Silver Lake Historic District

Harrisville Town, Cheshire County, NH

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The Silver Lake Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]


The southern part of Silver Lake, long and narrow with its tip oriented toward Mt. Monadnock, is situated in northwestern Harrisville. The northern end of the lake is in the Town of Nelson. At an altitude of 1,321 feet, the lake is 1.62 miles long and enjoys a view of Monadnock from its southern end. It is a deep lake set in a bowl of gentle hills, part of the Minnewawa Watershed. Its water flows to Keene and then to the Connecticut River. Access to the lake is, and has been since the 1760s, by the Silver Lake Road and the Old Nelson Road which runs along the hillside to the east. The Chesham station, built for the Manchester and Keene Railroad in 1878, is 1.32 miles from the southern outlet, a convenient commuting distance for hardworking fathers.

Silver Lake was known to the first settlers, ca. 1760, as Pleasant Pond, becoming Breed Pond ca .1780. The latter name honored Dr. Nathaniel Breed, one of Nelson's first settlers. In 1886, and at the present time, old timers use the terms Breed Pond and Silver Lake interchangeably. Both names occur in the deeds, but by the 1890s, Silver Lake predominates.

The lake was surrounded by cleared pastures in 1886. They belonged to Corban C. Farwell (east) and Wellington W. Seaver (west). These men were operating farms when they decided to sell lots, 10 rods by 10 rods, on the lake shore to the new summer residents whose arrival was stimulated by the start of local railroad service in 1880. They continued to farm throughout the period of significance. Members of the Seaver family sold lumber to construct cottages and both Seavers and Farwells helped to build the roads which gave access to the little houses (and form part of the boundaries of the Silver Lake Historic District). The early deeds allow for passage of working teams of oxen and horses. They were laid out by summer resident engineer Samuel Wadsworth.

The three lots on the Old Nelson Road sold by Corban Farwell originally ran from the Old Nelson Road to the shore. The houses built on them by Dr. Dinsmoor and Frederic A. Faulkner and Francis C. Faulkner, father and son, survive. The lake front land that belonged to them has been subdivided during the last hundred years.

In 1903 there were thirty-seven cottages on the shores of Silver Lake. Thirty-five of them survive, and about eighteen new cottages have been added. Barn-garages and sheds have proliferated. There are ten interesting old barns that remain. The entire Silver Lake Historic District falls within Harrisville and the boundaries encompass only the area within which the original cottages were built and survive.

The cottages are fine examples of a simplified vernacular stick style. Siding materials used include vertical matched boards, tongue and groove siding, boards and battens and shingles: shaped or plain. The original sidings emphasized the vertical line reflected light in an irregular fashion and contributed to a picturesque rustic quality. The decorative details included simple varieties of shaped shingles, decorated verge boards and trim, narrow windows with a variety of sash types and elongated chimneys. The veranda is ubiquitous and usually appears on three sides of the cottage; others display a single front porch and piazzas oriented to the sun or a view. The roofs are uniformly steeply pitched and often cross gabled. The gable end is almost always turned toward the lake. Wood, stone and brick are the preferred building materials. Barns, sheds, outhouses, and boat houses were and are the outbuildings.

The houses on the Old Nelson Road are larger but built of the same materials, in the same manner. The Ragland-Putnam House has a classical feeling when compared to the romanticism of the 1886-1903 cottages. It is built of similar materials, however, and in its siting conveys a similar visual impression.

The cottages are close together but do not appear so because they fit into the landscape, obscured by surrounding trees. Alterations in their overall physical appearance have been minimal over the years and Silver Lake retains an attractive, calm, wilderness quality.

The Silver Lake Historic District reflects the adaptation of agricultural landscape to new use and change. It demonstrates an intensely local response to 19th century trends: the growth of industry, burgeoning population, and a renewed interest in the beauty of the natural world. The owners, profiting from new industries and commerce, deliberately chose a summer retreat that would be simple, unpretentious and quiet. The cottages, so very representative of their time, so closely tied to their natural setting, are both historically and architecturally significant. The integrity with which they survive as well as their historical associations qualify them for National Register listing.


