Chesterfield, New Hampshire is a small town that lies west of Keene between Keene and Brattleboro, Vermont. There is a mountain there called Rattlesnake mountain, named after the timber rattlers that called it home many years ago. These snakes are now endangered and rarely seen. In the 1930s a lady named Antoinette Sherri bought several hundred acres on the east side of the mountain and built a house there. The house, which some called a “castle,” stood until 1962, when it was vandalized and burned. The picture below shows some of what little is left. I’m sorry about the harsh lighting, but the sun is low in the sky.
Mrs. Sherri was a costume designer from New York City who called herself “Madame Sherri.” Anyone from New York comes to a small town with rumors in tow, but this was especially true of Madame Sherri, who blew into town in a cream colored, convertible, chauffeur driven, Packard Touring car. Her interesting story is too long and involved to go into here, but if you are interested an article that is about as close to the truth as anything can be found here.
Everyone always wants to know what the house looked like in its heyday, so here is one of very few pictures of it. It was said to be “chalet style” and allegedly had 15 rooms. If you stand in the middle of the foundation however, you quickly realize that if this place had 15 rooms they had to have been squirrel sized. My guess would be 6 rooms, including one on the second story and one in the basement. Even that is a stretch-it probably had only one or two rooms on the main floor. The house ruins and 488 acres of land are now part of a forest preserve open to the public.
I used to visit this place when I was a teenager just because it was so unusual. It was always a quiet place in the woods where you could get away for a while, but not now-now it is a circus. The day I stopped in for a visit there must have been 10 cars in the lot and there was even a professional photo shoot going on-with beautiful live models balanced on the old stone walls.
This is a closer look at the wall that the model was balanced on. This used to be one of the walls that surrounded a small man made pond on the property. The walls have crumbled over time and the pond has mostly drained away, except for a few inches of water.
Beavers had a better idea and the dammed the small stream that fed the man-made pond. This dam is very big and very old.
It was easy to tell that the beavers had moved on-they would never put up with a breech in their dam like this one. When I took this picture I was standing in just about the same spot that the model was standing in earlier.
Beavers often build their lodges at the pond edge, but I’ve never seen one on dry land. The only explanation is that the water level has dropped considerably. This, coupled with the fact that there were no trees recently felled, were more signs that the beavers had moved away. There is still a lot of activity at their pond though-a deer family came to drink while I was there but was almost immediately scared off by a lady walking the trail with two dogs. This outraged the professional photographer, who told me just what he thought about people who brought dogs into the woods-probably because I was the only other person with a camera around their neck.
I decided to get away from the carnival atmosphere and see what nature had to offer. I didn’t have to look too hard-this oak limb was covered with black witch’s butter (Exidia glandulosa.) It was a bit shriveled-probably from either the cold or the lack of rain. One old yarn about this fungus says that throwing a log that has witch’s butter on it into a fire will counteract a witch’s spells.
Colorful turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) grew on an old beaver stump.
On stones near water is a good place to look for lichens. These yellow lichens covered a large part of this stone. I don’t see yellow lichens that often, but the way these fade to white at their edges means they could possibly be sulphur firedot lichens (Caloplaca flavovirescens.)
If you climb high enough, you can see the Vermont hills.
I suppose that I could complain about finding so much activity in a place that was once so quiet that you could hear chipmunks rustling through the leaves, but since I am someone who is forever telling people that they should get out and enjoy nature, I think that would be a bit hypocritical. I will say that, since the conservation commission took it over, the land here is much tidier.
When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world ~John Muir
Thanks for stopping in.