North Country
5:00 pm
Wed August 29, 2012

A Postcard As New Hampshire's Newest Town Turns Fifty

Fifty years ago this summer New Hampshire got its newest town, but only after a fight to secede from a neighboring town.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen sends this postcard from Sugar Hill in the North Country.

The town of Sugar Hill is perhaps best known for elegant homes and views, the home of the first organized ski school in the United States and its fight to keep its post office open.

Originally the hill settlement was part of Lisbon, which was clustered about eight miles away along the banks of the Ammonoosuc River.

But over time they evolved into quite different communities.

Sugar Hill had farmers trying to make a living but there were also well-to-do summer visitors and an overall focus on tourism.

Lisbon proper was focused on manufacturing.

But ultimately what divided them wasn’t miles or geography, it was taxes.

Around 1960 many Sugar Hill residents had decided they didn’t want to pay taxes for services they weren’t getting such as a sewage system.

“People over here on the hill thought that wasn’t fair at all.

 That’s Barbara Serafini. She was in her early 20’s then and her family owned The Homestead Inn.

On the other hand some people in Lisbon thought Sugar Hill needed to bear more of the overall tax burden.

In 1961 Sugar Hill took its case for secession to the state legislature and then onto the courts.

One of the major players was Barbara’s mother, Esther.

 “My mother was very, very interested in politics. She had been since we lost a cousin in World War II. A pilot shot down. And at that time she felt it was important for Americans to take interest in government. So she knew people all over the state of New Hampshire.”

Esther used her contacts to lobby for the bill.

Through it all the fight to secede had a nasty side.

Here’s a line from a 2004 book written by Roger Aldrich. He’s a member of an old Sugar Hill family and he worked with Esther Serafini and others.

“The rhetoric sometimes appeared heading towards violence, although it never quite reached that point.”

Then, Aldrich writes that “one dark night a car stopped in front of my house and someone pointed a Roman candle at the house and hit it with flaming balls.”

The only damage was some burn marks.

But in his book Aldrich laments the loss of many good friends in Lisbon.

There is also a sense that the secession may still be a touchy subject.

Aldrich recently declined to discuss the secession saying he didn’t want to stir up hard feelings.

In the end it took a court decision to clear the way for the secession.

The town got the news on July 16, 1962.

And Barbara Serafini remembers it well.

Bells rang.

“The townspeople went to our fire department. Got on the fire truck and rode all around town. It wasn’t being gloating it was just an announcement of freedom. I mean, we were thrilled.”

A little less than a year later Esther Serafini wrote a long letter to – Eleanor Glaessel – a teenager who was fascinated by the secession and was working on a history of it.

Sitting in her office at the Sugar Hill Sampler Esther Serafini’s daughter – Barbara – reads from that letter:

“The present selectmen are doing a fine job. I guess everyone is happy. And we are sure of one thing. Everyone is proud to have Sugar Hill as a town. I hope this next generation will guard its heritage and keep it as unspoiled as it is today. Of course it must progress but I hope with dignity.”

The town – which now has about 600 residents - held its 50th birthday party as part of the 4th of July celebration.

There was a potluck supper for the roughly 600 residents – and the sound of thunderstorms in the distance.

For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen