Solving The Mystery Of The Great Wall Of Sandwich, N.H.

May 29, 2015

Completed in 1875, the Great Wall of Sandwich is a shoulder height granite wall that runs more than a mile. Together with its 7 foot tall statue of Niobe, the Great Wall became something of a tourist attraction in the early 20th Century.  But in 1941, a hurricane toppled the statue, and its shattered pieces went missing for nearly 70 years. I recently visited Sandwich to learn more about the wall and to find out how Niobe was finally recovered.  

Boone Porter is a retired lawyer. He lives on Wentworth Hill in a white pillared Greek Revival house that once belonged to the actor Claude Rains.

"I've always felt this town had more than its fair share of dreamers. You know, people who come here and they somehow feel that the unique attributes of this town will somehow allow those dreams to come true."

One of the earliest home-grown dreamers was Isaac Adams, born in 1802.

Isaac Adams

"Isaac Adams grew up here in Sandwich as a printers apprentice. He was not doing well and he was not popular and he decided that he would go to Boston where he could make his fortune. And he went around to his neighbors and asked if they would lend him the money for the stagecoach fare down to Boston."

No one lent the unpopular 22 year old a penny. 

"And Mr. Adams took great umbrage at that insult and vowed to return to Sandwich as a very successful person with enough money to buy any property that he wanted."

Adams made his own way to Boston and 4 years later in 1828 -

"He invented the Adams steam press which revolutionized printing."

The Adams Press would dominate the print world for the rest of the century and made Isaac Adams a fortune.

"At some point he decided to retire back to Sandwich, his hometown."

It was 1861 and Adams returned with a vengeance.

"He bought up all the small farms in Sandwich and proceeded to knock them down. And he built the Great Wall, paid a very good wage to approximately 100 laborers who worked at it for two years."

Isaac Adams old estate, currently under renovation.

Adams lived on top of Wentworth Hill in a mansion cobbled together from bits and pieces of surrounding farms - a private Xanadu that featured a windmill, barns, stables, gardens, a bowling alley - and a locally quarried granite wall that ran for more than a mile.

"The Great Wall of Sandwich is a little bit like the Great Wall of China. It's not just a single structure, it's actually several different structures."

Boone Porter and one of the interior sections of the Great Wall.

On the most visible section of the wall, Adams installed the Statue of Niobe.  According to Greek Mythology, Niobe was punished by Apollo for excessive pride in her children - and most people believe Isaac Adams' message was clear.  He was Apollo and the citizens of Sandwich were the proud - and now punished - Niobe. 

Though Isaac Adams died in 1883, this "insult by statuary", as Sandwich resident Adam Nudd-Homeyer calls it, lived on until a 1941 hurricane knocked Niobe off her 18 foot high pedestal.

Niobe
Credit Sean Hurley

"She was shattered into 150 pieces. So over seven decades people had shepherded and stewarded these pieces and kept them hidden and most people thought it was lost for good, just lost to time, just disappeared. And so did I - "

But Boone Porter didn't think so.  As a part owner of the Great Wall, he had rights to the shattered zinc metal shards of Niobe, wherever she may be. And in 2005, after a year-long search for the missing pieces, he finally got lucky.

"The pieces had been found by this tenant in an old dilapidated horse barn buried under a pile of manure."

Porter spent the next few years trying to find someone to restore Niobe. One conservator gave him an estimate of a quarter of a million dollars.  Another suggested he sell the zinc metal pieces for scrap.

"Not sure what to do I did nothing and just left the pieces in my barn."

After moving to Sandwich in 2010 with the dream of becoming a blacksmith, Adam Nudd-Homeyer walked across the street to pay his new neighbor, Boone Porter, a visit. 

"And he asked if I could give him a tour of our barn. And he saw all the pieces of the statue and went 'Holy smokes what's that?'"

Like most people, Nudd-Homeyer had never restored a statue in his life. But -

"He said 'Will you allow me to give you a bid to put it together because I think I can.'"

During the summer of 2011 Nudd-Homeyer assembled the 150 piece metal jigsaw of Niobe - finishing just in time for her to be unveiled at Sandwich's 250th anniversary in 2012.

"I doubt there's anybody, I don't care how famous or skilled they are who could've done a better job. I just don't believe there's such a person."

A tour of the wall.
Credit Sean Hurley

Porter takes me on a walk around the various sections of the wall, dispelling rumors about Isaac Adams as we go.

"There's a myth that Isaac Adams dumped salt into Little Pond to try to farm lobsters.  I think that's just a myth." 

There's a myth that Adams used to ride his carriage on top of the 10 foot wide wall -

"Which is utter nonsense because as you see there are breaks in the wall which he couldn't traverse." 

What's not utter nonsense are Isaac Adam's pair of old Mosler Safes, each the size of a dishwasher, blown open and rusting in the woods.

Adams' old Mosler Safes in the woods at the back of the property.
Credit Sean Hurley

"And why they're there we don't know."

But Porter does know why the traffic on Little Pond Road has increased. With Niobe back in place high atop the Great Wall -

"We get a rather steady procession of cars that come and slow down and stop and take pictures and there you are."

And there Niobe and the Great Wall are. A once and future tourist attraction made of granite, spite, zinc metal, a Greek myth, a hundred laborers, a hurricane, a blacksmith, a pile of money and a patchwork of dreams.