New Hampshire Missing Places: The Whittier Pine of Center Harbor

Photograph of the Whittier Pine on Sunset Hill, Center Harbor, NH. Granite State Monthly magazine, v.30. 1901: Jan.-June. HathiTrust

It had been called the Whittier Pine.  The famed poet John Greenleaf Whittier had his own personal name for this great tree–Wood Giant.  It was located on land near the Sturtevant Farm on Route 25B/Dane Road, Center Harbor NH.

[Editor’s note: in my original posting of this story, in error I combined this tree’s history with that of the Sturtevant Pine, that is entirely a different tree; see comments by Karen Ponton and my thanks to her for the correction.]

Whittier Pine, Center Harbor NH

=-=-=The Whittier Is Missing=-=–=
The Whittier Pine Tree does not stand today.  The Center Harbor Community Development Survey produced in 2018 includes a list (provided by the Center Harbor Historical Society) of historic buildings and locations. According to THAT document:”The Sturtevant Farm was “built on land purchased by Joseph Sturtevant in 1820, the Sturtevant farm was frequently visited by John Greenleaf Whittier who’s “Whittier Pine” was located on this property until 1950. Property also contains the ca. 1834 Sturtevant Cemetery and was once home to Pinelands School For Girls.”

In 1938, the United States Department of Agriculture published a book called “Famous Trees,” by Charles E. Randall, Daisy P.S. Edgerton that implies that the tree is very much in its usual place. “Whittier’s Pine Tree, on the Sturtevant farm, near Sunset Hill, Center Harbor Whittier bestowed upon it the name “Wood Giant” (1886) but it is now called “Whittier’s Pine.

1913 Boston Post newspaper photograph of the Sturtevant Homestead where Whittier stayed.

There was an Associated Press story of January and February 1950 that was published in multiple newspapers also stating that the tree was still in existence. It reported: “POET’S PINE STILL THERE.  Center Harbor, N.H. U.P. — Still standing on the Sturtevant farm here is the “Whittier Pine, ” under which the poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote some of his poems, including “The Forest Giant.”  [Editor’s note, this story can be found: January 26, 1950, The Camden News, Camden Arkansas; 28 January 1950 Kenosha Evening News, Kenosha Wisconsin; 26 January 1950 Kannapollis Daily Independent, Kannapolis NC;  9 Feb 1950 Evansville Press, Evansville, Indiana; 3 March 1950 Greensboro Record, Greensboro NC; and others].

The Annual Report Town of Center Harbor of 1973 states: “The Wood Giant,” written by Mr .Whittier, truly describes this tree which stood for many years on the Sturtevant Farm, on Route 25B. This property was later known as Camp Cardinal Newman. The huge tree was struck by lightning in June, 1950. Attempts to save it were fruitless, and it was cut down. Recent visits reveal that a small pine tree about one and one-half feet tall is now growing steadily from the heart of the stump. Mr. Whittier’s presence in the area and his many poems of local interest leaves an historical legend in the town of Centre Harbor. The road from Ossipee to Meredith was also named for Mr. Whittier.”

All is not lost. Raymond Garland, President of the Center Harbor Historical Society assured me that pieces of the original Whittier Pine Tree were saved, cut into planks, and fashioned into both a full-sided convertible table-chair and miniature table-chairs that can be viewed at the town’s historical society museum.

John Greenleaf Whittier, age 49

In the book ‘The White Hills in Poetry: an anthology, by Eugene R. Musgrove,’ published in 1912, page NOTES (about p 174).” THE WOOD GIANT written at the Whittier Pine, Sunset Hill, Center Harbor in 1885–the latest Whittier poem in this collection; first published in St. Gregory’s Guest and Other Poems 1886. Whittier spent seven summers at Henry Sturtevant’s Sunset Hill Farm and in the village, and in 1885 and 1885 Lucy Larcom was also there. “You can see the tree above others, ten miles across the lake, at Ossipee Park–it is down in the pasture, a little way from the house, looking towards sunset over the lake.” (Lucy Larcom, writing from Center Harbor, October 7m 1885). The pasture, beautifully wooded, is now occupied by a summer school for girls; and the marker on the tree is simply a warning to souvenir seekers. In the summer of 1886 Miss Larcom wrote from “Wood Giant’s Hill”: I saw the sun drop last evening–its magnified reflection, rather–into the larger Lake Asquam, like a ball of crimson flame. The sun itself went down, hot and red, into a band of warm mist that hung over the hills. The “Wood Giant” stood above me audibly musing. His twilight thoughts were untranslatable, but perhaps the wood-thrushes understood, for they sent up their mystical chant from the thickets below, in deep harmony with the music of his boughs.” (Addison, p 229). Whittier’s last visit to Sunset Hill was in 1888. He was in Conway the next year, in Wakefield in 1891, and at Hampton Falls where he died in 1892. Until within four weeks of his death, he was hoping to make an autumn pilgrimage to Sunset Hill.” – Anakim–a race of giants mentioned in Num. XIII,33, and II,10.

There was a path he followed to get to it, on Sunset Hill, which was a little distance from the road.  The photographs of the tree show that it had a wonderful view of the area with mountains and a body of water in the distance.  Since it was still around in the early 1950’s possibly there is an oldster in the town who can still actually point out the exact spot where it grew.

