During the late nineteenth century, Tamworth was a town in decline. The Midwest had lured away the farmers and heavy industry was concentrated around cities on major rivers. However, it was the poor local economic conditions mixed with the “nature as recreation and recuperation” that brought new folks to town, albeit as vacationers and seasonal residents. Successful businessmen and academics from the thriving southern cities bought up abandoned farms, sometimes amassing a thousand or more acres, and turned them into nature retreats and summer homes.
Many of these family retreats eventually led to large tracts of land being protected either by conservation easements or fee-simple purchase by conservation agencies and organizations. The Runnells and Bowditch families were leaders in the Chocorua Lake basin, eventually leading to the Chocorua Lake Conservancy. Frank Lord transferred land ownership to the State of New Hampshire, resulting in the creation of White Lake State Park. Augustus and Harriet Hemenway were responsible for creating Hemenway State Forest. Katherine Sleeper Walden led land protection efforts in the Wonalancet area, adding thousands of acres to the White Mountain National Forest, including land in the Mount Mexico panhandle along the north boundary of Tamworth.
By the mid-twentieth century, over 3000 acres of land in Tamworth had been transferred to state and federal conservation agencies. Within two years of formation of the Tamworth Conservation Commission by town vote, the Commission accepted its first conservation easement. It was donated by Irene Irwin and protected a strip of land along the Wonalancet River. This may have been the inspiration that led Richard Alt to spearhead a project to protect the Mill Brook corridor. By 1988, the Commission, Lakes Region Conservation Trust and the Forest Society had protected 4.8 miles of stream bank along Mill Brook. Since then, more has been added. But we'll save that for the third chapter in this series.