Location: Conway, New Hampshire
Webpage: USFS Historic Site
General Description: At its peak in the 1850s, the community of Passaconaway was substantial, if not booming, with a mixture of permanent and transient residents supporting the local farms, mills, and lumber operations. At its peak the population was large enough to sustain seven one-room schoolhouses. Logging operations along the Swift River were the major industry in the area being a source of wealth and income to many homesteaders. The Swift River Railroad had about 20 miles of track in the valley to support the logging industry. Of all the homes that once lined the dirt road through the community, the Russell-Colbath House is the remaining evidence of the once prosperous town. In 1832 Thomas Russel and his wife sold this house to their son Amzi and Eliza Russell where they raised five daughters, one of whom was Ruth Priscilla Russell. From 1834-1877, Amzi acquired thousands of acres of virgin timberland as he was certain the railroad would eventually come to the valley. However, once they arrived in 1877, Amzi had died leaving a mortgage and unpaid taxes on 8,700 acres. All but about 300 acres had to sold to meet the debt, leaving Ruth and her husband Thomas Alden Colbath to continue to farm the land and care for the aging Eliza. By this time the community had grown to 20 farms, two schoolhouses and a small hotel. In 1890, the first Passaconaway Post Office opened and Ruth became the first postmistress, a position she held until 1906. However, in 1891, Thomas Colbath left the house saying he would be back in a while, but he never did until 1930 after Ruth had been dead for three years. Since the estate had already been settled and distributed, Thomas received nothing and again left the area. The USDA Forest Service restored Ruth’s home and operates it with local volunteers and descendants as a museum about this time in our history.
1) The Russell-Colbath home has been restored by the USFS and there are many original pieces of furniture and artifacts on display. We were fortunate to meet the granddaughter of Ruth who provided a number of stories of life in the late 1800s when logging was the center of life in the community.
2) Using timber logged in the area, the USFS has constructed a large barn that they use for public gatherings, including a lecture series during the summer.
3) There is a local graveyard where Ruth and her parents are buried along with many of the community residents from the time.
4) Finally, there is a short path to the Swift River where you can see the footings of the railroad bridge. There are also a number of interpretive signs that give the history of logging in the area dating from the Colonial Period when the large white pine were prized for ship masts by the British crown.