Chronology of Restorations at Sanborn Mills Farm
The Cabots, Colin and Paula, bought the Farm in 1996 from a trust created to mediate between Bernice Sanborn and her son John, who were the last members of the original family that settled on the farm in the 1770s. The Cabots hired Bruce Brook as architect, Steve Booth as general contractor, and James Cripps as on-site supervisor and immediately began renovating the “ell” on the Main House. A new bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, laundry room, and living room were ready when the Cabots arrived with a moving truck full of their belongings on July 8, 1997.
Following the renovations and additions on the Main House, the first Farm infrastructure project was to build a deck in the carriage barn (now garage) for storage of garden supplies and garbage and recycling bins. In February 1998, at the recommendation of Christine Fonda of the New Hampshire Department of Historic Resources, Steve Coombs visited the Farm. In March he moved with his wife and four children to the farm. Over the next year he and Colin re-shingled the east side of the sawmill and the old blacksmith shop roofs, stabilized and poured a concrete floor and footer in the basement in the horse barn, and began work clearing the site where the Red House now stands. The 1950 Farmall M tractor and a Bobcat skid steer were the first equipment purchased.
Since the Coombs needed a place to live on the farm it was agreed that the first task was to provide them with a place to live. The frame for the Red House was purchased from a Wiscasset, ME antiques dealer. The frame for the ell was cut from hemlock purchased through A&B lumber in the dooryard and garage of the main house during the summer of 1998 while the foundation was dug and poured (Ken Magoon and D.R. Grey) and Bruce Yeaton began work on the chimney. The house was raised and boarded in by winter.
In 1999 the Cabots purchased a temporary house for the Coombs at 35 Sweetfern Drive in Pittsfield on what had originally been known as the Pittsfield pasture when it had belonged to the Sanborn family. Work continued on the Red House throughout 1999 using 18th century hand planes to tongue and groove the paneling and wainscoating. The family moved into the house in 2000 once the outdoor woodburning furnace was installed and the occupancy permit was issued. Once the Coombs family had moved into the Red House, the Cabots acquired the Bachelder-Edgerly barn which stood on route 4 in Northwood. With Jon Fifield and Alan Larder, the barn was disassembled, loaded onto flatbed trailers and moved to the farm where it was stored in trailers behind the sawmill landing. (September, 1999)
After finishing the Red House chimneys, Bruce Yeaton rebuilt the chimney in the old horse barn incorporating a new forge using a design provided by David Court. At the same time the horse barn wood shop area was insulated and a new reinforced floor was built.
In 2000 the Cabots subdivided 5 acres (comprising the two dams, the grist mill, the sawmill, and the old blacksmith shop) into a separate lot (Loudon Tax Map 17, lot 4). This required a special exception from the town zoning board of appeals because the lot straddles the town road. The woodshed for the Red House and the porch for the Red House were built in the summer of 2000 and spring of 2001. During the fall and into the winter the sawmill was moved off its dam by Steve Fifield (with Brian Clough and Dennis Hager). At the very end of the project (February 2000) a section of the toe side wall of the dam fell into the tail race and it was clear that the dam would have to be rebuilt from scratch before the mill was restored to its original position.
Plans were drawn up by CLD Engineering and Swett Bridge Builders were hired to excavate the site and pour a new concrete core for the dam. Originally the project was expected to be phased over several years, but work went faster than expected and the last pour for the dam was completed on February 7, 2001 during a remarkably mild winter.
The Cabots bought E.D.Swett’s yard crane, a thirty ton Linkbelt with an eighty foot boom which had been used to move concrete from delivery trucks to the core of the dam. It was helpful to move the biggest boulders back into position at the base of the dam walls during 2002 and 2003.
Steve Coombs and his family moved to Maine at the end of June, 2001, leaving suddenly after three years of work which also included several months of building four large wrought iron chandeliers and eight sconces for a theatre barn to be used for Colin’s parents fiftieth wedding anniversary in Canada.(1999).
Jim Deely was hired as farm manager in August, 2001. After the SPOOM conference in Canada (September 5-9, 2001), work began on rebuilding the horse barn ramp and rebuilding the dam walls. Black Cotswold sheep were added to the animals on the farm.
During the summer of 2002 Nobby Pierce and his wife Claire lived in the Red House and the Oliver crawler was rebuilt. Joe Merrill’s house was re-roofed (Sara Callahan.)
