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In today's Wall Street Journal

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  • Tim Condon
    For those of you considering a move to the Free State in the near future: http://online.wsj.com/search A Gracious Village That s how author James Michener
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 20, 2004
      For those of you considering a move to the Free State in the near future:

      A Gracious Village
      That's how author James Michener described the small (and cold) town of
      Walpole , N.H.

      Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
      December 20, 2004; Page R6

      When Clifton Cooke lived and worked in Darien, Conn., he sometimes thumbed
      through magazine articles about the 25 best places to retire. But he wasn't
      interested in most of the choices.

      "We weren't trying to go to some place that was overdone, and there are a
      lot of them," he says.
      But Mr. Cooke found a place to his liking in the New England village of
      Walpole , N.H. He and his wife, Lyn, came upon the town in 1999 when they
      visited neighbors who had bought a house in the village for weekend use.
      Later that year, the Cookes bought a large, white-columned house of their
      own. When Mr. Cooke retired from the family's travel-industry publishing
      business in early 2003, the Cookes moved to Walpole full time.

      "We liked the house, the neighborhood and the proximity to the village,"
      says Mr. Cooke, age 74, sitting on his porch overlooking the grassy side
      yard bordered by a creek.

      Lacking an 18-hole golf course, ski resort, discount outlets or a
      university, Walpole doesn't have the ingredients of a major retirement
      destination. But its combination of historic houses, active village life
      and convenience to Boston and New York is attracting a steady stream of

      Paradise -- With Snow

      "It's not a place you would have heard of before," says Chuck Bingaman, who
      moved to Walpole in 2002 after 20 years as head of a continuing
      legal-education center in Springfield, Ill. "We stumbled into paradise here."

      Of course, paradise in New England has its drawbacks. Walpole is located in
      the Snow Belt, and winters are often bitterly cold. The big, impressive
      houses require frequent maintenance. The selection of houses or building
      lots on the market at any one time can be very limited.

      At the heart of Walpole's appeal is the cluster of large white colonial and
      Greek revival houses around and near a long grassy common. The village
      itself, with about 3,500 people, is surrounded by farms and hillsides that
      afford breathtaking views of the Connecticut River valley and neighboring
      Vermont. It's an arrangement that has stayed strikingly unchanged for 150

      Walpole residents are proud that writers Louisa May Alcott and James
      Michener chose to work in the village. Mr. Michener, who started writing
      his novel "Hawaii" in a house overlooking the Walpole common, called the
      town "one of the most gracious villages ever to be developed in America."

      More recently, Walpole has gained recognition as the home of Larry Burdick,
      a maker of handmade gourmet chocolates. Filmmaker Ken Burns, renowned for
      historic documentaries including his Civil War series, moved to Walpole in
      1979. He says he came to appreciate Walpole's long history when he saw a
      grave marker in the woods with the inscription: "Thomas Flynt and Daniel
      Twitchell. Killed by Indians 1755." Mr. Burns says he has found home. "I'm
      going to die here," he says.

      In recent years Messrs. Burdick and Burns joined forces to transform an old
      supermarket in the center of Walpole into a chocolate factory and gourmet
      restaurant. Walpole has long benefited from the civic generosity of the
      Hubbard family, which founded and later sold a company operating local
      breeding farms for the poultry industry. The Hubbards have donated funds to
      refurbish several downtown buildings and to buy development rights to
      agricultural areas.
      Population 3,500
      Elevation 400-500 feet
      Area 37.5 square miles
      July average high temp. 82.2 degrees
      July average low temp. 56.7 degrees
      January average high temp. 30.3 degrees
      January average low temp. 8.9 degrees
      Average annual snowfall 54.2 inches
      Median age 40.6 years
      Pct. of population age 65-plus 17.8
      Pct. of population age 55-plus 27.4
      Per capita income $23,295
      Number of houses 100 to 200 years old About 200
      Restaurants Six
      Churches Six
      Working farms Nine
      Cows 2,500
      Apple trees at Allyson's Orchard 22,000
      Miles of Connecticut River shoreline 11
      Holes at the Hooper Golf Course Nine
      Average cost of three-bedroom house $300,000
      Annual real-estate tax on a $300,000 house $3,700
      Cost of a historic five-bedroom house with attached barn $649,000
      Burdick's chocolate made a year About 35 tons
      Number of Burdick's chocolate mice sold a year 750000
      Sources: New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning; Walpole town
      government; U.S. Weather Service; WSJ research

      Strong Allure

      Such efforts have added some polish to the natural beauty of Walpole . Jack
      Pratt wasn't even planning to retire from the temporary-labor firm he was
      running in Los Angeles when he happened upon Walpole in 1992. While
      visiting his sister in nearby Keene, N.H., he saw a house on a Walpole
      hillside with a sweeping view of the surrounding countryside.

