Derry property earmarked for new event venue

COURTESY PHOTOThe old house standing at 140 Rockingham Road is scheduled to eventually be razed to make room for a proposed project that would bring an event venue to the property. The property has historical significance to the area and to a famed neighbor Robert Frost, historians say.

DERRY — A plan for a wedding venue will spark new life into an aging, but historic property.

Zoning officials unanimously approved a variance recently giving Kimberly Livesey a move forward with her plans to develop a property at 140 Rockingham Road and create an event center that would highlight weddings and other events.

The property had been on the market for several years since the death of owner Katherine Chism in 2016.

Livesey owns her own catering/event company and said the location is a prime spot not only for its pristine, scenic nature, but also because of who once lived next door.

That famed neighbor was poet Robert Frost, who called Derry home for about a decade while teaching English at nearby Pinkerton Academy.

Livesey's plans are to incorporate the history and legacy of Frost into her project, using the name "Hyla Brook" as part of the overall theme.

She told zoning officials she always wanted to create a space like this and had her eye on the property for several years.

"I want it to be more of a destination for Derry," she said.

The project, if officially approved by the town, would include a barn for weddings that could hold up to 200 guests, and possibly future small cottage accommodations for overnight guests.

The small, 969-square-foot, clapboard home on the 8-acre property, built around 1800 according to town records, and an attached dilapidated barn would be razed as part of the project. 

But Livesey said she would incorporate any historical stones or artifacts she may find as part of her overall design.

And having the historic Robert Frost Farm nearby is an added perk as that location draws visitors from all over the world.

The home and property have a lot of local significance, according to historian and author Richard Holmes, and it's more than just being neighborly with Robert Frost.

Holmes told the Derry News several years ago that this location had connections to notable residents.

That included James Wilson, the first maker of globes in the United States, born on that property, Holmes said. Wilson went on to open the first geographic globe factory in the United States.

Holmes listed another local notable, Aaron Fletcher Stevens, a Civil War general, and two-term U.S. Congressman, born in Derry at that spot.

And a man named Napoleon Guay purchased the home around 1902 and lived there for about a decade while Frost lived nearby.

The family's children often played together and Holmes said it is believed that Frost was speaking about his neighbor Guay in his poem "The Mending Wall" with the famed phrase, "Good fences make good neighbors." 

Some neighbors spoke out at the recent zoning meeting, saying the project would bring loud music and traffic to the otherwise quiet area.

Abutter Scott Davidson said he had concerns about traffic, noise and lighting.

"This would substantially affect our lives," he said.

The variance approval did put restrictions on the time frame for when music, both indoor and outdoor needed to end. 

Others gave support.

William and Jean Smith operate the nearby Rockingham Acres on Rockingham Road and said Livesey's vision would bring a vibrancy to the property. 

"This is a perfect use of the property," William Smith said. 

David Chism, Katherine Chism's son, said he is in full support of Livesey's plan.

"I don't think you'll find anything better," he said.

New Hampshire's Bureau of Historic Sites, which helps oversee the Frost Farm, also supports the plan.

Livesey said she wants to ensure the property becomes a beautiful space to maintain the natural scenes and the Frost connection, while offering a new spot for people to enjoy

With the variance from the Zoning Board, Livesey can move forward through the town's approval process.

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