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12/6/07 - Local Photographer Captures the Essence of Gilford Village

By Diane Mitton

In 1990 the Gilford Historic Commission published a small booklet titled "Gilford Village Historic District: A Walking Tour". The 20 page booklet includes a map of the designated Historic District area stretching from the top of Schoolhouse Hill Road in the north to the 1834 Benjamin Rowe farm house in the south and from the village going east on Tanner Hill and on Potter Hill Road as far as the Potter Farm. Also included is a brief overview of the settling of the village beginning in the 1770s and its development through 1893.

Fifty sites are included, mostly residential, although in the 1800s a number of commercial enterprises were successfully operating in the village and serving the local farming community. As the guide points out, "Gilford Village remains the nucleus of town affairs and is the only major cluster of nineteenth century historic houses in town". Using the "Walking Tour" to guide you through this less than 2- mile area, you will recognize such old Gilford family names as Gilman, Sleeper, Sanborn, Jewett, Wadley, Hunter, Hunt, Munsey, Rowe and others. You will also begin to become familiar with architectural terms such as transom lights, sidelights ,and truncated hip roof. In addition, you will find references to building styles such as Federal, Greek Revival, and Queen Anne.

The architecture of Gilford, with few exceptions, was relatively unimposing and reflective of the agricultural society it served. That part of a house which seemed to receive the most attention, where the home owner could express himself, and "dress up" his house, was the front entrance even as it often is today. Four to six raised panels, transom lights, partial and full sidelights, pedimented front porticos, and a recessed arched central entrance are some of the choices made by village homeowners.

One day while working at the Grange, local photographer Mary Villaume dropped by to show me a few pictures she had shot in the village. They were not the usual shots of houses and public buildings, perhaps because she had focused, not on the whole building, but rather on details, such as doors, hardware, angles, door knockers, etc. In some cases, I did not recognize which house I was looking at, which pointed up how unobservant we sometimes are about the more intimate details of our surroundings. Details which Mary sees with the artist's eye. Her photographs had a sense of the personal about them which caused me to wonder about the house in terms of home and the activity of it's family. After talking with Mary at some length about her work and realizing where she was coming from it was easy to see why her photographs of the village were so appealing.

In Mary's early years, her family moved about a great deal, both nationally and internationally. She lived in many houses, but at some point, she began to long for a "home", which translated for her as a sense of permanency. Having lived in the states and in West Africa and South America and traveled extensively in a number of European countries, she has developed a decided preference for that which is old and historical. She is especially intrigued by old world doors, particularly since visiting Ireland. She attributes this to the feeling she has that doors invite her into a world that has history and permanence. Shortly after she married, she and her husband settled in Marblehead,Mass, and New England began to weave its magic. She began to feel at home. In 1980, when she and her family moved to Gilford she knew she had indeed "Come Home". Although she still loves to travel, in Gilford she has found what she was longing for and has no wish to ever move again.

Her father, an avid photographer, gave Mary her first camera when she was about ten and she has been viewing her world through a lens ever since. Aided by her strong sense of composition, and a fascination for the world around her, when she takes us on a walking tour of Gilford Village she opens the door to her world and shows us a slightly different view of what we thought we knew about our "old" and historic village.

Copies of the "Gilford Village Historical District: A Walking tour" may be purchased at the Town Hall for $2.00. Mary Villaume may be reached at 528-2238 or by email at mmrmv@localnet.com . For information about Gilford's Thompson-Ames Historical Society, visit our website at www.gilfordhistoricalsociety.org