During the winter (while Colin and Paula were in New Zealand) of 2002-2003 David Merrill’s sap house was finished and used for making maple syrup. In the spring of 2003 the grist mill roof was reshingled. The crew included Per Garp (January 2002) and Leo LeBlanc (April 2003). Hay making equipment was acquired from the neighbors and a variety of other sources and the farm took over the task of haying after Joe Merrill had a heart operation. (Clinton Pitts) The farm’s first public workshops — Dry Laid Stone Wall Foundations (Kevin Fife) and Barn Raising (Steve Fifield) — took place in May and June assisted by Linda Pate.
Scott Carbonneau joined the team to help reshingling the west side of the sawmill and build the Turkey Palace.
Tim Huppe arrived with Star and Lion.(April 2005) and the interior of the Grano Barn, formerly the Bachelder Edgerly barn on route 4 in Northwood, was converted to use for oxen. The barn also played host to the first corn husking party. During the year the new blacksmith shop was built (Steve Fifield, Leroy Bragdon, and Ralph Sproul) and the first workshop was held in it (Garry Kalajian, Instructor). Once the sawmill was moved back onto its foundation,Dave Clark began to restore the Lane No. 1 saw in the Sawmill, which initially ran on the pto on the Farmall M.
2006 saw water and electricity brought to the Grano Barn and the Turkey Palace. After five years Jim Deely departed because there wasn’t enough money to keep him on. The turbine and bypass tail race were completed and sawing began with water power.
The up-and-down saw carriage and fender posts were installed in the sawmill. Logging with Horses workshop taped by Bob Edmonds. First tinsmithing workshop (Harry Kruppenbach and Clinton Pitts) in October.
Les Barden decided to donate his Percheron horses to the farm and sell his collection of horse drawn equipment, necessitating construction of a new barn and storage sheds. Mark Boucher became the next person to live at the farm in the Red House. Planet Green taped segments for Renovation Nation series on TV with Steve Thomas as host.
The grist mill was disassembled by Steve Fifield, Brian Clough, and David Moore, the foundation was rebuilt about two feet further downstream and the dam was rebuilt from the spillway through the penstock house. On December 29 the pond rose suddenly after a big rain on frozen ground and breached the dam just beyond where the repairs had ended.
The grist mill was rebuilt on its new foundation and the penstock roof reattached. A long concrete retaining wall was built after 35,000 yards of fill was taken from the hill next to the main house. The millyard was made level and the Red House field was stumped and graded (Ken Magoon.)
A foundation was dug in the corner between the main house and its ell (Ken Magoon and Sonny Locke) The timber frame was milled and planed by Steve Fifield and the dining room was framed by Kevin Schurman and Scott Carbonneau according to plans drawn by Rick and Duffy Monahon. The purpose of expanding the main house is to include guest suites suitable for future use as a B&B, and a large meeting room and dining room. During the year the bolter was rebuilt for the Grist Mill and an 18 foot 18 inch diameter water wheel shaft installed in the bottom of the Grist Mill.
Steve Fifield and Brian Clough with the help of David Moore and Ben Jones rebuilt the grist mill dam and then restored Joe Merrill’s barn. The porch and exterior of the new woodshed and main house addition were finished and work began on the “solangerie”, a plant room with hips and valleys framed out of 8 x 8 white pine timbers. Nick Reppun and Alina Harris joined the team as farmers raising vegetables in the horse pasture, the Drew Field, and built a hoop house at Joe Merrill’s.
The interior trim and floor of the new addition were finished as well as the conversion of the old main house bathroom into two new bathrooms was finished. The Town of Loudon has offered its American Legion building (formerly the town Grange) to Sanborn Mills Inc. as the town needs the building removed in order to build new town offices. The promise has been given to accept the building, dismantle it and re-erect it on the property in exchange for the approval of a list of possible uses needing to be approved by the board of Selectmen, Zoning, and Planning Boards. Nick and Alina departed after two years of hard and productive work. Michelle Smith joined the staff as gardener caring for ornamental plants and planting bulbs and perrennials in the new garden next to the house addition.
The grange building was dismantled and delivered by Steve Fifield to the farm in early January. In March work began on restoring and then adapting the big Sanborn Barn for use as classroom/studio spaces, a bunkhouse, bathrooms and kitchens. Tom McQuade joined the staff in the new position of educator/grower. His first year’s responsibilities will include growing grain for the grist mill. After completion of the bedroom restoration in the Main House, the carpentry crew is turning its attention to the overshot waterwheel to be installed in the grist mill.
