When Doug Towle was a kid living in rural New Hampshire in a family with 13 children, he never wanted his friends to come over.
“I was envious of my classmates because they had inside bathrooms and central heat,” Towle, now 73, said over the phone. “I didn’t want them to come to our house because it was old.”
He said it took him until the 1960s to come to the conclusion that “old wasn’t bad.”
And the rest is history, in every sense.
Over the past six decades, Towle has restored more than 15 historic homes in his town of Gilmanton, New Hampshire. And it has all been in his spare time while working for the same company where his is now vice president, Globe Manufacturing, which makes protective gear for firefighters. (There have been articles written about him all the way back to 1983.)
“I gained a lot of affection for early American architecture,” he said.
He doesn’t compromise authenticity and will do almost anything — even going door to door and asking neighbors — to get original materials to keep a home in its historic state. Before renovating a home, he will take video and do extensive research to make sure he doesn’t alter it at all.
About 10 years ago, Towle had decided he was done doing his restorations. That is, until a family from Massachusetts dropped the best opportunity yet into his lap.
“Someone came to me from our town and said they had a home that had been in their family for 12 generations,” he said.
The 1665 saltbox style home called the George Farley House was in Billerica, Massachusetts, but the family wanted it dismantled and rebuilt in a new location because the Billerica land was more valuable without it.
After the family won a three-year legal battle with Billerica, which did not want to see a rare, historic home like this leave town, Towle got busy taking it apart (carefully of course) and moving it up to Gilmanton. He would store it piecemeal in a trailer until he found a deserving plot of land to rebuild.
“I then looked for a piece of land that would be idyllic and perfect,” Towle said. “It had to be in this town because it’s near my work.”
He finally found the land he wanted about six months after acquiring the house, with the right vantage point to give views of mountains in both New Hampshire and Vermont. He bought the land and took a year to cut down trees and pull stumps so the 17th century home could have its view.
Towle said there is no way he could complete project like this entirely on his own, so he has a team of plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and other specialists to help him out.
“I do the finding of the building,” he said. “And I find the pieces.”
From antique show to antique show all across New England, Towle searches for the perfect period pieces, including hardware, to use in the home.
“When you are working with old wood you have to use old hardware and special tools,” he added.
And if they can’t find something fit for the time period? “We would hand make it.”
This is a philosophy he has used throughout all of his projects, including his most recent work on the George Farley House.
“It was built based on plans of the original,” Towle said. “And it’s just absolutely amazing. All the woodwork and detail was so pure. It was in perfect condition.”
Though the home looks almost exactly like it would have in Massachusetts in the 1600s, Towle did not forget modern amenities, like electrical and central air conditioning. He just had them hidden, so as not to detract from its authenticity.
See more of the George Farley House in its new location:
But this project turned out to be more than just a house — Towle made an entire historic complex.
“Half a mile away [from the New Hampshire land] there was a little run down building that looked like a schoolhouse,” he said.
It was falling apart and needed attention before it became unsalvageable. So with the help of state troopers, Towle had the historic one-room schoolhouse moved to his recently purchased site and fixed the foundation.
He reconstructed the school house with original black nails and restored it completely with period flooring and glass.
“All bricks I use are dug out of the ground,” he said. “I collected all the things one would have in a one-room schoolhouse — books, desks — and now it is open to the public.” Fourth grade children go there with their teachers to see what life was like in a time that might otherwise be hard for kids to grasp.
“It’s not a commercialized thing,” he said. “It’s a real thing.”
Towle also found a 40-foot-tall historic water tower and got permission to reconstruct it. He put it on the land so people could climb to the top and get even better views of the Vermont mountains.
Towle ended up adding an 1800s barn, a corn crib, an ell, and a carriage shed to the property as well.
The home has been on the market for a few years, but as Towle said, it is not always easy to sell such unique properties.
1246 Providence Road is listed for $1,495,000 and has 12.4 acres of land, 3,093 square feet of living space, along with all of the other historical pieces added to the land.
Regardless of the final selling price, Towle is happy with the outcome.
“While I am not married and don’t have a legacy of children or grandchildren,” Towle said. “I wanted to make legacy of restoring these old buildings and bringing them back to life.”