Ben’s Cellar Hole

Where was the Benjamin Ware Family Home?
Journey to a Cellar Hole
by Cindy Joy

Many of us in the Ware Family Association know Benjamin Ware of Gilsum, New Hampshire. He was Captain of the militia during the War of 1812, had three wives and seventeen children. He was a tall man, of strong voice. He was probably our great great great grandfather. . . or maybe even further back. I first heard about Benjamin Ware from my mother, Charlotte DeWitt Snyder. When Ware relatives came east in the 70s and 80s, she and my father would take them to Gilsum to see the Ware burial sites and the home of David Ware, Benjamin’s son. In 1985 she organized a family hike to a cemetery far out in the woods where the parents of Huldah Wilcox Ware, Benjamin’s first wife, were buried. However, I do not remember my mother ever mentioning anything about where the Wares actually lived. Where were all those children born, where was the center of their family life, how far did they have to walk to school? Where was Benjamin’s farmland situated, what road went past their house? What did Huldah and then Martha Ware see as they looked out a window during the long, cold winters?

These were the questions that were whirling in my head when members of the Ware Family Association (WFA) were planning the get together in Gilsum for July 2004. If only we could find the missing link, the most important place of all for the Ware family, the place they called home.

I started my search with the History of Gilsum book (published by Silvanus Hayward in 1881) and its map of Gilsum. I was disappointed to find that there was no house on the map labeled, “Ware.” But upon reading the text of the book I found that the Ware house was #22 on the map. The symbol for #22 was a circle, not a square, meaning that the house did not exist, even in 1876, and therefore was not labeled on the map. It was south of the village of Gilsum and not on any present-day road.

After consulting the table of measurements in my dictionary, I was able to convert the map’s scale of 75 rods to an inch to .23 miles to an inch. That meant that their house had been less than a quarter of a mile from Route 10, the main road from Keene to Gilsum. That seemed like good news.

My sister, Adelaide Cain, and I took several trips to Gilsum. Every time we drove along that section of Route 10 we would comment wistfully that the Ware house must have been located somewhere up on the hill behind the row of houses. But where, and how could we reach it? One choice was to start knocking on doors hoping to find a kindred soul who would let us tromp through his back yard, up a hill, through a forest, looking for a cellar hole. It didn’t seem very appealing. On one of our trips we stopped at the Gilsum Library. The librarian, Gail Bardwell, was very friendly and helpful. After she heard about what we were trying to do, she told us about a local man, Terry Mark, who was a friend of her father-in-law’s. Terry was very interested in family history. He had hiked the woods in that area and found the cellar hole of his ancestors. She gave me his phone number and said she thought he’d be glad to hear from me.

When I called Terry Mark, he was willing to try to help us. One Sunday in May, he met my sister, my niece, and me in Gilsum and led us up a steep hill off Route 10. We moved quickly, trying to reach the top where a more well-defined path awaited us. Also we were assailed by the most mosquitoes I have ever seen. Luckily we had Off wipes, of which we made liberal use.

At the top of the hill we found the paths, the same paths that were on the 1876 map. Terry’s ancestors had lived on the right-hand path, but we took the left. We walked across a little stream, and after a quarter of a mile or so the path divided. We took the left fork. I was getting excited as it seemed as if the path would take us right to the Ware house location. Terry was walking ahead of us, and soon called out that he had found it! He had previous experience finding old cellar holes and knew what he was looking for. Several big trees surrounded an indentation in the ground. The bricks of a chimney were lying nearby. I could hardly believe it. I was finally looking at the actual place where Benjamin Ware had lived for 64 years!

For anyone with no interest in the Wares, it looked like “a lot of green.” But I didn’t see just green. I thought about Benjamin and Huldah moving there in 1794 when they were newlyweds. I thought about the seventeen children who were born in the house over a period of 34 years. They stayed warm by a fire that used a chimney, the bricks of which I could still see. I thought about the change in Benjamin’s family life when he married Martha Chapin, and when some of the older children left Gilsum to make their homes far away in Illinois at the place that would become known as Ware’s Grove. I thought of the sadness the Ware family endured each time a death occurred—five children and both mothers.

After reminiscing about the long history of this place, and feeling very happy we had found it, I realized that only half of my mission was accomplished. The other half was sharing the discovery with other descendants of the Ware family. How many of them would be willing to hike over a mile—up a hill, along an uneven path, being chased by hordes of mosquitoes all the way! Our guide, Terry Mark, again came to the rescue. I told him about our planned get together in Gilsum in July, and how I hoped some other Ware descendants could visit the old cellar hole. Terry thought he could scout out a shorter route for us.

I kept in touch with Terry by telephone. We talked over several ideas. Then, just a few days before we arrived in July, he contacted one of the families who lived along that section of Route 10. He told them what we wanted to do, and they agreed to let us pass through their yard to access a path closer to the Ware house location.

So on a dreary morning at 8:30 a.m., six hardy, or at least motivated, WFA hikers met Terry in Gilsum. He led us past the house on Route 10, up through the woods until we connected with a path. It was not easy walking, but at least the mosquitoes were not attacking us. We trudged along, energized by our strong desire to reach the cellar hole. Ann Tindall recorded the trek on her video camera.

When we reached the old house location, it was more overgrown than it had been in May. It was harder to envision the house’s outline. However, the six of us explored the area, took many pictures to commemorate the occasion, and even put a few bricks from the chimney into back packs as a remembrance of our dear ancestors. Ware descendants had finally returned to where it all began.

It seemed almost impossible to us that Benjamin could have farmed this rocky, uneven ground. However, we know he did. In another letter written in 1842, Martha wrote, “John is all we have to do the hard work on the farm.” And to give us just a glimpse of how Martha viewed this land one winter from her window 164 years ago, she wrote, “It has been a very cold and snowy winter in December. We had the most snow and largest drifts we ever saw about our buildings . . . Feb has been warm, the snow is most gone. Have made some sugar – it is a general time of health.” Daughter Martha Harriet added a postscript, “The snow is gone except drifts and spring seems to return fast with all its loveliness.”

Our adventurous group of six was very pleased to have seen exactly where “home” was for the Benjamin Ware family in Gilsum. We wanted to think that their home life here was not just work and hardship. Two more quotes from Martha’s letters tell us that their lives included holiday celebrations and neighbors “dropping in.” “Enoch and family were here at Thanksgiving.” This is where my great great grandfather and his family spent the November holiday in 1840. And “Mr. Mark and wife have just come.” Could it be that the ancestors of our guide, Terry Mark, were often guests at our ancestors’ home? I think so.

Author’s note: Spelling, punctuation and grammar in letter quotes have been updated for easier reading.

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