Ghost Towns of the White Mountains: Thornton Gore

Located just a short walk off Tripoli Road south of Lincoln, Thornton Gore is one of the most well-known ghost towns in the White Mountains. Home to 22 farms and a mill in its heyday, “The Gore” (as it was known) is easily accessible and visiting it should be on the list of every aficionado of New Hampshire’s agrarian past.

Credit: Tim Peck

Thornton Gore’s Rise

Unlike other White Mountain ghost towns, most of which were built around the logging industry, Thornton Gore grew out of farming. A testament to the remoteness of early White Mountain communities, Thornton Gore was granted a township in 1763, but it took almost 20 years, until 1781, for the town to incorporate—taking its name from Londonderry, New Hampshire, resident and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Matthew Thornton.

In 1800, Thornton Gore entered its first “growth” stage when one of the town’s original inhabitants, who by this time had acquired much of the land, began selling lots ranging between 80 and 200 acres. Early settlers were drawn by the town’s Free Will Baptist religious beliefs and family connections. They eked out an existence as subsistence farmers, but the going was hard. By 1820, there were just eight established farms, with a total of only 72 cleared acres. The average farm had just nine improved acres: three for hay, one for crops, and five for pasture.

Although the dense forest proved an impediment to early farming endeavors, it proved a vital resource for local residents, providing timber for building, firewood, and maple syrup. The community continued to expand into the mid-1800s, adding a school, church, a couple of mills, and two cemeteries, along with roads to connect everything. By 1850, the town had 1,100 acres cleared for crops, orchards, and pasture, producing products like potatoes, wool, and butter in addition to maple syrup—producing almost a half-ton of the latter New England delicacy.

Credit: Tim Peck

A Slow Demise

Three factors contributed to eventual abandonment of this hardscrabble farming community. First, during the Civil War, many of the town’s able-bodied men left never to return—their lives claimed on the battlefields or their interests piqued by the easier-to-farm soils of southern New England and New York. Second, many residents of New Hampshire’s rural communities like Thornton Gore left for opportunities in mills in the southern part of the state. Third, as the forest surrounding Thornton Gore reclaimed abandoned farms, it began to attract the attention of timber companies.

One company in particular, the New Hampshire Land Company, bought up much of the land in Thornton Gore—by 1900, it owned all but two parcels in the community. This essentially ended the town’s existence, although logging remained active into 1912, with timber companies removing millions of board feet from the surrounding hillsides. The logged land was then sold to the federal government, becoming part of the White Mountain National Forest.

In his 1926 book, Walks and Climbs in the White Mountains, Karl Pomeroy Harrington describes the road between Woodstock and Thornton Gore shortly after its demise: “A fertile valley, opening with a curve to the east, the road lined on both sides with well-tilled farms. The lower hillsides were cleared for pasturage or mowing. Huge barns testified to the productivity of these grassy slopes, and the ruins of mills, schoolhouses, and farm buildings of every sort indicate how desolating has been the influence of modern civilization in this typical abandoned-farm region.”

Credit: Tim Peck

Thornton Gore Today

Today, this ghost town is within earshot of Interstate 93 (on busy weekends, you can hear the distant hum of the highway) and one can only wonder what the early inhabitants would think about people from across the Northeast speeding by this once-remote outpost. Even in-the-know outdoors people have likely passed the remains of this one-time thriving farming community and never known; it sits just off of Tripoli Road (exit 31 on I-93), a popular access point for hiking Mount Osceola, East Osceola, and Mount Tecumseh, along with being home to numerous campsites.

A modern exploration of Thornton Gore begins on Gore Road, found shortly after the USFS cabin on the right—look for the sign saying parking is only allowed on the south side of the road—which once was the main thoroughfare between here and Woodstock. Within a few minutes, the fieldstone foundation of an old home is visible and stone walls appear in the dense forest. The “trail” is also noticeably sturdy underfoot; It’s not hard to imagine it in a time when it saw more use.

After about a half-mile walk from Tripoli Road, you’ll come across an old cemetery with a handful of incredibly well-preserved headstones, some of which have flags next to them to indicate military service. A little further on, the trail forks—staying straight brings you to Talford Brook and a right takes you to the mill site and a few more cellar holes. If you’re making a day out of your trip to Thornton Gore, this is a great place to take a break, as the small waterfall just upriver drowns out the sound of the highway and crystal-clear water provides the type of setting that almost certainly attracted the early settlers.

Credit: Tim Peck

Thornton Gore and the 4,000-Footers

The remnants of Thornton Gore are a worthy destination on their own but they’re also an easy add-on to any trip to bag the peaks that presided over this once-thriving town, namely Mount Osceola, East Osceola, and Mount Tecumseh, all of which have trailheads on Tripoli Road—the natural access point for exploring Thornton Gore.

When taking in the incredible view from Mount Osceola or peering out from one of the numerous vantage points on a trip to the top of Mount Tecumseh, try to imagine what it looked like 200 years ago, the challenge of farming in this wild landscape, and how it was all primarily accomplished without the assistance of modern machinery—only the most successful farms in Thornton Gore had teams of horses and oxen to assist in their labor.

If hiking isn’t on the agenda, hop in the car and head north to explore Livermore, another fascinating White Mountain ghost town.