–=-=-=John Greenleaf Whittier vacationed in Center Harbor NH=-=–=-
The Boston Sunday Post newspaper of 3 October 1913 perhaps described it best. “Pinelands” is best known, the country over, as the old summer home of John Greenleaf Whittier, the poet. Whittier for a score of summers spent all his time in this beautiful Centre Harbor retreat, overlooking Winnipesaukee and it was at Pinelands that he wrote “The Pines,” “The Wood Giant,” and other of his poems. The “Wood Giant,” a massive pine whose age no one will ever know, still stands with majestic grandness on the lake shore, a beacon for the summer craft for scores of years to come. The Whittier summer place, which [Mr. Ernest B.] Dane has already offered a small fortune for, it is reported, was owned originally by Henry Sturtevant, an old New Hampshire settler. From one to another it was passed down the line and its last purchaser was Miss M.L. Dalton and Mrs. John Munoz.  Some years ago they converted the historic old place into an elaborate summer school for girls, and under the pines that Whittier immortalized a generation ago, pretty daughters of the rich from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and other not far-away cities have been during recent summer and are this summer living like Indians in tents, playing tennis and golf, and canoeing about the bays and inlets of the third largest lake in America.
– Deacon Sisters Once There-  Before “Pinelands” became a summer school and yet after Whittier had left it and died, it was for some years used as a vacation place by prominent people, among whom were the famous Deacon sisters, society leaders, whose doings still elaborate the American press.  Strange stories too are told about “Pinelands” and one is that a wealthy family lived there for several summers who had their beautiful daughters guarded by an ugly giant who often appeared at the gates to the entrance of the property, scaring away all prospective visitors….”

=-=–=-=-=THE WOOD GIANT=-=–=-=-=
[a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, 1892]

From Alton Bay to Sandwich Dome,
From Mad to Saco river,
For patriarchs of the primal wood
We sought with vain endeavor.

And then we said: “The giants old
Are lost beyond retrieval;
This pygmy growth the axe has spared
Is not the wood primeval.

“Look where we will o’er vale and hill,
How idle are our searches
For broad-girthed maples, wide-limbed oaks,
Centennial pines and birches!

Their tortured limbs the axe and saw
Have changed to beams and trestles;
They rest in walls, they gloat on seas,
They rot in sunken vessels.

This shorn and wasted mountain land
Of underbrush and boulder,–
Who thinks to see its full-grown tree
Must live a century older.”

At last to us a woodland path,
To open sunset leading,
Revealed, the Anakim of pines
Our wildest wish exceeding.

Alone, the level sun before;
Below, the lake’s green islands;
Beyond, in misty distance dim,
The rugged Northern Highlands.

Dark Titan on this Sunset Hill
Of time and change definat!
How dwarfed the common woodland seemed,
Before the old-time giant!

What marvel that, in simpler days
Of the world’s early childhood,
Men crowned with gardlands, gifts, and praise
Such monarchs of the wild-wood.

That Tyrian maids with flowers and song
Danced through the hill grove’s spaces
And hoary-bearded Druids found
In woods their holy places?

With somewhat of that Pagan Awe
With Christian reverence blending,
We saw our pine-tree’s mighty arms
Above our heads extending.

We heard his needles’ mystic rune,
Now rising, and now dying,
As erst Dodona’s priestess heard
The oak leaves prophesying.

Was it the half-unconscious moan
Of one apart and mateless,
The weariness of unshared power,
The loneliness of greatness?

O dawns and sunsets, lend to him
Your beauty and your wonder!
Blithe sparrow, sing thy summer song
His solemn shadow under!

Play lightly on his slender keys,
O wind of summer, waking
For hills like these the sound of seas
On far-off beaches breaking!

And let the eagle and the crow
Find shelter in his branches,
When winds shake down his winter snow
In silver avalanches.

The brave are braver for their cheer,
The strongest need assurance,
The sigh of longing makes not less
The lesson of endurance.
[Whittier’s Works by John Greenleaf Whittier 1892, p 92]

 

*****ADDITIONAL READING****

Lost New England: Center Harbor New Hampshire

Poem: The Whittier Pine by Lewis A. Browne, The Granite Monthly magazine, 1901. Hathi Trust.

Centre Harbor, by Clarence Johnson. (Photographs) The Granite Monthly Magazine, 1897, p. 164-172

P.S.: The so-called “Sturtevant Pine” was a different tree than was described above. In 1781 it is said that two of the town’s earliest settlers, Hosea Sturtevant and Ephriam Doten climbed it. This lofty giant provided shade and inspiration for many up until December 1928 when it fell.

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4 Responses to New Hampshire Missing Places: The Whittier Pine of Center Harbor

  1. I had’t read this poem before. I particularly like how it chronicles the changes to the landscape brought about by settlement.

  2. Karen Ponton says:

    The Whittier Pine and the Sturtevant Pine are two different, famous pine trees in Center Harbor. The Whittier Pine stood on Joseph Sturtevant’s farm (ca.1825), which was located on Dane Road/Route 25B. It was felled by lightening in 1950. The Sturtevant Pine on High Haith Road was climbed in 1781 by early settlers Hosea Sturtevant and Ephriam Doten. This tree fell in 1928. A boulder with a plaque marks the exact site, which is documented by photographs. Incidentally, there is a third famous pine tree: the Sentinel Pine or the Pilot Tree on Garnett Hill. Boats on Lake Winnipesaukee often used this tree to sight a course to Center Harbor. Legend has it this very tall and straight pine tree was marked in colonial times as one of the King’s Pines. The Sentinel Pine was cut down about 1940 due to disease, but some of its lumber was incorporated into decorative woodwork in the historic mansion on the former estate. Hope this info helps.

    • Janice Brown says:

      Thank you Karen so much. The report I looked at from the town grouped the 2 trees together as if it was one, so it was very confusing. I can “fix” my story now but I give you credit for “fixing the facts.” Thank you again.

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