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The Haunting of Hibbard House

Breakfast room at Hibbard House, Bath, NH / SeacoastNH.com
We came, we stayed, we’re coming back. Congressman Harry Hibbard turned down a seat on the US Supreme Court to live here. Some say he still walks the halls of his Federalist mansion. His friend President Franklin Pierce visited, back when Bath, NH was in its hey-day. Today it is far off the beaten path, which is exactly what we like best.

 

 

 

Exploring Historic Bath, NH

"You’ll love the place," Tim told us. "It’s haunted."

That’s pretty much all we knew about the Hibbard House when we packed the dog into the car and headed toward Franconia Notch for the weekend. A few Xeroxed pages from Tim’s web site told us more. The Federal style house has six bedrooms, five baths, dining room, parlor, breakfast room, library, backyard porch, a good-sized kitchen, a big barn and garden. The place used to be a gay bed and breakfast. Then it was a straight bed and breakfast. Then it was an Italian restaurant. Today the owner, Susie Harvey, just rents it to friends. Tim Dubuque, my former webmaster, is one of Susie’s friends.

"Almost everyone who stays there has some strange story," Tim said. "Bizarre things go on there. My wife and I heard knocking inside a bureau drawer. Somebody smelled cigar smoke. People feel things in the night. One family said they would never go back."

Covered Bridge in Bath, NH / J. Dennis Robinson (c) SeacoastNH.com

It was an odd way to pitch a vacation house, but I admit, the hook was in. We would have the whole historic haunted place to ourselves.

The little town of Bath, New Hampshire is just a speck on the map, a mere bend in Route 302 between Woodsville and Lisbon at the edge of the White Mountains. The road snakes along the Amonoosuc River where miners once panned for gold and copper.

Bath’s Lower Village gets two ticks in most tourist guides, one for the Brick Store, known as the oldest country store in the nation. Behind the store is the longest covered bridge in the state, a wooden one-car structure first built in 1832 that spans 365 feet across the river to West Bath.

The directions we got from Tim sounded like a wry bit of Yankee humor. "The house you want is right next to the burned out Colonial Inn. That’s right next to the Bath Fire Station," he said as if no joke was intended.

Parade passing Hibbard House in Bath, NH / (c) SeacoastNH.com

CONTINUE Haunting of Hibbard HOuse 

GUEST HOUSE IN HISTORIC BATH, NH (continued)

After an hour lost on country roads we found the sturdy old place at dusk, and set about exploring. The modern aluminum restaurant oven, giant brick oven and ancient iron cook store dominate the kitchen. The dining room was set for eight. There is an old uptight piano in the great hall that leads to the wide central staircase that dwarfs a settee and a working wind-up Victrola. All four of the large rooms downstairs have working fireplaces, trimmed in black marble that, according to an old brochure, were installed as a memorial to the funeral of Abraham Lincoln. There is a speaking tube in the master bedroom that once trumpeted commands to the servants downstairs. Old Christmas decorations, remnants of the defunct bed and breakfast, are piled in the barn. There was fresh rhubarb, green beans, blueberries and summer squash ready to be picked in the garden out back.

NH Rep/ Harry HIbbard House in Bath, NH / (c) SeacoastNH.com

The Hibbard House is a brooding thing, dark in a way that makes it difficult to photograph, but it did not seem haunted to me. I wandered the place un til the wee hours, since my brain is set to a writer’s clock and felt, with the exception of a few cobwebs, nothing eerie or ill at ease.

The next morning, by sheer coincidence, was the 50th anniversary of the Bath Volunteer Fire Department, the one next to the burned out house. Events for the weekend – highlighted by a vintage clothing fashion show and a watermelon seed-spitting contest -- were painted onto a bed sheet and posted on the railing of the combination town hall, post office, grange and library. That building, the Congregational Church and the Brick Store are the dominant structures in the Lower Village.

