Sue from Life Looms Large asked a great question in the “Old Dunstable” comments:
One thing I wonder, that has nothing to do with this post, or your blog, or even the mission of your blog, is why NH has so many cellar holes in the woods. I didn’t know about them til I’d lived here about 10 years, but it seems like once I knew they existed, I’d see them often. I thought that there must be cellar holes all over the world. Then I posted a picture of one on my blog and learned that people from Pennsylvania and England were shocked that there would be cellar holes in NH. And they said they didn’t have any around them.
So if you know the scoop on why we have them and other people don’t, I would love to hear about it!
As best I can tell, there’s not a marker dedicated to Cellar Holes. But they are pretty common all over New Hampshire. Beyond the coast the early settlers were farmers. In the late 1700s and the 1800s most of the forests you see today in southern NH were farmland. That required clearing huge tracts of forests, building homesteads and outbuildings, digging up the rocks (lots of rocks) and planting the land. The wood from the trees was milled into lumber or ship masts and sold back to England or used to build here. The rocks turned into cellars for homesteads or underground storage.
Most notably, the rocks were turned into stone walls that lined pathways and divided fields and property boundaries. I have one running on the front end of my home here in Hudson near the road. They are everywhere!
Through the years, as New Hampshire shifted away from an agricultural economy (which headed into the midwest) to a more industrial economy, the farms dwindled in number, the population moved to the cities, and the forests reclaimed the land (much of it now under state or federal control).
A short bit from the NH Division of Historical Resources:
Settlers laid out roads, built houses and lived their lives. Over two hundred years later all that is left are the abandoned artifacts of that early life: their roads, their walls, their cellar holes and their scant records. Their pastures now largely reclaimed by the forest, cellar holes are a reminder of the families who worked, farmed, thrived, and struggled here before us. Their stone walls, roads, wells, and foundations offer a glimpse into a fascinating past and a dramatically changing landscape.
As you wander through the woods of New Hampshire and come across a cellar or wall, you are seeing first hand the fields and homes of some of out earliest settlers. They are the remnant of farm houses and field boundaries, roads and lanes that the first settlers left behind. The people that built New Hampshire lifted and placed those stones, and in the process helped build our country.
As this blog goes along, I’ll document a lot of the transition from agriculture to industry. Hopefully, in easily digestible bits.
There isn’t a Historical Marker for cellar holes or stone walls, but maybe there should be. Hmm … if we can get together 20 citizens and a suitable location ….
Thanks Sue for a great question!