Not long after the Civil War, Nathan W. Pease hitched up his wagon and carted his dual-lensed stereopticon camera up Kearsarge Street, stopping perhaps a quarter of a mile beyond the bend toward Kearsarge Village. Just past the crest of the road, he found a good view of the mountain that was then still spelled “Kiarsarge” by old-timers in Conway and Bartlett. Pease sought to photograph the natural features of the White Mountains for housebound city dwellers, so he focused on the mountain and on the Peak House at its summit, which offered food and lodging to hikers and riders of the bridle path.
He took at least two images from different spots. A little haze persisted when he exposed this one image on the left, but for me, the mountain is not so interesting as the incidental landscape in the foreground. A glance at the rocks on either side of the road illustrates why so many farmers in the hills of northern Carroll County found it easier and more profitable to rent rooms to summer visitors than to till the land they owned.
As farmers in this region had begun to learn by the 1850s, most of the Granite State was more suitable to sheep grazing than to the raising of crops. The low but heavy puncheon fence in the left foreground of Pease’s photo was more likely meant to confine sheep than any larger livestock.
About the time Pease stopped there, the pastureland to his right would have been owned by Vernon Seavey. The puncheon fence at left marked the 12-acre farmstead of John Dearborn’s widow. John had come home from the Union Army in January of 1865 with a disability discharge for persistent dysentery. The surgeon who discharged him saw signs of peritonitis as well, and found him severely emaciated. As soon as Dearborn came home, his wife Phebe bought the Kearsarge house from Joseph Nute for $500. Before the end of April she buried John in the Kearsarge Cemetery, but she stayed on at the house, surviving on her labor and a widow’s pension that included a tiny stipend for her two daughters. A grateful nation paid Phebe $8 a month for the loss of her husband, and $2 a month for each of their girls.
Even so small a pension obviously meant a lot. Annie, the older girl, married a neighbor who was about the same age as the father she had known so little, but she waited to do so until her 16th birthday — which was the day her portion of the pension ended. Phebe herself had remarried by then and was living in Brownfield, Maine, but she held onto the Kearsarge farmlet until 1876.
One rather wishes that Pease had turned his camera to the left, so we could see how that struggling family lived. That, after all, was the real Carroll County.