A Kayak Tour Reveals Hidden History of Two Long-Gone Towns

Jun 15, 2017

Margie Emmons leads a kayak tour of the Moore Reservoir, just west of Littleton, NH.
Credit Britta Greene / NHPR

What’s notable about Margie Emmons' kayak tours is not necessarily what you can see on the tour, it’s what you can’t.


 

On a recent morning, Emmons led a small group of women on a tour of the Moore Reservoir, just west of Littleton, New Hampshire. Two towns - one on the Vermont side and one in New Hampshire - used to stand in this spot. The remains of both flooded after New England Power built the Moore Dam in the 1950s.

 

“I like to think of this area as a place that’s frozen in time,” Emmons told the group. “The rest of our towns, that we all live in now, have histories like this one, but this one didn’t get to evolve to be modern.”

 

Paddling her way along the shoreline, she pointed to some of the old stone walls that used to border roads, criss-crossing the two small towns. Now, they run through the woods, at times plunging straight into the water.

They’re the most visible evidence of the area’s past.

 

 

Old stone walls, running through the woods and into the water, are some of the only visible evidence of towns that used to sit on the site of the Moore Reservoire.
Credit Britta Greene / NHPR

“There’s quite a history here,” Emmons said as she gazed out at the walls.

Her interest in this area is mirrored by Richard Alberini, curator at the Littleton Area Historical Museum and a former teacher in town.

He bubbles with energy as he sorts through a bin of old papers in the museum, looking for maps and photographs of one of the two former towns: Pattenville, New Hampshire.

 

Pattenville was once a thriving little mill village, he explained, almost a suburb of Littleton - if Littleton were big enough to have a suburb. Everything in town was torn down before the dam was built. There’s no houses, no schools, no groves of trees under the water, just some old cellar holes.

 

Richard Alberini, curator of the Littleton Area Historical Museum, shows photographs of the now-flooded town of Pattenville, NH.
Credit Britta Greene / NHPR

Somehow, though, that doesn’t stop a sort of spiritual feeling about the place.

Alberini said, when he goes out and looks at the water and the dam, he can picture what life used to be like.

“Children were born down there. People died there. People were educated there. People had parties,” he said. “They would just get together and someone would play the fiddle, and they’d dance in the kitchen.”

Construction of the dam was in the works for decades, and no one put up a strong fight when the power company offered to buy their land, Alberini said.

“No one protested, no one handcuffed their wrist to the front door of an inn,” he said. “They just got up and moved.”

 

Emmons started offering tours in this area about seven years ago, taking people out to places that are off the beaten path. Still Waters Run Deep is the name of her business.

 

But the Moore Reservoir is particularly meaningful to her because she can actually trace her own ancestry back to some of the original settlers here, living in spots now underwater.

“I feel that they, perhaps, would like to have the story told,” she said.