Deacon Sam Hill has a sour look on his face in the old photo. Hill was born in 1808 and looks to be roughly 60 years old, which dates the picture to the early days of photography when smiling was not fashionable. Most people grimaced or tried to look serious while they waited the several minutes necessary to capture their likeness.
Or perhaps scowling Sam was unhappy about the upcoming nuptial of his daughter, Mary Eliza, to J.P. Kimball. A note written to Hill by his future son-in-law seeking consent for the marriage still survives. This written approach seems cowardly to me. If the future son-in-law lacked the courage to ask the stern deacon face-to-face, putting his plea in writing wouldn’t seem to help his cause.
I know little about Hill other than he was a blacksmith and a deacon in his local church. Sam Hill had the title “Deacon” engraved onto his headstone suggesting he was immensely proud of this elected office. Old records indicate Hill was chosen as deacon in 1853 and served in that capacity until his death in 1882. The records also indicate that the ministry work was divided among the elders of the church with Deacon Sam Hill and Dr. Joseph Harper officiating one quarter of the time and Elder Jeremiah Clough covering the remainder of the year. Deacon Hill helped raise funds for erecting a new church and paid $12.50 to purchase a pew in it.
Sam Hill owned a farm and kept a few animals but primarily made his living as a blacksmith. He wisely erected his blacksmith shop across the road from his house and barn, anticipating that if the fire in his forge ever got out of control, the road would provide a degree of separation between his house, barn and the burning blacksmith shop. Hill ran the blacksmith shop for several decades throughout the mid-1800s and then turned it over to his daughter and son-in-law along with the family farm.
Almost 175 years later, I’m now in the process of clearing the trees and building a house in the pine forest referred to in old deeds as, “Sam Hill’s blacksmith pasture.” Judging by the age of the tall pines, Sam Hill’s blacksmith pasture ceased being a pasture a very long time ago. While clearing the pines, popping the stumps, and excavating the cellar hole, we found relics left behind from Hill’s enterprise. Charred black bricks, horse and oxen shoes, chain links, sleigh bells, square iron nails, odd tools, and pointy farm implements were discovered beneath the tree roots and sod. Deacon Hill’s discards provided a glimpse back in time and into his life in the mid-1800s.
Sam Hill turned the property over to his daughter and son-in-law just prior to the Civil War and then assisted them with building a large barn that included a functioning cupola high atop the roof. Atop the cupola was an iron weathervane featuring a galloping horse. This horse is now pockmarked with bullet holes as miscreant target shooters made it spin. Functioning cupolas on old barns allowed moisture to escape and provided a flow of air into the hayloft, which helped dry the hay. Cupolas also allowed natural light to brighten the dark corners of the hayloft. Today however, cupolas on barns or garages are usually non-functioning and serve only for aesthetics.
In a nod to Deacon Hill and his Civil War-era barn, I built a cupola atop my newly constructed garage. Using Sam Hill’s cupola as model, I constructed a scaled-down version for the garage. My cupola is non-functioning, meaning there is a useless cavity inside of it about the size of a dorm refrigerator. It struck me that this sealed void was an ideal spot for hiding a time capsule. The new steel roof is promised to last for 75 years, so perhaps my time capsule won’t be discovered until the roof needs replacing in 75 to 100 years. Now, what to put into a time capsule for some future owner to find a century from now?
Building permit paperwork, photos of the house in varying stages of construction, and business cards of the builder and subcontractors, seemed like good items to include. Daily newspapers, sealed in plastic, would educate the finder about the important events of the day. I also included laminated copies of the town newsletter, church bulletin and annual town report.
Because COVID has been a big part of life for the past couple of years, I threw in a bottle of hand sanitizer and a face mask. Coins dated 2023 might be precious in 100 years so I added some spare change. As a land surveyor, I tucked in some no-longer-used surveying implements. As a writer, I included several issues of New Hampshire Magazine. My New Hampshire driver’s license renewed recently, and the old one found its way into the capsule.
I play chess, so I added a chess board and pieces. In my earlier life I had a military career and had hung onto my worn-out combat boots, battle helmet, dog tags, stripes and unit patches. I don’t know why I saved these items but could never bring myself to throw them away, so I put them in the cupola.
Wine or whiskey is often more valuable and said to be better tasting after being aged for long periods of time. I thought a 2023 vintage might be a nice gift to someone finding this stash decades from now, but wondered if it would freeze or spoil in an unheated cupola. The owner of a local distillery told me this wouldn’t be a problem if the alcohol content was high enough, and then graciously provided a bottle of his 2023 maple bourbon whiskey for inclusion.
Finally, I wrote a letter to the future discoverer detailing some history of the property and recording some of the oral legends, interesting local trivia, and facts not to be found in an online search. Before sealing the cupola, I added the old photo of Sam Hill and some of his horseshoes and sleighbells.
Someday a future owner will find this hidden treasure chest and likely spend a few minutes reflecting on the lives of the previous owners…and that should make even the sourpuss deacon, Sam Hill, smile.