By Craig McArt
Before the Eastman Community Association (ECA) office moved to its new location in The Center at Eastman on Clubhouse Lane, I was given permission to look through items that had been collecting in the basement of the old office building on Draper Road over the years. As you might imagine, a lot had accumulated there. I was on the lookout particularly for anything dating back to 1969 when the community’s developer Emil Hanslin was conducting preliminary studies for his Eastman Master Plan. Voila! I happened upon a box of slides that included aerial photos taken of the area around Eastman Pond at that time.
One of the photos was a winter scene that aroused my curiosity. I guessed that its location might be a view toward the south and east, showing the southern tip of Eastman Pond. The shape of the field in the foreground looked to me like a match to what Google Earth, a virtual geographical information program, was showing at the crest of Burpee Hill. If I was right, the field bordered on what are now lots on Eastman’s Fernwood Lane and Double Diamond Drive off Road Round the Lake. I zoomed in on the photo and found the building at the entrance to the lot to be different from what Google Earth was showing. A check with the Grantham Assessor’s Map told me that the present building was built in 1972. Might it have replaced the old Burpee Place? At the Grantham Historical Society, I found a photo taken of the Burpee Place in 1890. It shows Moses Burpee and his family, along with others who might have been tenants, posed on the porch of that same house appearing in Hanslin’s photo.
I learned that Burpee was known as the “Land King” and that he then owned 1,600 acres of forest in addition to the 12-acre cleared parcel in the photo. Those forested acres were within what is now Eastman. He ran a profitable sawmill at the foot of Eastman Pond, and in 1888 he built a creamery in North Grantham. You can tell by his stance on the porch step that he was quite proud of his accomplishments—a king indeed!
Around 1907, the Draper Company began its purchase of more than 4,000 acres surrounding Eastman Pond, anticipating the need to move its bobbin mill from North Newport when the supply of maple to be harvested there would run out. Two years later Moses Burpee died, and sawmills at the pond, including Burpee’s, closed soon afterwards.
The modest earthen dam that was there for the mill’s operation held a 142-acre pond, but by the time Draper came and went (1916-1925) and the land was purchased for Eastman, the dam no longer functioned. Hanslin proposed the present Orr Dam that was built in 1972 to raise the elevation of the pond 12 to 14 feet, thereby increasing the water surface area to 335 acres. He could then claim it to be “Eastman Lake.”
With this knowledge, my curiosity about the fate of the Burpee Place grew, so I sought out longtime Grantham resident Francis Mutney, who had lived on Burpee Hill Road when he was a young man. The house he lived in was one of the Draperville cottages that was auctioned off and moved there in two halves to be reassembled (a story in itself). He recalled the Burpee house perched at the top of the hill and the road dropping down on the other side to the foot of Eastman Pond where the mill had been located. He remembered that the house was in poor condition, and that although some families lived there for short periods of time, the ground floor was in such distress that they were forced to occupy only the second floor. Francis also recalled that a person named Bill Moore bought the property in the early 1970s and promptly burned the house down and that it was replaced soon after by the present dwelling. My curiosity satisfied, I considered the mystery of the winter scene solved.