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River Dave remains upbeat despite loss of cabin

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  • David Lidstone leaves Merrimack County Jail and gets a hug from his friend Jodie Gedeon after being released on Thursday evening. Lidstone had been jailed since July 15 after he refused to leave the land that he called home. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • David Lidstone leaves Merrimack County Jail and gets a hug from his friend Jodie Gedeon after being released on Thursday . GEOFF FORESTER Monitor staff

  • David Lidstone leaves Merrimack County Jail and gets a hug from his friend Jodie Gedeon after being released on Thursday evening, August 5, 2021. Lidstone had been jailed since July 15th after he refused to leave the land that he called home. On Wednesday, a judge told him he’d be released if he agreed to leave the cabin, which is on property owned by a Vermont man who considers Lidstone a squatter. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 8/6/2021 11:45:32 AM

The Canterbury hermit known as River Dave was in high spirits as he left jail after the cabin he built where he has lived for 27 years burned down. 

David Lidstone, 81, found out about the fire while he was still in jail Wednesday night.

“They told me my camp was burned and I said, ‘I ain’t going to sleep at all’,” Lidstone said. “I laid down and went to sleep. It was like it didn’t happen.” 

He plans to return to his place on the river to retrieve some of his possessions this weekend and eventually rebuild on the same spot. 

Lidstone was jailed on July 15 on a civil contempt sanction after he refused to leave the cabin. The property owner, Leonard Giles, 86, of South Burlington, Vermont, wants Lidstone off the property.

A judge ordered him released because he would have less incentive to return to “this particular place in the woods,” after the cabin burned down.

Lidstone’s friend Jodie Gedeon, who had been working to help him stay on the property, picked him up from Merrimack County jail in Boscawen on Thursday evening.

She is an avid kayaker who met Lidstone on the river two decades ago. “I happened to be coming down the river one day and we struck up a conversation and we’ve been friends ever since,” Gedeon said. 

The state fire marshal's office said it is investigating the blaze, but deferred questions to the Canterbury Fire Department. Lt. Dave Nelson of Canterbury Fire said there were no updates available about its cause on Friday.

Lidstone believes someone burned down his cabin intentionally.  

“There was nothing in there to set it,” he said. “The cats usually don’t smoke very much.” 

Gedeon said Lidstone’s supporters are not abandoning efforts to solve his dilemma, including working out some compromise with Giles. Money raised from supporters could go to bringing Lidstone's compound up to code — it's currently in violation of local and state zoning and environmental regulations — and to build an access road to the property.

“They just can't believe it happened. We felt like we had a little bit of hope,” Gedeon said of the recent court hearing. “We thought the landowner and David would come to agreement. One option was to lease that portion of land to Dave. Bring it up to code. We felt that would be a realistic resolution if the two men would agree.”

The woodlot Lidstone called home was just a few miles away from Interstate 93, north of the capital city of Concord. But it was hidden by the trees; it’s on 73 acres that have been used for timber harvests. The property has been owned by the same family since 1963. There are no plans at this time to develop it.

Giles’ attorney Lisa Snow Wade said there are no discussions around allowing Lidstone to remain on the property.

“I did speak with Jodie Gedeon this morning who raised the idea of a lease, but I explained to her that we had considered this idea in the past when Mr. Lidstone had counsel, and we all concluded that it did not change the liability of the landowner to the town for having someone living in an illegal structure on the property,” she said in an email interview.

The other option for Lidstone would be to relocate to another parcel of land, a real possibility given that Gedeon has received about 20 offers from Maine, New Hampshire and as far as California. Many of those offers resulted from the media coverage of Lidstone's plight.

Lidstone, who is originally from Maine, also said the cabin was not a proper home but rather a hunting and fishing camp. He doesn't have an attorney for his court case. Another hearing in the case is scheduled for next week.

“I told that judge, you can step on little people, but I will bite your ankle,” Lidstone said.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. 


Cassidy Jensen bio photo

Cassidy Jensen has been a reporter at the Monitor, covering the city of Concord and criminal justice, since July 2021. Previously, she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she earned a master's degree. Her work has been published in Documented, THE CITY, Washington City Paper and Street Sense Media. When she's not at City Council meetings, you can find her hiking in the White Mountains.



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