By Gordon DuBois
Almost forty years ago the Town of New Hampton purchased a large parcel of land referred to as the Kelly-Drake Town Conservation Area. In 2004, a stewardship plan was written by conservationist George Frame, in which he wrote, "The land is a museum of artifacts, from old saw blades, cemetery, orchard, stone piles, (cellar holes and stone walls are) are symbols of past life of our predecessors. (They) should be revered and protected where found." The New Hampton Historical Society and the New Hampton Conservation Commission have embarked on a joint project to ensure that this town-owned land serves as a community resource by not only preserving the historical nature of the property, but also developing its recreational and educational potential. The town owned property of 230 acres, which also includes a 23-acre island on Pemigewasset Lake, is located two miles east of Route 93 Exit 23 along the western shore of Pemigewasset Lake.
This area is one of the first areas settled in the Town of New Hampton. In 1775, Samuel Kelly (1733-1813) brought his wife and two young sons from Exeter to New Hampton and built a log cabin at the base of what is now referred to as "The Pinnacle". Over time, he acquired large tracts of land in and around New Hampton. When he moved his family to the summit of The Pinnacle, he gave his sons William and Nathan land at the base of the hill, a part of which is now the Kelly-Drake Town Conservation Area. Around 1820, this land was sold to Nathanial Drake, who had settled in New Hampton in the late 1700s. Drake then gave the property to his son Nathanial Drake Jr. The Drake family farmed the land for 130 years until the house, barn and outbuildings were destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve in 1952. Luther and Minnie Drake were the last to farm the land before the dreadful fire. In 1966, the land was purchased by J. Willcox Brown from the estate of Luther Drake. In 1978 New Hampton bought the property through funds made available by the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.
This year, the New Hampton Conservation Commission began work to improve the property with three goals: recreational and educational use, wildlife management and scenic beauty. Forest management and production of wood products are important secondary goals. A significant tree harvest took place to thin tree stands and create more open space. The overgrown Drake farm apple orchard was thinned and apple trees will be pruned. This year, the cellar holes will be cleared, piles of refuse removed, and a system of walking trails will be designed and cut. It should also be noted that the island (Kelly Island) sitting in Pemigewasset Lake is also part of the Kelly-Drake property and may also be developed for recreational use. A second tree harvest is planned for next winter to thin a large stand of pine.
The New Hampton Historical Society and Conservation Commission look forward in working together to make this town-owned land a historical, cultural and recreational resource. Plans for the coming year include: surveying and marking boundaries, building and maintaining trails, increasing the recreational and educational activities by working with community groups to enhance hiking, hunting, picnicking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and nature and heritage education. The property can be accessed off Route 104 by turning onto Sinclair Hill Road and taking the first left onto Kelly Pond Road. At the end of the road is a gate and parking area. The public is invited to visit the property, park at the gate and walk the farm road, following the beautifully-preserved stone walls, past the farm cellar holes, the reclaimed apple orchard, meadows and woods full of wildlife, winding up at the shoreline of Pemigewasset Lake.
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