I took a very long way home from and through New Hampshire on Sunday, in pursuit of covered bridges and hearse houses. I’ve seen a lot of the former, but I saw my first hearse house on Saturday morning and knew instantly that I needed to see more. I’ve been obsessed with old sheds recently, as I want one for my garden, but this was such a super-specialized shed, just sitting there on the side of the road in Marlow, New Hampshire, locked up with (I assume?) its special carriage still inside, serving no purpose other than to remind us of a public responsibility of the past.
The Hearse House in Marlow, New Hampshire.
Any form of historic preservation is impressive to me, but there’s something about the consideration given to these simple and obviously-anachronistic structures that I find particularly endearing. I stumbled across the hearse house in Marlowe: there was no sign and it is obviously not a historical “attraction”. The covered bridges are more so: New Hampshire’s 55 preserved bridges (out of around 400 built) all have signs, numbers, plaques, and are included in a guide with which you can plot your own scenic drive.
The McDermott Covered Bridge in Langdon (1864); the Meriden Bridge in Plainfield (1880); the Cilleyville (or Bog) Bridge in Andover (1887); the Keniston Bridge, also in Andover (1882); just two of Cornish’s FOUR covered bridges: somehow I missed the “Blow Me Down” Bridge and the Cornish-Windsor Bridge over the Connecticut River is here.
My focus was much more on the more elusive prey of hearse houses that afternoon; these bridges came into view along the way. After Marlow, I assumed that many New Hampshire towns would have preserved hearse houses, but this was not the case: near the end of the day, dejected and heading home to Salem, I found only two more in Salisbury and Fremont. In Salisbury (which also has some great Federal houses), the town historian told me that their hearse house also served as a storage shed for the town’s snow roller, and Fremont’s wonderful meeting-house compound featured an informative marker.
Salisbury & Fremont, New Hampshire.
Of course now I want to search out hearse houses closer to home: it looks like the town of Essex has a great example, with a very interesting story attached. There’s no surviving hearse house in Salem (for which I am actually grateful, because I dread to think how it would be utilized in Witch City), but it looks like there were actually two at one time, according to this 1841 account in the Salem Register. There is a small stone house in Harmony Grove which I thought was a tomb, but maybe not………..
Salem Register, August 19, 1841.
August 1st, 2019 at 9:51 am
You should come to Maine and see the interior of this building. Amazing!https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_Church_and_Cemetery
August 1st, 2019 at 9:58 am
Thank you! I will put it on my list.
August 1st, 2019 at 11:17 am
Thanks for yet another historical jaunt through the New Hampshire countryside. I had never heard of Hearse Houses. Obviously, they served a practical purpose.
Leave it to Gordon Harris to come up with a great story about body snatcher of Chebacco Parish, Dr. Thomas Sewall. Hey, wasn’t there a Judge Sewall who presided at the Salem Witch Trials? Just wondering…
August 1st, 2019 at 11:42 am
Wow, that would be a great North Shore connection!
August 1st, 2019 at 1:21 pm
I have to say this is one old New England feature (no doubt of many) that escaped my notice. So, thank you! A quick search on the web turns up one on the Cape, in Marston Mills, something I’ll have to keep in mind the next time I venture that way.
August 1st, 2019 at 2:07 pm
I saw that too–definitely going to check out in the fall (I don’t go to the Cape in the summer). Now Groton seems like a hearse house kind of town?
August 1st, 2019 at 2:29 pm
And yet I’ve not heard of one there. I’ll have to stop by the Boutwell House next time I’m up that way and ask Kara to go through the old town reports for a mention. I can think of half a dozen reasons from local history why it might have been destroyed ages ago, or possibly one never existed.
August 2nd, 2019 at 9:07 am
Hi. Thanks for all your great pics and insight. Essex MA has an excellent hearse house and it is part of their 200 year anniversary as a town this year. Nancy lutts
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August 2nd, 2019 at 9:45 am
Yes, Nancy—going to pop up and see it asap!
August 4th, 2019 at 1:14 pm
Cornish NH has a hearse house on Town House Road, as well as two covered bridges.
August 5th, 2019 at 8:14 pm
I have never heard of a hearse house. Very interesting!! I’m a huge fan of covered bridges and just added a tab for them on my blog! They’re amazing structures!
June 27th, 2021 at 7:31 pm
I am writing an extensive book on the existing Hearse Houses of New Hampshire of which there are many. Hope to have it done by the end of 2021 complete with pictures of each known existing Hearse House as well as town-owned Horse-drawn Hearses. If anyone knows of any please contact me so I can be sure to include them in the book.
Matthew E. Thomas, Fremont, NH
June 28th, 2021 at 8:35 am
That’s great: look forward to it!