Silver Lake Historic District achieves significance as a well-preserved group of resort houses built during a short period (1886-1903) which together possess exceptional regional and local historic and architectural interest. Its cottages were built by residents of Keene and Marlborough who were local leaders in manufacturing, commerce, finance, the professions and government. In many cases, the same families have kept the cottages for a hundred years. The Silver Lake colony is unusual in the Monadnock region in that it was confined to owners and builders from Keene and Marlborough. Dublin and Nelson both had significant summer colonies at the same period but owners and architects were from outside the region. There were summer colonies at Spofford Lake and Granite Lake which survive but have not been studied.

The Silver Lake Historic District has integrity of design, workmanship, materials and feeling and association. It makes an important contribution to the understanding of 19th century summer resort establishment and home construction in New Hampshire as all of its early houses are variations on a single lakeside theme. The people who had these houses constructed were locally important. In its context, Silver Lake is unique and makes an indispensable contribution to Harrisville's comprehensive catalogue of surviving upland New Hampshire built resources.

Silver Lake Historic District's architectural contribution lies in the example it presents of the ubiquitous application of romantic elements in local 19th century resort cottage construction. Its importance is measurably enhanced by the integrity with which these features have survived the ensuing century. A.J. Downing wrote in The Architecture of Country Houses (1850): "Men of imagination whose ambition and energy will give them no peace within the mere bounds of nationality 'need' country houses with high roofs, steep gables, unsymmetrical forms. It is for such that the architect may safely introduce the tower and the campanile — any and every feature that indicates originality, boldness, energy and variety of character. To find a really original man living in an original and characteristic house is as satisfactory as to find an eagle's nest built on top of a mountain craig."[1]

Downing's Gothic romanticism is seen at Silver Lake in the irregular silhouettes of the cottages, the cross gables and varying roof heights. The emphasis on framing and the decorative wooden spindle screens and verge boards of the later Stick and Queen Anne styles also appear. The picturesque outline and irregular massing characteristic of these styles proved adaptable at Silver Lake as elsewhere over the years and allowed compatible additions as living patterns changed.

Downing's "steep gable" appear in most of the older cottages, particularly at the Tenney-Mitchell House, the Chase-Buffum-Wiggin House, the Whitney Walker House and Buffum-Dexter House.

Features typical of the Stick style and the Queen Anne style are also often seen at Silver Lake. The Kimball-Colony House has a three-story tower and a Queen Anne open floor plan. Interior stylistic elements characteristic of the period include an exposed cross-beamed ceiling in the living hall. An off-center fireplace is the principal feature of that room, which also has a turned baluster screen and stained glass window.

Almost every early Silver Lake house has a veranda. In general, it occurs on three sides of the house. In the Smyth-Lepisto House the front veranda has a gazebo in its center. The Buffum-Dexter House has a raised central gazebo-like pavilion. The lavish use of a variety of railing types contributes to the decorative effect.

Most of the gables are trimmed with decorated verge boards. They display pie plate patterns, cutout scallops, and saw teeth, among other designs. Many of those pattens are simplified versions of what is seen elsewhere as exuberant Carpenter Gothic gingerbread. The windows vary tremendously, but 2/2 sash predominates. Lattice work often covers porch foundations. The chimneys, often used for stoves, tend to be narrow.

The scale of decorative pattern is restrained, echoing the dappling effect of sun seen through leaves. At Silver Lake, as in the rest of Harrisville, the natural environment is reflected in buildings. The cottages uniformly retain camp-like simplicity. Although very close to each other, their heavily treed surroundings afford them considerable seclusion. Originally there was beach in front of each cottage which was lost as a result of a 1927 hydropower project. Now most are close to the water or have wooden stairs which descend to a dock. Included in the Silver Lake Historic District are three larger houses built on the east side between the Old Nelson Road and the lake, higher in elevation of course than the lakeside cottages; and one architecturally interesting cottage built in 1927. Characteristics these houses share with their more modest neighbors as well as their important role in Silver Lake's development justify their inclusion. The larger houses have the picturesque silhouette, wooden shingles, chimneys and verandas used on a smaller scale in the lakeside cottages. Decorative elements like shaped shingles hung in tile-like fashion, railings and trim are also comparable. The Ragland-Putnam House, built on the site of a Whitney cottage that burned, uses the same materials (wood, brick and stone) with more formal classical feeling. It represents the changing requirements of comparable clients building a summer house in the early-20th century as opposed to the late-19th.

