For the past 55 years, Ed and Phyllis Baker, ages 77 and 76 — their three children now away with families of their own — have been living on their 108-acre farm, 105 acres of which are currently for sale (asking $495,000), in the small town of Goshen, New Hampshire. Never heard of Goshen?
Well, it’s a lovely little community, a few miles south of the Mount Sunapee ski area and only a half-hour’s drive or so from Claremont or New London.
It’s not a town that offers myriad career opportunities — that is, unless you’re Ed Baker. A direct descendant of John Alden (you know, the famous Mayflower Pilgrim), Ed is originally from Duxbury, Massachusetts (Phyllis comes from nearby Plymouth). He’s a machinist by trade but is also proficient in plumbing, carpentry, electrical work, mechanics, and, well, you name it. As he explains, he’s always been willing to “take on anything that was available, day or night.” For some 26 years, for instance, he was in charge of the ski lifts and gondola at Mount Sunapee while serving on the side as Goshen’s fire chief and highway superintendent, too.
Phyllis has also been an integral part of Goshen, serving as tax collector and town clerk for almost 38 years. Retired now, both have been presented with “Community Citizen of the Year” awards and other honors. “Pretty good for stump jumpers,” quipped Ed, using an old term that denotes people “from away” (no matter how long ago).
Last summer, Ed and Phyllis wrote us that they were thinking, regretfully, that it was time to “recycle the old farm” — “Baker’s Acres,” as they call it. And so it was that one recent morning, we found ourselves sitting at the kitchen table of their two-story, four-bedroom farmhouse (built “sometime about 1840,” Ed noted) and enjoying coffee and the best coffee cake we’ve ever tasted.
“We’ve never had much money,” said Ed, recalling the many years gone by, “but we’ve had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs.” Not many idle moments, however. For instance, with the help of their two girls and one boy, they raised pigs, chickens, ponies, ducks, and beef cattle, which they butchered themselves. Cured their own ham and bacon, too, and made their own cider and ice cream. They didn’t have a milking cow but never had to buy milk, either. “Traded for it,” explained Ed. In exchange for milk, he’d do some work around a neighbor’s place or maybe fix something. They had a thriving maple syrup operation, and they cut and split (by hand) a dozen cords of wood every year to heat the house. (They’ve been using an oil furnace the last couple of years.)
At Thanksgiving dinner, they’d sometimes have as many as 15 kinds of pies, all made with berries or fruit from their property or vegetables from their huge garden. Of course, they always cut their own Christmas trees on their land, and it wasn’t unusual for one of those turkeys or deer that wander through their acreage to end up as part of the holiday meal, too. Oh yes, and there were plenty of fish to be caught in nearby Gunnison Lake.
Although the house is warm and comfortable, it’s far from fancy. As Ed put it, it’s more “a lived-in place to hang your hat type of home.” With three bedrooms upstairs, it also has an extra bedroom on the first floor, plus the living room, family room, a kitchen large enough for the breakfast table at which we sat that morning, a screened-in sitting porch, a nice glassed-in porch, and the one and only bathroom. (Hey, at least it’s indoors!)
Among several shed-like rooms, two contain freezers and lead out to the good-size barn, chockablock with “stuff” that’s all part of 55 years of living. Ed has his workbench out there, too, but there’s also one in the cellar. “If I can’t find something in the barn, it’s in the cellar,” he told us. The cellar’s also crammed to the gills with stuff to “dicker over,” as Ed put it. Our advice: Make an offer not only for the house and land but for “everything.” We guarantee you’ll spend the next few years discovering antiques, various machines, and old tools of every description — it would be a never-ending treasure hunt. There’s even a 100-year-old horse-drawn potato digger out there.
As to those 100-plus acres, now that’s where the value lies. Not in the ruins of the old icehouse — it collapsed a couple of winters ago. And probably not in the ’52 Jeep and ’45 International Farmall tractor — both of which still run — or the ’53 Pontiac that’s sort of sunk into the ground behind the barn. “That one has an eight-cylinder flathead engine,” Ed commented with pride as we walked by it.
No, the value is in those eight acres of mown fields, in the orchard and the sugarbush, in the acres of hardwoods and pines, in the land along the South Branch of the Sugar River (actually a brook) on the west side of the property, in the 2,500 feet along Ball Park Road, in the little-traveled dirt road on which the farm is located, and in the 950 feet along Route 10, the old road from Keene up to Dartmouth College.
Late that morning, we walked with Ed past Phyllis’s raised beds of daylilies all along the front of the house and on around the barn to the restored deck behind the kitchen, where Ed likes to sit and look out across the lawn, fields, and rolling hills. Gorgeous. As we stood there for a while, we noticed to our left the stone walls Ed built years ago. He also pointed out some rare Blue Pearmain apple trees he’d grafted from somewhere and a “snowball bush” he said he “lugged off the mountain.”
Then the top of what was obviously a dug well caught our eye. “Yes, I dowsed for that,” Ed said. Turns out that in addition to all of Ed’s other skills, he also knows how to use a forked wooden stick to find underground water. He’s done it many times for friends and neighbors — always at no charge. “Some of them make fun of me for dowsing,” he told us, “but they drink the water.”
He’s dowsed for other things, too. For instance, for fun his kids would hide coins around the house. “I always found every one,” he said. Once a friend hid a watch in a bale of hay; Ed located it within minutes.
Then he told us about the most remarkable and dramatic dowsing experience of his life. It occurred well over 50 years ago in a place many thousands of miles from Goshen, New Hampshire. At the time, Ed was an artilleryman in Korea. The Chinese were about to overrun his unit, and the only way he and six of his buddies could escape being captured or killed was through a minefield.
“I found a forked stick on the ground,” Ed recalled, “and with that I discovered I could locate the underground mines. So, with the others following me single file, we dowsed our way out of there.”
He paused, probably thinking our look was one of skepticism, before quickly adding, “But, of course, we could have just been lucky.”
We felt lucky to have been able to spend a morning with Ed and Phyllis. We hope to keep in touch. We also hope that whoever among you becomes the new owner will be happy to have them keep around three of those 108 acres as a place to build a small cottage so that they can continue living on their land. Just think — if you ever needed something fixed, Ed would be just down the road. Or, say you found yourself craving some homemade coffee cake … Well, Phyllis probably would have just baked some.
Now, isn’t that the sort of real estate deal on which you could never, ever, place a price?
For details, contact David Flint, Century 21/Energy Shield Realty, Hanover, NH. 603-643-0127, ext. 30; c21energyshield.com