2004-08-12 Phil Boncer: Impressions of NH and the FSP gathering
Impressions of NH and the FSP gathering
by Phil Boncer 8/12/04
Kristine and I have just returned from nearly two weeks in NH. We drove almost 1300 miles around the state, which isn't bad for a 200 mile long state. We stopped in towns all over to gather info on real estate, zoning, available amenities, local attitudes, and general impressions. We were open about our intent to move to NH, and about our plans to try to buy a decent property, and have on it our home, a wholesale yarn-dyeing business in a barn or outbuilding that may employ up to 10 persons and would require a UPS delivery/pick-up, possibly a small one-classroom private school, and likely a second barn for hobbies and collections and such. We came back with two grocery sacks full of real estate booklets, newspapers, zoning and building regulations, employment ad papers, relocation packets, and assorted other literature.
We flew into Boston, arriving on the morning of 21 Jun (Monday), and rented a car. That day we drove through Portsmouth, Exeter, Salem, Nashua, and stayed the night at Stepping Stones B&B in Wilton (recommended; it was excellent and fairly inexpensive). Portsmouth is nice but quite expensive. Exeter is nice, but fairly expensive and has very strict zoning; they were not encouraging. Small towns nearby may offer some possibilities. Salem and Nashua were unenticing and not scenic, but offered cheap real estate, likely reasonable zoning, and easy access to Boston. Nashua seemed to have the best selection of ethnic restaurants of any city we visited in the state. Milford and Wilton were lovely, and reasonable in cost. Zoning would require variances for our plans, but the town clerks sounded positive about getting them.
Tuesday we went to Peterborough, Harrisville, Keene, and small towns in between. Mostly lovely, a bit depressed around Greenville. Peterborough zoning prohibitive. Harrisville dodgy, but other solutions possible, such as rening one of the local mill buildings for the yarn business. Keene is quite nice, and might be a good spot. Smaller towns in the area looked like good options were available. We stayed at the B&B in Wilton again.
Wednesday we headed north. Bedford looked like a good possibility. Manchester is a real city, and bears looking into; probably in the outskirts to affordably meet our needs/plans. Many neighborhoods had signs prohibiting trucks on their street at night, sometimes at all. Concord similar but smaller. We then detoured west through Bath, Lisbon, Sugar Hill, and Littleton. All very nice. Real estate is very reasonable up here. Zoning would require variances for our plans, but the town clerks here again sounded positive about getting them. This is all "above the notches", so weather will be more severe and shipping costs for the business higher.
Wednesday evening through Monday morning we spent at Roger's Campground in Lancaster. The gathering was fabulous, and we met many fine people and made several new friends. There was a fine and refreshing lack of obvious nutcases (something I admit to having been a bit worried about); by and large it seemed a group of people who could move in and make a difference without alienating everyone we came across. It was great to meet in person so many of those I've corresponded with online. I was quite impressed with the FSP leaders as well. Amanda is I think doing a fine job, and did well with the many press persons in attendance. It was nice to see Jason again; good to see him get to relax a bit, lovely to meet Mary. The organizers did a great job keeping it all rolling. Thanks to George and Dave and Tim and all others! The Saturday evening BBQ was a bit weak for the money, but it seemed that there were more people than expected. I might suggest having speakers and vendors in different rooms next time, which would allow both to conduct their affairs with less interference.
The press presence was amazing, both local and national. Most of them seemed to be fairly positively disposed, and to have a reasonable understanding of the movement. Articles in the papers over the next couple of days were pretty fair and reasonably positive.
We did attend the NHLA dinner on Friday evening. It was well organized and well attended. The speakers were interesting and even the food was decent! Thanks to Mr. Murphy and the Pratts, as well as the many others I'm sure had a hand in it. A small pack of liberals protested with signs. Their favorite slogan seems to be "Government is not the problem." Sorry guys, but you're wrong. Government is in fact, if not the entire problem, usually a big part of it.
We also went on the trip to Grafton on Sunday. It looked quite promising for the longer term, but will need time and work, especially on Bob's land, which is still very raw. Grafton is the closest cheap real estate to Lebanon/Hanover where Dartmouth College is locaed, and might make a very good investment. On the way back we took a look at Lebanon/Hanover, since there may be industries there I can work in. These looked nice but expensive and probably overzoned. Haverhill looked possible.
On Monday we left the campground and headed first up to Berlin, which looked pretty active. The main employer in the town is a paper mill that makes their paper "from scratch" as the librarians told us. Real estate is very cheap. It's likely too far north for us, however. We then came back south and toured the Lakes region. Pretty, but both very expensive and a little tacky but mainly touristy with ski condos everywhere. Unlikely to be what we want. We stayed in a campground and got rained on very heavily.
Tuesday we continued our tour of the lakes region, through Conway and the like.
Wednesday we went to Rochester, which looks depressed and a bit rundown. Reasonable real estate and workable zoning probably available. Somersworth was cute. We drove the beach/coast road; very posh and expensive, crowded. Parts were scenic, but no thanks. Dover might offer some possibilities. We stayed the night in Dover with Dave Mincin. Thanks, Dave!
Thursday we went back for another look at Exeter and Portsmouth, having learned much more about what to look for. Our initial impressions were comfirmed. We stayed at a B&B in Portsmouth, and had a fantastic (but expensive) meal at a French restaurant called Lindbergh's Crossing. I highly recommend it if you have the inclination for fine dining, it was worth the price!
Friday we walked Portsmouth some more. It's sort of more upscale touristy; more art and less outlet malls. Then we drove back to Boston and flew home.
New Hampshire is beautiful almost everywhere, and livable in most places. Almost all of the west half of the state looked pretty good; most of the east half seemed unsuitable for us for one reason or another.
As usual, the cities seem more politically liberal than the countryside.
Several towns were incorporated in the 1800's, from parts of surrounding towns. I asked around at the FSP fest if anyone had looked to see if this was still possible, to create our own free town somewhere rather than disrupt an existing order, and was told by several that it was not. I have since found out, however, that Sugar Hill was incorporated in 1962, and that there are a few unincorporated areas still existing (albeit mostly way up north). I think further investigation is warranted.
NH natives are very nice and were almost universally welcoming and friendly. Most had heard of the Free State Project, although many had not. None gave us bad reactions to the concept (except for the protestors at the NHLA dinner).
Kristine and I are going, whether or not the FSP officially succeeds. Even if nothing there improves, it's a very good place, and a damn sight better than California.
We can certainly make a difference, and I think we can actually succeed in our goals, as long as we are willing to take a long-term, respectful, gentle, and patient approach. I think most NH residents are open to our ideas, and will help us achieve a real freedom, provided we don't act like a bull in a china shop, and piss everyone off before they get to know us.