William Morgan: A back-of-beyond town in New Hampshire

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Union Church, Town Hall, and Congregational Church, Kensington, N.H.

-- All photos by William Morgan

Despite the grand-sounding name, there's not much to see in Kensington, in southeastern New Hampshire. "Downtown" Kensington is just a wide place in the road, with a cluster of two churches and the town hall. Many Granite State towns were named not for places back in the mother country, but for members of Parliament, in this case, 1st Baron Kensington.

The town library, a small late-Victorian gem, is some distance away, next to the elementary school (104 students in kindergarten through 5th grade), while the Bell Hill Schoolhouse, built in 1839, and the North School, built in  1842,  now unused brick boxes, were erected  farther out in the country to serve the scattered populace. No doubt, there is a country store-cum-filling-station at a crossroads somewhere else in the town.

  The Union Church, built in 1840, is a conservative mix of the late Georgian and Greek revival styles.   

The Union Church, built in 1840, is a conservative mix of the late Georgian and Greek revival styles.   

Kensington has just over 2,000 people spread out over 12 square miles. As is typical of northern New England, many people wanting to live here will have to commute  considerable distances to work – to Exeter, Portsmouth, Haverhill or even Boston. Yet, though only a stone's throw from Massachusetts, Kensington captures that back-of-beyond quality of rural New Hampshire. As in  much of the state, the forests are reclaiming what was open grazing land for two centuries or more.

  Gravestone of Henry Lamprey, who died May 12, 1764, aged 90.

Gravestone of Henry Lamprey, who died May 12, 1764, aged 90.

  Samuel Tucke's stone of 1843 is of slate, the stonecutter's name is inscribed at the bottom and the urn and weeping willow motifs are more sophisticated than the primitive winged head of the early stones.

Samuel Tucke's stone of 1843 is of slate, the stonecutter's name is inscribed at the bottom and the urn and weeping willow motifs are more sophisticated than the primitive winged head of the early stones.

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There are almost no gravestones beyond the middle of the 19th Century, suggesting that the town's young people had migrated to Yankee mill towns or out West. One gets the inescapable feeling that Kensington is a place passed over.

William Morgan is an architectural historian and essayist. He is the author of  American Country Churches and The Abrams Guide to American House Styles, among other books. He  has taught at Princeton University, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Louisville and his essays have appeared in numerous publications.