Monson Center

Hollis/Milford
269 acres

Click here for a PDF with a map, and trail information.

The inside scoop…

(According to Lisa Jackson) Monson Center is considered by leading archeologists to be one of the most significant archeological sites in New England. Many of the original foundations of the homes that were built in this late 1700s village are preserved.

Visiting Monson Center, a historic gem, is literally a breath of fresh air, and a step back in time. This small portion of history is off the beaten path, but once you find it, you will never forget.

After parking in the small lot, you walk a few hundred yards down a forest lined dirt road. Each step carries you away from the busyness of every day life. There is no electricity or running water, but there is an energy to the place. A carved sign announces Monson Center, and after another few steps, the forest opens up. There are fields on either side as well as stone walls, wild flowers, and bird houses. Up ahead is the only habitable house on the property.

In the center of the field to your left is a large rock. I like to imagine the stories this boulder could tell, if it could, of the battles, struggles, and celebrations the town had during its short existence. Past that and all around the wall is part of what used to be Monson.

Monson was an early colonial settlement that existed from 1737-1770 and covered over 17,000 acres. It was part of Massachusetts at its inception. The center of town, main roads, and several foundation holes remain.

You can walk the rutted roads the settlers traveled, visit a few of the still-present cellar holes on the sites of some of the early settlers which include the Gould, Wallingford, W. Nevins, T. Nevins, Bayley, and Brown family homesteads. The only public structure the village had was the pound for runaway cattle. Monson never had a school house, meeting hall, or church.

Most historic sites are roped off and protected from visitors. Monson Center is open to visitors who want to take a step back in time and use their imaginations to wonder what it was like for the first settlers of this wild land. Only the doctor had a horse and buggy, everyone else travelled by foot. Imagine building a home without all the tools we have now in the time leading up to the American Revolution. These settlers did that and more.

There is a lot of open space in the center of all the forest. The vastness of the natural untouched beauty is mesmerizing. At the north end of East Monson Rd and West Monson Rd. is a large beaver pond with several lodges. It is common to see blue herons here – nine nests were counted in 2010. Benches near the water in a few locations provide the hiker with lovely spots to sit while viewing wildlife.

What makes Monson so special is the caretaker. Russ Dickerman works on the property each day and enjoys retelling tales from long ago. He and his wife Geri restored the last standing colonial house on the property and it now serves as a small museum that is open when Russ is on the premises. Without Russ, and his passion for the property, it wouldn't be what it is - a precious historic gem that everyone should know about.

Interesting things to see along the trails include the cellar holes with labeled with historical information about the families, road signs, and the town pound, along with acres beautiful wildlife habitat and natural beauty.

Trail information

Difficulty: Easy
Round trip distance: 3 miles
Trail marking: None

Major trails are former roads (E. Monson Road and W. Monson Road), so they are quite wide. Except when snow-covered, trails are easy to see and well-used. There are several narrow trails off-shooting from the main trails, but each meets up with one of the main trails, and it's easy to circle back to the center of Monson.

Recreational uses

Nature walks, hiking, birding and other wildlife watching, picnicking, photography, geocaching, cross-country skiing, archeology, snowshoeing, dog walking.

· NO wheeled vehicles (trucks, ATVs, dirt bikes, and mountain bikes).

· Please do not disturb plants, animals, or cultural features.

· No camping or fires permitted.

· Carry in, Carry out all trash

What you'll find

Parking for a few cars is provided on Adams Rd. in front of the gate. A kiosk is located a few hundred yards down the road into the property, where the forest opens up to fields. Trail maps are available in a receptacle on the outside of the “Gould House”.

NOTE: The Forest Society does not plow or guarantee access to this property or its parking areas during the winter.

Property history

Year of acquisition: 1998, 2008

Historical uses:

Monson Village was one of New Hampshire’s first inland towns settled by Europeans. In 1735 six settlers from Massachusetts and Canada purchased the land, which was then part of Massachusetts. In 1737 they moved there with their families, cleared the land, and built a tight cluster of residential dwellings. For a few years, the town thrived under the leadership of such people as Thomas Nevins, a sergeant in the French and Indian War who lost three sons in the Revolutionary War; Joshua Bailey, whose 11 children narrowly escaped a fire that destroyed their home; Dr. John Brown, a prominent physician whose fancy chaise carriage was the talk of New England; and Russ Dickerman’s great-great-great-grandfather, Richard Clarke.

In 1741 the borders of New Hampshire and Massachusetts were adjusted, and Monson Village became part of New Hampshire. The settlers farmed the land, traded commodities grown there, and continued to live on the land until the village was disbanded in 1770 and absorbed into the surrounding towns.

It remains unclear today what led to the abandonment of this settlement. Historians and archeologists continue to study Monson Village to decipher this remaining puzzle. Some think it may have been the result of tensions with Native Americans. Some believe the harsh living conditions simply got the best of residents. Some believe that political discord was the culprit. The puzzle remains, as do the original roads, stonewalls, and cellar holes.

Circumstances of acquisition:

Monson remained undisturbed for more than 220 years. In 1998 it was threatened by a 28-lot subdivision that would have destroyed its natural and historic beauty. A successful grass roots campaign to save this property was initiated by local residents who enlisted the help of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the State Division of Historical Resources, and Inherit New Hampshire. The property was purchased by the Forest Society in 1998. Russ and Geri Dickerman donated 125 acres of their own land to add to the Monson Reservation and cared for the Monson Center reservation ever since; Geri passed away in 2008.

In 2008 the Town of Milford required the developer of a nearby subdivision to configure the open space to abut the Monson reservation and donate those 47 acres to the Forest Society.

The land and its historical heritage are now protected forever, thanks to the generosity of Russ and Geri Dickerman and hundreds of “Friends of Monson”. With Russ’ ever-vigilant help, the Forest Society oversees the stewardship of its rolling fields, beautiful forests, walking trails, and historical artifacts in perpetuity.

Directions

Parking lot

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Coordinates

N 42° 47' 6.00", W 71° 37' 26.40"
N 42° 47.1', W 71° 37.44'
N 42.785°, W 71.624°

click here for a larger map

Updated

November 2010

About the Forest Society

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