These pages represent Colin and Paula Cabot’s report on the work done at Sanborn Mills Farm in Loudon, NH over the last seventeen years, and an attempt to lay the ground work for the next iteration of the farm’s development as a resource for the community. The original mission statement was prepared in 1998 and revised in 2000 as a starting point for the discussions that lead to an association with the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance (NHPA) of which Sanborn Mills Inc. is a supporting member. The document was revised again for a meeting on October 2, 2008 which was a visioning exercise for the organization led by Bob Eckart and Bert Cohen. Unfortunately, there has been no follow up to that meeting.
Lynn Graton joined the team as a researcher, having been with the New Hampshire Arts Council for many years. Her charge for the next five years being to compile a list of craft schools and draft animal programs so that Sanborn Mills Farm could position itself optimally in the community of craft schools both locally and nationally. The Solangerie was finished and readied for it winter occupants. The Sanborn Barn cellar was excavated and all the old concrete from the milking parlor removed. The wrap around porch was completed on the main house and a silo for wood pellets was built in the wood shed for the new pellet boiler. Steve Fifield rebuilt the penstock of the grist mill with new concrete. Work was begun on shoring up the foundation of Joe Merrills’ house, including rebuilding the cellar entrance tunnel, and recreating the center chimney with flues for two fireplaces, a beehive bread oven and a laundry cauldron.
The Sanborn Barn complex began to take shape. Steve Fifield built a stairway at the south end from the tie up floor to the hay mow. Jake Farmer and Caleb Clark worked at Joe Merrill’s house. Brian Bozak built the chicken tractor using the chassis of the trailer that had been brought from Wisconsin. The old carriage barn was relocated to its new position adjacent to the Barden Barn. The new carriage barn was built on a full basement foundation with the timber frame erected in the fall. The rock walls in the formal gardens expanded up the hill next to the Main House. The farm hosted its Draft Animal Convening in August, facilitated by Esther Cowles of Fernwood consulting.
SIP panels were installed to insulate the New Carriage Barn walls and roof. Scenic artist and illustrator Bob Braun began the decorative painting in the dining room of the Main House addition and the Mud Room became the main entrance to the complex. Scott Carbonneau built the dressers for the New Carriage Barn bedrooms. Bernice Sanborn’s 1929 garage building was converted to a grinding room next to the Blacksmith Teaching Studio. Raised garden beds and a granite fountain were built where the Sanborn Barn barnyard had been. 60,000 gallon water tanks were buried behind a tall concrete wall to support the new fire suppression system for the complex.
Bill Noble continued to add and refine plants in the formal gardens. Ray Ramsey started bees at the Merrill Farm and began to work the flat vegetable and grain field using only oxen and horses. Lucian Avery taught the farm’s first carving knife workshop. Wendy Jensen taught basket making, and Michelle Hollick taught painted floor cloths. Ken Magoon destroyed the Merrill shed and dug the foundation for a new barn that will house equipment, a washroom room for vegetables and a cold room. The foundation for a gift from Vivian and Lionel Spero of their 1919 Lord & Burnham Greenhouse. Kevin Schurman masterminded the construction of a solar powered wood kiln. The team planted 7,250 bulbs between the Main House and the Old Blacksmith Shop. Andrew Ingram was hired to be the farm’s Executive Director.
Molly Bolick, Programs, and Steve Bjerklie, Communications, joined the team. Michelle Smith and her gardeners under the direction of Bill Noble cleared the stream garden site around the tail race of the Sawmill and began planting woodland and shade loving plants. The Sanborn Barn complex approached completion. The New Carriage Barn was graced with a freestanding spiral staircase built entirely of wood grown on the property and built by Kevin Schurman with help from Scott Phillip, Jake Farmer and Ray St. Pierre. The room, now known as Fifield Hall, will house looms and spinning wheels from the farm’s partner organization, the Marshfield School of Weaving.
The COVID-19 pandemic stopped work at the end of March. As of the middle of May work has begun again but mostly outside and socially distanced. Ray Ramsey and Jenn Merrill kept the animals working and started seeds for the season, and Brian Clough and a crew in the Sawmill sawed the floor joists for the Loudon Grange which was started in the fall. Peter Moore designed and built an outdoor wood-fired bread/pizza oven which was completed with a slate roof provided by Steve Fifield. The dye room foundation under the Grange is covered and heated and awaiting further work in 2021.