Later in the day the town held the biggest parade in four years. About half of the 700 local residents seemed to be in the parade, and the other half watched. The procession moved up Route 302 from the tiny green common, past the Hibbard House to the fire station and back. We met The Jolleys, an entire family dressed as clowns. Executive Councilor Raymond S. Burton, a Bath resident and one of the most powerful men in the state, cruised by in a vintage yellow convertible sporting NH license plate Number 1. There was a jazz band, a polka band, a rock band, a school band and a band of highland bagpipers. We all went back to the church for a ham and bean supper.

The house was not haunted as advertised, but it has every right to be. Harry Hibbard, for whom the house is named, was a United States Congressman from the great state of New Hampshire prior to the Civil War. His close friend Franklin Pierce used to stay here, legend says, in the very bedroom we selected. When he was president, Pierce tried to appoint Hibbard to the US Supreme Court, but the Bath lawyer declined. Locals say he went crazy, but the official record only says he was very ill. I’ve been digging into the story ever since, but history seems to have closed in around him. Harry’s wife Sarah donated a lot of items to the New Hampshire Historical Society. We walked up the hill one day and found their graves. The official record from the "NH Bench and Bar" says they had no children, but there is a tiny tombstone next to theirs.

Barn at Hibbard Guest House in Bath, NH / SeacoastNH.com

Harry Hibbard, the record says, set up his legal practice in Bath in 1839 when the town was a mining and manufacturing center. In 1844 he successfully prosecuted a trial against a man named Comings (or Cumings) who murdered his wife. His skill as a courtroom attorney, even at the age of 28, was spectacular, and he was soon speaker of the NH House, before packing off for his career in Washington DC. One account I found says that Mr. Hibbard’s face turned as white as that of the convicted man when the sentence was handed down. Tim has suggested the murderer, or maybe Hibbard’s restless soul is at the root of the strangeness that goes on inside the rambling old house.

We saw no flaming auras in our brief visit. My spirit was at peace here among the empty rooms in the sleepy village tucked against the weary old Amonoosuc.

But then, I should mention the "incident" that happened here last May. Susie Harvey, who owns the house, was sitting with a friend in the parlor when they got up to refresh their tea. As they did, a car doing a reported 80 mph flew off Route 302 by the fire station, crashed through a telephone pole and plowed directly into the granite foundation of the Hibbard, filling the parlor with splintering glass and flying shards of wood. The driver, an elderly man, lay motionless in the car. "A dead man just hit my house!" the owner told the 911 dispatcher, but suddenly he revived. He’s okay now, Susie says, and stopped by the other day to say hello.

During our visit, four months after the accident, a carpenter finally arrived to fix the damage. He pulled the powerful beams back into place, reset the window frame, patched up the clapboards and plastered the wall just a few feet from the black marble fireplace.

Some might say evil spirits are at play here. But I say, heck, the guy survived. Somehow the driver, who had been drinking and was reportedly morose, missed a number of sturdy trees, traveled diagonally through the Hibbard House yard and struck the building 25 feet from the road. That sounds more to me like a miracle.

We’re going back to the Hibbard House in a few weeks with a few friends. The place is calling me, and not in a Stephen King kind of way. I don’t think this place is haunted – just lonely – and has many more tales to tell.

OUTSIDE LINK: Contact Tim Dubuque at HibbardHouse.com.

Copyright © J. Dennis Robinson and SeacoastNH.com. All rights reserved. 

SEE MORE PHOTOS of Hibbard House & Bath, NH 

HISTORIC BATH, New Hampshire (continued)

MORE PHOTOS of Bath, NH

The Brick Store in Bath, NH / SeacoastNH.com

The Jolley Clown Family at Hibbard House, Bath, NH  (c) SeacoastNH.com

NH Executive Councilor Raymond S. Burton acts as grand Marhsall in Bath, NH parade seen here passing HIbbard House on Route 302 (c) SeacoastNH.com

Burned Colonial Inn next door to Bath VOlunteer Fire Dept on Route 302 / SeacoastNH.com

History fashion show in the streets at Bath, NH / SeacoastNH.com

Hand-made quilts on display at Bath Congregational Church (c) SeacoastNH.com

All photos by J. Dennis Robinson (c) SeacoastNH.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

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