In Loudon, a chance to connect the past with the present for a better future 

  • Father and son, Steve Fifield, of Steve Fifield Restoration and Oliver Fifield of Oliver Fifield Timber Frames shave oak pegs were used to hold together the timber beams which both of them used to restore the separate barns on the property of the Sanborn Mills Farm in Loudon. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Oliver Fifield of Oliver Fifield Timber Frames opens up the barn barn door that he renovated on the property of the Sanborn Mills Farm in Loudon on Thursday morning, May 12, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Oliver Fifield walks across the barn that he renovated on the property of the Sanborn Mills Farm in Loudon on Thursday morning. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Steve Fifield of Steve Fifield Restoration cuts up oak pegs that he and his son, Oliver, used to restore barns on the property of the Sanborn Mills Farm in Loudon on Thursday. Both of their creations will be on display on Saturday.

  • Father and son Steve Fifield of Steve Fifield Restoration (right) and Oliver Fifield of Oliver Fifield Timber Frames leave the barn that Oliver renovated. The pair helped restore the barns on the property of the Sanborn Mills Farm in Loudon on Thursday morning, May 12, 2022. Both of their creations will be on display on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Oliver Fifield of Oliver Fifield Timber Frames walks across the barn that he renovated on the property of the Sanborn Mills Farm in Loudon on Thursday morning, May 12, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/12/2022 4:28:47 PM

For seven hours on Saturday, the Sanborn Mills Farm in Loudon will blend the past with the present, hoping to create a better future.

Colin Cabot and his wife, Paula Dewey, have owned the farm for more than 25 years. Their vision for the property, right from the very start, has never changed and will be on display from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Question-and answer classes and presentations will cover a wide array of skills and activities, many of which were vital to everyday life in the 19th century.

Woodworking, carpentry, farming, gardening, sewing, timber-framing, window-making, masonry repointing, stone-wall building, all will be included in the program, each with an instructor available for detailed, one-on-one direction.

In this case, old-fashioned ways are certainly not viewed as outdated. Not when they translate into New England charm, preservation of landmarks, and future educational opportunities that explain what happened in our past.

For many, the antique gristmills and sawmills steal the show. They were built in the 19th century, yet remain operational.

“It is why we are here,” said Cabot, 65. “People doing things before the invention of hydraulics and gas engines. The tools and oxen and horses have inspired me to aspire for self-sufficiency, and that’s something we have gotten away from.”

In 1996, Cabot and Dewey bought the farm from the Sanborn family, who had built it nearly 160 years earlier. Since then, promoting fine craftsmanship, respect for the past and an intimate, appreciative relationship with Mother Earth have surfaced as core values.

“All communities in New Hampshire had a sawmill, a gristmill, blacksmiths to help move life and business along,” said Jennifer Goodman of the NH Preservation Alliance. “It’s rare to have an exact example of those working buildings. It’s a chance to see how rare and extraordinary working mills and farm features that were commonplace in New England.”

The Preservation Alliance is partnering with the Mills Farm to stage Saturday’s event. They’re both in the business of keeping past inventions, structures and hardships in public view.

“It’s a chance to see both innovative and old ways,” Goodman said. “It’s a chance to interact with trade people who specialize in old buildings, and you can get answers to your questions.”

The father-son team of Steve and Oliver Fifield will be there. 

“I dismantle old barns and put them back up with new timber framing,” said Steve, 65. “It has to be an old building or traditional timber frame. We do churches, meeting houses, town properties.”

And, at this event with a fair-like feel, he will offer lessons as well. He and his son will combine on that.

“I like to talk about building construction methods and why it was built in such a way that they are,” Steve Fifield said. “There’s a reason for all of that. You can learn a lot by looking these buildings over. They are an education.”

Steve said that Oliver began showing interest in timber frames, restorations and the handling of old materials when he was 2½. He paid his dues, once slipping into a water tank while helping dad build a granite foundation.

“He was little,” Steve said. “But there was no pressure to get into it. This just seems to be his thing.”

They now run their separate businesses, Steve Fifield Restoration and Oliver Fifield Timber Frames. They’ll be a team on Saturday, as they sometimes are. Oliver recently helped his father remove the steeple from Daniel Webster’s old church in West Franklin. He’s been working for Cabot for 20 years.

“Failure is not an option,” Steve said, “so we tend to our business and we do it right.”

Their presentation will include a grange rebuilt with some of its original parts and moved on to the farm. Oliver will explain how the pieces to the puzzle fit.

“I will give tours of new timber frames that have the same properties as an 1800 English-style barn,” Oliver said. “It’s a 100 percent new timber frame building.”

Steve restored the water-powered sawmill, using the lumber cut from nearby woods and hauling it in via oxen and horse.

“It’s an efficient mill,” Oliver said. “We’re sticking to tradition and remaining sustainable, and that’s one of our missions.”

Connecting with the past and rebuilding it is part of that mission, and the Fifield boys are helping to lead the charge, using skills that can transform the look and feel of an entire community.

The Loudon Grange, traditionally used as a meeting house and church in town, was wasting away, so Steve took it apart and moved it the six miles to Sanborn Mills Farm, stored it, then rebuilt it.

“It’s in good shape now,” Steve said.

The Fifields also had a hand in the redevelopment of the two mills, which are water-powered and fully functional. Just like the old days.

It’s a step back in time, promoting a lifestyle and work ethic that made Loudon – and, in fact, all of New England – unique. Cabot and Dewey, the farm’s owners, offer a road back to the good ol’ days.

“It’s easy-going to market,” Cabot said, “but you forget carrots come from the ground and milk from cows. We realize this is not everyone’s cup of tea, but the idea is to reunify individuals and allow them to live in harmony with nature.”

For more information or to register go to www.nhpreservation.org or call 603-224-2281. 


Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.



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