It all started innocently enough – the search for an inexpensive old farmhouse in northern New Hampshire to be used as a rustic lodge for winter skiing and summer hiking. A casual place large enough to host numerous friends at the same time with several bedrooms and a large kitchen.
We’d already looked at a number of properties – including an old farmhouse and a somewhat charming little inn in Campton. But neither seemed quite right. Both properties had been altered in unattractive (and unstable) ways. The farmhouse had an odd, poorly-built addition and the inn had a funky roofline, was a little bit too run-down and was located on a tiny triangle-shaped lot at the intersection of two county highways.
Then, on a glorious September afternoon in 2010, as I was sitting under the fluorescent lights in my office in Madison, Wisconsin, an email from Ron with the subject line “look at this one”, appeared in my inbox. Not one for being too hyper about cyber security, I opened it. And there, spanning my screen with a length and simple beauty I hadn’t seen anywhere before, was the Horse & Hound. No frilly front porches, no fancy gingerbread, no clumsy additions over the years to affect its simple architecture. A classic New England lodge. Not to be mistaken for being located anywhere else but New England.
I looked at the real estate listing closely. It was at least twice as large as anything we were considering and had a commercial kitchen, bar and dining room. We didn’t need all of that. And 10 bedrooms with 9 bathrooms. And a loading dock. I mean, it was an INN. But that building. That classic 1940’s Colonial Revival building. Handsome, true. Original knotty pine paneling and three wood-burning fireplaces. The kind of place you’d expect to see a young Katharine Hepburn in a finely tailored herringbone wool suit. (Or, as we’d later learn, a young Joan Fontaine, fresh from her Academy Award for Suspicion, sporting a stylish ski outfit). And from the photos online, large windows everywhere and 3 sets of French doors to let in the natural light and fresh air. The Great Outdoors. A true lodge.
The price seemed low for what it looked to be. I thought to myself “it must be located across the street from a gas station or next door to a state prison.” Or maybe right on an interstate highway. I did the Google map thing. There didn’t appear to be any problematic neighbors, but it wasn’t possible to get a street view. Yet, its location only 3 miles from Franconia Notch and the Appalachian Trail seemed almost magical . . . and there was a brook alongside.
Ron and I had already planned a one-month stay in Florence, Italy the following month. It was to be the 20 year mark for each of us in our respective legal careers and act as a sabbatical of sorts. So, as I’d be flying to Boston to meet up with him to catch the flight to Italy, why not go out a day early and run up to Franconia to take a look at it? Well, for the same reason you don’t go to the Humane Society telling yourself you’re just going to look around and see what’s there. With all those beautiful animals in need of a home, chances are you’re going to be leaving with one.
More to come . . .