HOUSE AND HOME: Linda and Ben Davis found a home in Greenfield at first sight

The new fireplace and windows added to the former “blank wall”  at the east end of the kitchen. 

The new fireplace and windows added to the former “blank wall”  at the east end of the kitchen.  COURTESY PHOTO BY LINDA DAVIS

A 1930 photo of Sugarwood showing the previous barn and outbuildings. 

A 1930 photo of Sugarwood showing the previous barn and outbuildings.  COURTESY PHOTO BY LINDA DAVIS

A recent drone photo of Sugarwood looking south. 

A recent drone photo of Sugarwood looking south.  COURTESY PHOTO BY LINDA DAVIS

The secret laundry room at the end of the tavern. 

The secret laundry room at the end of the tavern.  COURTESY PHOTO BY LINDA DAVIS

Sugarwood today. 

Sugarwood today.  COURTESY PHOTO BY LINDA DAVIS

By JESSECA TIMMONS

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript 

Published: 09-25-2023 3:01 PM

After living on the busy main street of Groton, Mass., for years, Linda and Ben Davis knew exactly what they wanted with their next home: a quiet back road, more land and plenty of space.

They started looking for a home in New Hampshire during COVID, taking long drives to explore the state during the bleak days of lockdown. 

“We didn’t even know about the Monadnock region, and we just fell in love with it,” Linda says. 

The moment they saw their current home, Sugarwood, both Ben and Linda had a feeling that was it. 

“Usually, when we’re house-hunting, if one of us likes a house, the other has a problem with it,” Linda said with a laugh. “But as soon as we saw Sugarwood sitting on the top of the hill, we both had a this feeling it was the one.”

The sprawling, antique Cape house on Francestown Road in Greenfield faces south, overlooking a meadow with a view of the North Pack. As soon as the Davises moved into the house in October 2021, Linda stopped by the Greenfield Historical Society, where she met Lenny Cornwell. Linda was delighted to learn that Cornwell maintains a file on every historic home in Greenfield.

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“Then I was off and running,” Linda recalled. “Ancestry research and researching old houses are my passion. My mom calls me ‘the Nancy Drew of old homes’ and I just love that!’

Linda has traced the history of the Sugarwood to 1790, when it was built by the Burnham family. At that time, the Francestown Road section of Greenfield was still part of Lyndeborough. Some records indicate that a Capt. John Burnham built the house, and that the same John Burnham helped to build the Greenfield Meetinghouse in 1794 at the founding of Greenfield. However, Linda has been unable to confirm a Capt. John Burnham in the census records for Lyndeborough or Greenfield at that time.

“That drives me crazy,” she said with a laugh. “There are gaps, conflicting records, but I will figure it out!” 

The Burnham family owned the house until 1869, when it sold to the Woodbridge family. Working through old deeds, Linda has created a timeline of all previous owners of the house up until 2021. She was thrilled when a previous resident stopped by and and told her stories about growing up in the house and on Francestown Road. 

“She walked into my library and gasped, because there used to be a well right there inside the house, in the summer kitchen,” Davis said. “I never knew that.”

While Linda and Ben both loved the floor plan of Sugarwood, which allowed the first-floor living they were looking for, they both had some projects in mind. Linda was mystified that the kitchen lacked a fireplace, and that the east wall, facing the driveway, had no windows. She worked with Schaal-Given Contractors of Peterborough to renovate the kitchen, bringing in a fireplace, more light and view to the east. 

“Ben wants a barn, but that’s a much bigger project,” Linda said with a laugh “We’ll have to see.”

A historic photo from 1930 shows that the property originally  had a large barn and carriage house, as well as additional outbuildings. Records mention chicken coops, pig barns, and an earlier sugar house. Linda wonders if the barn was destroyed in the 1938 hurricane that devastated the Monadnock region, as she can’t find any record of the barn after the 1930 photo. Upon hearing Linda was researching the history of the property, a contractor working on the kitchen suggested she obtain the light detection and ranging (LIDAR) records for the land. 

“I had no idea you get could LIDAR maps for all of New Hampshire!” Linda said. “I found out the whole state has been mapped by satellite and you can look up your own property! It’s so cool.”

Linda obtained the LIDAR maps for Sugarwood and the surrounding fields and confirmed what she already suspected -- the property had originally consisted of  several smaller houses which had been moved and combined the create the current house. The map revealed multiple stone foundations and stone walls around the existing house. 

“The house has changed many, many times in over 200 years. There used to be a bathroom where my dining room is now – you can see the pipe holes in the floor – and the end of the kitchen used to be the woodshed,” Linda said. “It’s like solving a mystery.” 

Linda’s favorite updates to the home include her transformation of an awkward, walk-through space that “didn’t seem to have a purpose” into a cozy tavern with a secret function. Panels at one end of the room conceal the washer and dryer, with cabinets above for storage. She also renovated the butler’s pantry, where she found additional storage space in the walls and enough room for an additional oven. 

Linda and Ben have also been inspired by more recent history. After hearing that  Francestown Road had a tradition of progressive dinners in the 1970s and 1980s, with neighbors cross-country skiing from house to house for cocktails, dinner and dessert, Linda and Ben decided to revive the tradition of the neighborhood party, recently gathering 25 neighbors together for a potluck.

“It was like this Hallmark moment,” Linda said. “It’s what this house was meant for.”

Linda Davis can be found on Instagram at @NewEnglandFineLiving.