The last two decades of the 19th century were a period of growth in Keene and its environs. Harrisville reached its height of population in 1885-1900. The Cheshire Mills employed 154 people in 1902 — the greatest number until a boom stimulated by World War I. The woodenware industry had prospered in the region and, in Harrisville and Keene, chair and box factories were still very important (cf. Winn in Harrisville, G.L. Burdett in Keene, J.L. Colony in Munsonville, and Herschel Fowler in Keene). Woolen cloth from Faulkner and Colony in Keene and the Cheshire Mill was the most important product of the region's mills. It is interesting to note that just as the Silver Lake Grange members were asking themselves, "Does farming in New Hampshire offer sufficient inducements to keep our young men at home?"[3] at least one family representative of each prosperous regional industry was preparing to build a summer cottage at Silver Lake.

Marlborough and woolen textile manufacture were represented among the cottagers at Silver Lake by Daniel W. Tenney (Rufus Frost Greeley (house no longer extant), John H. Kimball and Warren W. Richardson. These men who began their careers in woodenware manufacture, were by the 1880s and 1890s active in the Marlborough Manufacturing Company and the Cheshire Blanket Company, both producers of horse blankets.

The financial community of Keene was represented by Caleb T. Buffum, banker, and George A. Litchfield, banker and insurance broker, pharmacists George Dort and B.W. Hodgkins built cottages, as did Charles Bridgman, grocer and builder of the Bridgman Block in Keene. The builder Cassius M. White bought land but never built for himself. Herschel Fowler, whose "lock corner boxes" became the principal product of the New England Box Company, also built a cottage. There were two doctors among the first settlers: Dr. George R. Dinsmoor and Dr. Walter Maloney. Frederic and Francis Faulkner, relatives, were important in politics and manufacturing (Faulkner and Colony) and sat on many bank boards. F.A. Faulkner was reputed to have turned down a judgeship, but he did serve as mayor of Keene. The two Wilkinson brothers operated a harness making business. The Keene Registrar of Deeds, C.C. Buffum and the Keene City Engineer, Samuel Wadsworth also commuted to Keene from Silver Lake in the summer. The high level of civic responsibility of the Silver Lake cottagers is demonstrated by the fact that in 1894 (N.H. Register) the mayor (F.A. Faulkner), an alderman (W.E. Maloney), and six justices of the peace (Caleb T. Buffum, Charles C. Buffum, F.C. Faulkner, G.A. Litchfield and Samuel Wadsworth all vacationed at Silver Lake.

Farm journals show that the early cottagers bought ice from the Farwells and meat, eggs and vegetables from Wellington Seaver, who operated a large farm at the south end of the lake. Thus members of early local families adapted to the passage of self-sufficient farming by selling not only land but farm produce during the summer to the cottagers and also during the winter at their homes in Keene and Marlborough.[4]

There are many families (Buffurn, Clark, Dort, Fowler, Faulkner) who still have descendants at Silver Lake, a summer enclave which still attracts vacationers from Keene and other area towns. The historical continuity as well as the combined integrity of its built resources and their setting allow this century-old resort community to make a unique and important contribution to Harrisville's comprehensive catalogue of upland New Hampshire settlement/development types.


[1]Downing, A. J., The Architecture of Country Houses, reprint of 1850 edition (New York: Dover Publications, 1969), p.263.

[2]Hunt, Roger W., "The Electric Power Industry in Marlborough, N.H." (Manchester: 1975), p.2.

[3]New Hampshire Sentinel, May 8, 1889.

[4]Journal of W. W. Seaver, various years, 1885-95.

‡ Marcia M. Cini, Historic Harrisville, Inc., Chesham Village District, Harrisville, NH, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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