Of Kinship and Care
Three of the many reasons Liz and Dennis Hager donated a conservation easement on their 140-acres in New Hampton are carved into an interior door of their farmhouse: I.H.M.
The three letters stand for Ichabod H. Mudgett. He was part of the family that built the house in 1795 and farmed the surrounding land. The Hagers credit the Mudgett family for caring so well for the place they now call home. About a century later, the Mudgett family sold the place to the Stevens family, who passed it down while also nurturing the land and keeping it intact until the Hagers bought it in 1990.
The evidence of care that the Stevens family left behind isn’t carved into wood but is planted in the ground. The Stevenses were gifted horticulturists and gardeners. Clumps of peonies, rows of asparagus and raspberries, blueberry bushes and apple trees bring daily pleasure to the Hagers today and, like the initials in the door, are daily reminders that their home has a history of stewardship to carry on.
“It’s that connection,” said Liz, while she pointed out photos of the farmhouse taken around 1930. “The Mudgetts kept the place for a century, and then the Stevenses loved it enough so that they never did anything other than planting raspberries and asparagus and loving it. We knew since we bought it that we love the land, too, and don’t want anything to happen to it.”
Until recently, the Hagers lived in Concord and used the New Hampton property as a scenic retreat. They now live in New Hampton full time (at least in the warmer months – Florida beckons in the winter) to enjoy the spot more fully in their retirement. Liz Hager served in the N.H. House of Representatives for 26 years and as mayor and city councilor of Concord. She also headed the Merrimack County United Way and is a former Forest Society trustee. Community service has also been important to Dennis Hager, who retired from the insurance business and took up plumbing when he was 59, then spent 10 years using his plumbing skills to assist others in the nonprofit FixIt Program. He now volunteers with the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness.
Donating an easement that keeps the land open and scenic is one more service to the community and a way to keep wildlife habitat intact.
“It’s tough to predict the future, but easements can protect the land from paved lots and development,” Dennis said. “If this wasn’t in an easement, when we’re gone it could have been bought by a developer for house lots.”
The conservation easement covers 140 acres of forests and fields on the slope of Sunset Hill, located at the end of a long and meandering drive along country roads that Liz describes as “up, up, up then down, down” until you get to the beautiful spot. From the house, a short truck ride to the top of the hill leads to views of Winnisquam, Winnipesaukee and Waukewan lakes off to one side and the mountains around Plymouth off to the other. The Hagers have built a bunkhouse and cabin on the top for kids and grandkids to gather. The hilltop was the perfect site for their younger daughter’s wedding, while the field just below was the site of their elder daughter’s wedding.
Much of the forested parts of the property are under timber management, and the Hagers recently worked with a local forester to complete a timber harvest on a 47-acre section.
When they bought the property 24 years ago, the farmhouse was uninsulated and had no plumbing or modern heating. Over the years of working to bring the home up to modern standards of comfort, the connection the Hagers feel to earlier families who made a home there has grown stronger as they have imagined what life might have been like there back in the 1700s and 1800s.
“Our guess is this place had one or two pigs and a cow and a horse. It was pretty grim, subsistence living, rough, cold,” said Dennis.
One cool day before they updated the house, “we lit all three fireplaces full steam ahead,” recalled Liz. “I realized at about 5 p.m. I’d been running around and around feeding the fires all day and it was still only up to about 55 degrees.”
Farm life surely had its ups and downs, but anyone living at the Hagers’ place always had the hilltop as a consolation, a high place where generations of three families now have shared the serenity of looking out across miles and miles of trees, lakes and hills.
“It’s a lovely little spot,” Dennis said. “You come up here and it’s quite peaceful.”
Thanks to the Hagers’ conservation easement, it will always stay that way.