine and scrub, allowing unprecedented daylight access into the house via the venerable windowpanes. Louisa lives with her Labrador, Daisy, in an apartment in downtown Philadelphia but every few weeks will drive up to Jaffrey and relax here amid the King's pine forests.

The house is an excellent example of the early Cape Cod style and can trace its origins back to a wealthy Protestant businessman, Robert Harkness, who constructed the building in about 1780. Harkness was one of several thousand Irish Protestants to settle in New Hampshire on the eve of the American War of Independence. His own fate is not recorded but there is plenty of documentary evidence to suggest that the Irish colonists in the Dublin - Jaffrey region played a prominent role in defeating the British Redcoats.

The simple but effective Cape Cod style originated in New England during the 17th century, spread across North America during the 18th and 19th centuries and experienced a brief but pleasant revival in the 1950s. At it's most basic, a Cape Cod house features a front porch leading into a central hallway from which the main rooms lead off on either side. Extensions can be fitted with relative ease, as with this house; first in 1795, and again in 1860 when a large gabled dormer and three smaller gabled dormers were added to the back and sides. At the centre of the house is a large chimney-piece which caters to fireplaces in each room; a necessary luxury during the cold and sometimes harsh New Hampshire winters. In Louisa's home, the kitchen lies directly behind the hallway and features a delightful Rumsford fireplace, constructed from hand-hewn oak and pinewood.

Louisa's house owes much of its physical existence and timeless aura to the great forests of white pine - known locally as King's Pine - which dominate the surrounding landscape. During the 18th century, most of these magnificent 200 - 220 foot high trees were felled in order to increase the size and stature of the British Empire's all powerful naval fleet. Cattle and sheep seem to have had the run of the land until the close of the American Civil War in 1865 when, in an inspired moment of genius, the local community combined forces and orchestrated an impressive re-plantation. Some hold that pine forests are dark, unfriendly, charmless places, but to behold the grand march of the King's Pine as they clamber up the whitening slopes of Monadnock is a joyous spectacle.

Not all of the original pines were sentenced to a life at sea. Louisa's home is very much a house of pine. Pinewood planks slot together like Chinese puzzles upon walls (exterior and interior), ceilings, floors, staircases, bookcases and cupboards. By and large these boards are the very same as those laid down by Harkness 220 years ago. The doors are likewise made of original pine, mortised, tenoned and pegged in the Christian style (ie: 4 panels giving the impression of a cross). The upstairs ceiling is particularly impressive with the hand hewn pine boards secured by rose head nails and supported by huge oak beams.

In keeping with the snowy summit of Mount Monadnock, this is a white house and nearly all the pine, including the wainscotting in the dining room, has been painted white. The effect is to create a bright, spacious and cheerful home in which mistress and loyal hound can unwind and entertain, free from the cramped constraints of city life.

This story featured in Irish Tatler in 2002.

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