The history of ‘Bleakhouse’

  • Peterborough’s own Bleakhouse. Photo courtesy the Monadnock Center for History and Culture

Tuesday, August 07, 2018 3:16PM
Jane EklundA Look Back

PETERBOROUGH -- “Bleak House,” Charles Dickens’ novel which was serialized appeared in 1852 and ’53, tells the story of doomed love, fateful secrets, murder and loss of fortune -- with a bit of happiness thrown in as well.

Peterborough’s Bleakhouse has a story as well, though one that’s not quite as dramatic as Dickens’.

The house that takes its name from the English novel is located on the northeast corner of Route 101 and Pine Street. It’s one of the oldest homes in town. Built for John White in 1792 by builder and cabinetmaker Daniel Abbott, the house stands on land deeded to White in 1762. After White’s death in 1796, his son, John White Jr., lived in the house until he died and passed in on to his son, Robert.

Upon the death of Robert White in 1845, David F. McGilvray bought the house. He sold it two years later to Ethan Hadley, a local brickmaker. In 1852, the minister of the Unitarian Church, Charles Robinson, purchased the property. He lived there until 1857.

The next owner, Nathaniel Morison, gave the house its name. Morison was a Peterborough native who lived in Baltimore; Bleakhouse was his summer residence.

“Mr. Morison made many changes to accommodate his large family,” reports George Abbot Morison’s 1954 town history. “Some of these improved it, and others reflected the flamboyant architecture of the time. His daughter-in-law, Mrs. John Holmes Morison, who afterwards became its owner, removed many of the architectural monstrosities, restored much of the earlier stenciling and generally improved it inside and out. The dormer windows, which added space to the third story at the expense of its earlier architectural simplicity, still remain.”

The Morisons enjoyed their months in Peterborough, the history tells us: “During the summers, when N.H. Morison’s family were growing up, it was always a scene of activity. He and his many children filled it with their friends from the beginning of the summer to the end. A bowling alley, which still exists, was installed in the second story of the shed; and adjoining was a stage known as the ‘Trooly Rooral Theater,’ where many plays were produced.”

The family owned Bleakhouse until 1936, when it was given to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities as a memorial to Mr. John Holmes Morison.

In 1962, publisher Wayne Green moved into Bleakhouse. He served as a caretaker for the society; the house served as a home for his family and office space for his ham radio magazine, 73 Amateur Radio Today.

This story was originally published in the Monadnock Ledger on Jan. 8, 1998.