Scattered through out the backwoods of Old Nutfield are a number of discontinued roads. At some point-in-time somebody saw the need for a road from point A to point B. A petition was submitted to the selectman and the town meeting would vote on spending money to build it. Most country roads were built either two rods (33 feet) or three rods (50 feet) wide and lined with a stone wall on each side. And years later a taxpayer might decide that because few locals were using the road, there was little need to spend money to maintain it. Petitioners would then have to put the question to the town meeting where the citizens would vote to either close the road or keep it open. If it was voted closed, then the ownership to the road would usually revert back to the adjacent property owners.
Such a road is Green Lane in East Derry. This two-rod road was built in the 1700s to connect Old Chester Road with Pond Road. There doesn’t seem to have ever been a house built along its half-mile course. It was named after the family of David Green who farmed the area. Green Lane was closed around the time of the Civil War. By the 1880s much of it was covered with scrub brush and rains had eroded much of its path. It became nearly impassable because of ruts, gullies and jagged rocky outcroppings. For many generations the only ones who used Green Lane were young lovers in search of a private place to spark. In the 1990s Bill Dearth blocked off the road to prevent it being used by “young bucks” as a place to get into mischief.
That’s about all I know about Green Lane — except for a story I heard years ago. It may be true — probably it is, but I guarantee nothing. The story is set in East Derry about 200 years ago. There are only two principle actors in our little play: Douglas, a bachelor who loved playing practical jokes on any one and every one; and Malcolm, a young man who was forever being the butt of Douglas’ jokes and was sick and tired of being made to look like a fool. Malcolm had been plotting for years how to turn the tables on his tormentor.
On a summer’s day, Malcolm discovered that Douglas had decided to settle down and get married. He had surveyed all the belles of Nutfield and decided to court the buxom daughter of a deacon of the First Parish Church. Daughter and Dad lived in a farm house on Pond Road, near the junction of Green Lane. She — we’ll call her Grace — was modest and shy, the exact opposite of Malcolm. Surprisingly, she agreed to accept Malcolm as a potential beau. Maybe if things went well in time the courting might lead to marriage. Douglas really wanted to win Grace’s hand so he got himself fitted-up with a set of store-bought clothes.
Malcolm further discovered that every Saturday, Douglas would ride his spirited horse down Green Lane to visit Grace. Being a careful, frugal old Scot, he’d wear his home spun clothes until he was practically within sight of the Deacon’s house. Each week Malcolm would pull over onto the side of Green Lane to change into his sparking suit. There, in the seclusion of the piney woods, he’d take off all his linsey-woolsey homemade clothes and put on his sparkling-white new clothes. Malcolm never varied this routine from one week to the next. And it was also his habit to stay in the saddle while changing his clothes.
Douglas saw Malcolm’s courting routine as a way to finally get back at Malcolm for all the tricks he played on him. Doug fixed up a wild man costume and waited on Green Lane for Malcolm to appear. From his hiding place, he watched as Malcolm began to strip while standing up in the stirrups. Doug waited until Malcolm was totally undressed; then he jumped out of his hiding place. Doug immediately began to shriek and wave his arms as he ran toward the horse. The sudden appearance of the wild man caused the horse to bolt. The panicking animal thundered lickety-split down Green Lane. The frightened, naked Malcolm could do nothing but hold on for dear life.
The horse and rider galloped down Green Lane and turned down Pond Road. There in the front yard was Grace waiting for her new boyfriend to show up for their Saturday date. Suddenly she looked down the road and saw Malcolm on horseback speeding towards her. It took a couple seconds for her to realize that there was something different about her swain that afternoon. He was stark naked! Grace screamed and her face turned scarlet as she blushed from embarrassment. Immediately she brought her calico apron up over her face to spare her eyes from seeing what she shouldn’t be seeing.
It was many-a-week before the horrified Grace would allow Malcolm to speak to her again. Even then she was always incredulous about his story of a wild man appearing on Green Lane and his explanation as to why he was on horseback in his altogether. Malcolm was never again visited by the wild man nor did he ever discover his identity. While Douglas never admitted his role in the event, he did have the personal satisfaction of tormenting his tormentor.
Rick Holmes is the official town historian of Derry. His office hours at the Municipal Center are Mondays from 8 a.m. to noon and Wednesdays from 4 to 7 p.m. Several of his books on local history are available at Mack’s Apples and Derry’s libraries.