CARROLL, N.H. – John Rossi slipped the chisel end of his “spud bar” into the space between two logs that run 16 feet along one wall of the old White Mountain National Forest guard cabin.
With a few sledgehammer taps from forest Supervisor Tom Wagner, Rossi had the leverage he needed. As he leaned into the long pry bar, two friends from Chicago hauled on a strap in the middle of the log while Natalie Henshaw whomped on the far end with a 2-pound sledge.
With a creak and a pop, the rotted timber fell to the ground with a thud. A cheer went up from the HistoriCorps crew that over the next three weeks will restore the forest’s last guard station, a remote vestige of the early 20th century when workers spent the year managing the forest.
Denver, Colorado-based HistoriCorps, a national initiative that partners with other groups to preserve historical structures around the country, has teamed with the Forest Service to restore the Fabyan Guard Station, replacing rotted logs and the vandalized door, refitting windows and shoring up footings to keep the building from sliding again on the soggy ground.
“We’re just super-excited about being able to help restore such a beautiful and historic building,” said Andrew Griesemer, one of the two Chicago pals. “We’ve learned so much.”
It’s old-school work, using the tools and materials of the time to preserve the historical integrity of the building while making it safe again. So, as the crew carries the old red spruce log away, they step over newly cut red spruce logs, stripped of their bark by volunteers using a draw knife.
The cabin was built for $75 in 1923 by Clifford Graham, later a forest supervisor. Early guards would watch for fires, do trail work, build and maintain phone lines, help visitors and help manage the vast and lucrative timber tracts.
Jack Godden, now 84 and living in Mequon, Wisconsin, stayed plenty of nights in the 16-foot-by-20-foot cabin. Though he left New Hampshire in 1968, he still recalls the two-burner stove, the double-bunks and the 75-foot walk to a nearby stream that was the only source of water. And it wasn’t just a worksite; he and his wife took their five kids for camping trips.
“The boys thought they were in heaven out there,” the retired forest service employee said by telephone last week. The girls had fun, too, but there was one wrinkle: “The girls were really concerned because of the spiders in the outhouse.”
Godden says the cabin is an important link to a different way of life.
“It would be tremendous if they could restore that to what it was,” he said. “I’m so glad they’re preserving it. It was so well built.”
Led by Rossi and Henshaw, the crew of volunteers and veterans – a new group of seven or eight each week for the three-week job– takes a communal, meditative approach to the work.
“Head, heart and hands,” Rossi intones, explaining the three tools to succeed in their work. Strangers a few days ago, now they work and live together in a campsite.
“We’re trying to bring some real reverence to the site and with real reverence, we’ll be able to touch history,” Rossi said.
The crew comes from all walks. Rossi’s an architect from Arlington, Massachusetts. Henshaw, of Savannah, Georgia, has advanced degrees in history and an associate’s degree in historic preservation. Griesemer and Alex Gunn were looking for a summer hiking trip and decided the Fabyan project looked like a fine idea.
“This is 800,000 acres of public land with 160 employees,” Wagner, the forest supervisor, told the crew before they started work. “And the way this place gets managed over time is through partnerships with people who take it into their hearts to take care of this piece of the public lands.”