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12/21/06   A Winter Vacation - Five Weeks and Five Hundred Miles by Sleigh

By Diane Mitton

In our last article, we left Alvey Hunter happily fishing in the mill pools, brooks and ponds of Gilford. As a result of this article, T-AHS received a phone call from Karen Landry in which she said that she and her husband Bob lived on the property where Heman Hunter had his threshing/carding, shingling mill on Gunstock Brook. Bob Landry grew up on this property, playing in the brook and on the old dam, but it was not until the summer of 2005 that he discovered a stone in the dam with the inscription that proved without a doubt this property to be the site of Hunter's mill. The inscription reads. "Oct. 6, 1870 H Hunter" and below that in script, the initials "A H H" . Not Alvey, as his middle name was Folsom, but perhaps the initials of his younger brother Albert H. Hunter. Directly opposite the dam wall is where the Pine Hill Brook empties into the Gunstock Brook as described in Hunter's memoir.

During the winter of 1854-55, Heman Hunter determined to take his family on a visit to Bristol, Maine to see his parents and brothers and sisters. Heman was the youngest of eleven children of a farming family and had not been home for ten years. He hired a "longish" sleigh and a good horse for the journey and on a fine morning toward the end of January, they packed their luggage into the seat box, tucked themselves in and started off, Charles, age 8, on a small chair and 7 year old Alvey on a stool in the front. This sleigh may have been similar to the sketch by Eric Sloan pictured on the bottom right. Eric Sloan says in "The Seasons of Winter, "steel-shod runners squeaked over the packed snow and the almost constant music of sleigh bells filled the crisp air." When conditions were right a sleigh was a fast moving vehicle and could be difficult to stop. Sleigh bells were considered a necessity for winter travel, alerting others of the approach of a sleigh, and were especially essential for night travel.

After a two-day visit in Mountonboro with Uncle Ben Gilman and an overnight in Conway, the Hunters passed into Maine and made a visit of 5 days with Uncle Frank and Aunt Almira Russell in Waterford. The Gilman and Folsom families must have run to boys because it was here that they met the first girl cousins they had ever seen. After a sasifying visit and a trip to the Adrosoggin Falls, they were on their way. Two days later warming weather softened the snow and made it necessary to keep the horse to a walk for most of the day. When trotting the horse might break through the crust and the forward momentum could carry him forward so far that his leg might snap. This slow pace allowed the boys to get out of the sleigh and run ahead a few rods which they were pleased to do. The next morning they crossed the Kennebec River on the ice and after a long day's drive they arrived in Damariscotta. They decided to push on and arrived at the homestead in Bristol at nine that night. Their actual driving time from Gilford to Bristol was seven days.

Alvah remembered the "royal welcome" they recived from Gramdpa and Grandma and the five unmarried uncles and aunts still living at home. He took care to mention that the horse also received royal treatment from the men present after his long and hard days work.

Uncle Capt. Sam, Carolyn's husband, took a shine to Alvey and one day asked if there was anything he really wanted, whereupon he replied that he wanted to see a ship. Discovering that there was a schooner tied up for the winter at McClure's Landing, a visit was made. Despite being covered by a foot of snow, they climbed all over her, examing the masts, the bowspit, the shrouds, etc. Alvey asked to see the lee scuppers which brought forth a laugh and a lesson on winds, sails and heeling. Alvey talked so much about this visit that Grandpa made him a 15" long schooner which he painted black. The aunts made sails and a keel was fashioned out of a piece of nail rod. This made Uncle Sam laugh so much that he was challanged to make a better one if he could, which he did and presented to Charles. It was indeed handsomer and better finished but the heavy lead keel made the little ship sit so low in the water that Alvey's schooner, though cruder in appearance was the better sailer.

Making a round of visits, trapping fox, sliding on the snow crust with Grandpa, and being pampered by the aunts made for a wonderful visit which made Alvah remark years later on the extraordinary hospitality of Maine folk. But it was now approaching March and father was getting anxious to be on the way home before heavy thaws softened the roads too much. They stopped for several days to make a round of visits in and near Farmington, Me., and again in Rumford for another visit with the Russells.

A special treat remembered long after was waking in Conway on "a wonderfully clear morning with the sun shining upon the snow covered White Mountains so brilliant that the mountains appeared but a short distance away". Overnight at Uncle Ben's in Moultonboro and a short 20 miles brought them home to Gilford. Despite an exciting and happy round of visits, everyone was glad to be home. They had been gone a little over 5 week and traveled about 500 miles. Alvey went with his father when he returned the horse and saw him pay the owner $20.00. As Alvey says, "Certainly not an extravagant price to pay for over five weeks and a good horse and harness!"

Before many weeks passed, the winter trip to Maine would be a happy memory, Hunter's Mill would be back in operation and Alvah and Charles would be back fishings the brooks and ponds of Gilford.

From "A New Hampshire Boyhood" by Alvah Folson Hunter.