Russell-Colbath House, Passaconaway

The Russell-Colbath homestead along the Kancamagus Highway in Albany, New Hampshire. Located in the White Mountain National Forest, this historic homestead was built in the early 1830s, likely around 1832. When the Swift River Railroad (1906-1916) moved into the area, the Passaconaway settlement became the center of logging operations, and the railroad took over most of the settlement. It is the only original structure remaining from the Passaconaway settlement.
Russell-Colbath Homestead – Passaconaway, New Hampshire
 

Russell-Colbath House, Passaconaway – The Russell-Colbath House is a 19th-century historic house along the Kancamagus Highway in an area known as Passaconaway in Albany, New Hampshire. Albany was first chartered in 1766 under the name Burton and then renamed Albany in 1833. This old house holds the fascinating story of Ruth Priscilla Russell: the grand old lady of Passaconaway.

In the early 1800s, Austin George moved his family to Passaconaway. But tough times would force the George family to abandon the homestead and move to Bartlett in 1815. Their homestead was located just to the east of where the Russell-Colbath House now stands. What became of the George's dwellings is not completely clear. Because of its close proximity to the Russell dwelling and the George family connection, the Russell house is also referred to as the George House.

The Russell-Colbath homestead along the Kancamagus Highway in Albany, New Hampshire. Located in the White Mountain National Forest, this historic homestead was built in the early 1830s, likely around 1832. When the Swift River Railroad (1906-1916) moved into the area, the Passaconaway settlement became the center of logging operations, and the railroad took over most of the settlement.
Russell-Colbath Homestead – Passaconaway, New Hampshire
 

In 1831, Thomas Russell acquired the parcel of land at a tax auction. And with his son, Amzi, built the Russell-Colbath House in 1831-1832. Amzi would buy the house from his father, Thomas, in 1832 and marry Eliza Morse George, daughter of Daniel George and granddaughter of Austin George.

Amzi and Eliza raised five daughters at the Russell-Colbath Homestead, Ruth Priscilla Russell being one of them. They farmed the land, and Amzi, a pioneer in the local lumber industry, had a sawmill in the area that did well during the mid-1800s. Anticipating the logging railroads were going to move into the Swift River valley Amzi purchased large tracts of forest in the area.

The Russell-Colbath homestead along the Kancamagus Highway in Albany, New Hampshire. Located in the White Mountain National Forest, this historic homestead was built in the early 1830s, likely around 1832. When the Swift River Railroad (1906-1916) moved into the area, the Passaconaway settlement became the center of logging operations, and the railroad took over most of the settlement.
Russell-Colbath Homestead – Passaconaway, New Hampshire
 

When Amzi died around 1879, he owned thousands of acres (references range from 8,700-13,000 acres). And Eliza was left with a mortgage and unpaid taxes on a large amount of land. With the exception of the 100-acre parcel the house was on, and some miscellaneous acreage, it was all sold.

In 1887 Eliza would transfer the property to their daughter Ruth Priscilla and her husband, Thomas Alden Colbath. However, Eliza remained living in the house until her death in 1905. Thomas and Ruth farmed the land and cared for Eliza. And when the house was designated a Post Office in the early 1890s, Ruth became the first postmistress of Passaconaway. She held the position until 1906/1907.

The Russell-Colbath homestead along the Kancamagus Highway in Albany, New Hampshire. Located in the White Mountain National Forest, this historic homestead was built in the early 1830s, likely around 1832. When the Swift River Railroad (1906-1916) moved into the area, the Passaconaway settlement became the center of logging operations, and the railroad took over most of the settlement. It is the only original structure remaining from the Passaconaway settlement.
Russell-Colbath Homestead – Passaconaway, New Hampshire
 

On a fall day in 1891 Thomas told his wife, Ruth, he would be back “in a little while”. Ruth never saw him again. Up until her death in November 1930, at the age of 80, Ruth left a burning lamp in the window every night, waiting for Thomas to return. She believed that he would return someday. No one knows why Thomas left. But he ended up returning to the homestead 42 years later in 1933 only to find that Ruth had died, and the property had changed hands. Ruth’s neighbor Bruce Swinston, who looked after Ruth in her later years, gave him the news. He again left, never to return.

Remnants of the old Swift River Railroad bed in Albany, New Hampshire USA. This was a logging railroad in operation from 1906 -1916.
Swift River Railroad – Passaconaway, New Hampshire
 

Logging railroads did eventually take over the Swift River valley. The Bartlett & Albany Railroad (1887-1894) began in Bartlett, traveled over Bear Notch, and ended at the Passaconaway settlement. And the Swift River Railroad (1906-1916) began in Conway, traveled up the Swift River valley following the Swift River and today’s Kancamagus Highway, ending below Mount Kancamagus. Once the Swift River Railroad moved into the valley, Passaconaway became the center of logging operations, and the railroad took over most of the settlement.

The Russell-Colbath homestead along the Kancamagus Highway in Albany, New Hampshire. Located in the White Mountain National Forest, this historic homestead was built in the early 1830s, likely around 1832. When the Swift River Railroad (1906-1916) moved into the area, the Passaconaway settlement became the center of logging operations, and the railroad took over most of the settlement. It is the only original structure remaining from the Passaconaway settlement.
Russell-Colbath Homestead – Passaconaway, New Hampshire
 

During the 1930s, 40s, and 50s the house was used as a summer residence. The old barn on the west side of the house was torn down during this time, and in 1948 major repairs were made to the house. Recognizing the historical significance of the homestead, the US Forest Service purchased it in 1961. Since then it has operated as a museum and is used to create awareness for the importance of preserving our past.

In 1983, a local contractor doing repairs to the old house removed the door frame of the front door and found a quart jar hidden within the frame. In the jar was a detailed description of the repairs contractor Clifford E. Pratt made to the house in 1948. This information helped shed some light on past repairs done to the house.

The Russell-Colbath Historic Homestead which was part of the Passaconaway Settlement in Albany, New Hampshire USA. This area was the center of operations for the Swift River Railroad, which was an logging railroad in operation from 1906-1916.
Russell-Colbath Homestead – Passaconaway, New Hampshire
 

The Russell-Colbath House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in April 1987. A barn (above) was built to the east of the house in 2003. Ruth’s great grandfather Austin George's homestead was thought to have been in the general area of this barn.

The Russell-Colbath homestead along the Kancamagus Highway in Albany, New Hampshire. Located in the White Mountain National Forest, this historic homestead was built in the early 1830s, around 1832. When the Swift River Railroad moved into the area, the Passaconaway settlement became the center of logging operations, and the railroad took over most of the settlement.
Russell-Colbath Homestead – Passaconaway, New Hampshire
 

The Russell-Colbath House is the only original structure left of the Passaconaway settlement. Ruth Priscilla Russell was born and raised in this house and lived in it her entire life. She is even buried on the grounds (with other family members). Passaconaway was her home, and there was no other place she wanted to be. Her extraordinary life is forever part of White Mountains history.

Today, the Russell-Colbath historic site is open to the public. Guided house tours run July through September. And the barn is used for interpretive programs and can be rented for gatherings.

Happy image making..


 

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Erin Paul is a professional photographer who specializes in environmental conservation and historic preservation photography in the New Hampshire White Mountains. His work is published worldwide, and credits include; Backpacker Magazine, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and The Wilderness Society.

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