      "That's all it took. It was perfect," says the 71-year-old Mr. Pratt. Since
      then, his business partner has run the firm day-to-day, while Mr. Pratt
      manages its finances by computer in Walpole .

      For some people, Walpole represents a stopping-off point on their way from
      a demanding full-time career to a blend of work and leisure while living in
      a less stressful rural setting. Technology, particularly the Internet, has
      made the transition possible. Lois Ford, 52, and her husband, Louis
      Ciercielli, 51, both former General Electric Co. mechanical engineers, now
      run a baking company in North Walpole , using the Internet to reach customers.

      David Howard, an architect and proponent of village life who lives in
      Walpole , goes so far as to say that Walpole "reflects the values of the
      U.S. Constitution, equal rights, equal justice and equal opportunity. You
      can see it in the way the houses relate to each other." Settlers, given
      land by the king of England, placed their houses close together, facing the
      village common, Mr. Howard says.

      Potluck Suppers

      In addition to its village layout, Walpole is abundant in the human-scale
      activity that a village promotes. On a Saturday evening in October,
      parishioners of the Episcopal Church honored their interim rector, W. David
      Dobbins, and his wife, Jane, with a potluck supper. Across the street in
      the town hall, a dance band entertained a wedding party.

      "We thought the New Englanders would be cool and not receptive to us, and
      it was just the opposite," says Rosemarie O'Keefe, who moved to Walpole in
      1987. "They welcomed us with open arms."

      Nevertheless, the O'Keefes moved back to Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1992. Mrs.
      O'Keefe fell on wet leaves and lost hearing in one ear. But she got the
      treatment she needed in New York and regained her hearing.

      Her husband, Bill O'Keefe, 69, a retired New York Fire Department
      lieutenant, says he found Walpole winters "very lonely and cold,"
      particularly when his friends went South. The ice and snow also are hard on
      the big clapboard houses. "You were constantly scraping, priming and
      painting those things to keep them great," Mr. O'Keefe says. "I don't want
      to do that anymore."

      Yet there's more than enough interest in Walpole , in part because of the
      slow turnover of properties. Bob Cunniff, a principal of Galloway Real
      Estate in Walpole , estimates that in the course of a year only 50 or 60
      houses and six or seven building lots come on the market. "If you want to
      move to Walpole , you have to be patient," he says.

      Some people buy a second home in their 50s and go to church here and become
      part of the community, and then retire here full time, he says. "Perhaps
      they are testing the waters -- what's it going to be like on a January
      weekend," he says.

      Development Curtailed

      Residents beat back plans for a paper mill in the 1970s and stopped a
      Wal-Mart proposed for the commercial strip along Route 12 northwest of the
      village center. Although some people complain of limited affordable small
      houses or apartments in the village, an attempt to put in cluster housing
      for people of retirement age failed when an adjacent landowner bought the

      "One of the charms of Walpole is that it is not too well known," says
      Charles Miller, chairman of the village selectmen. "Those of us who live
      here like it that way."

      That's true of the Cookes as well. Mrs. Cooke, 71, says she keeps busy as a
      member of the Monadnock Garden Club and chairman of the Friends of the
      Library. She notes that with people indoors during the winter, the library
      is a "really important thing" in a town like Walpole . The Cookes got away
      for several weeks last winter, visiting friends they knew from Darien who
      retired to Florida.

      Mr. Cooke says he likes walking a few doors down to get the morning
      newspaper and conversing with the friends he's made in the village. "I know
      far more people in Walpole personally than I did in Darien, even though I
      lived there 26 years."

      He also is part of a group of 10 Walpole residents who bought the town's
      old fire truck for $200 apiece and take it to parades. Last summer Mr.
      Cooke got to drive the truck to Hanover, N.H., and back -- 54 miles each way.

      Mr. Machalaba is a Wall Street Journal staff reporter based in Woodstock, Vt.
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