This article was first published in May 2008. ~ Ed.
BATH – The little story, simply told, is about a little girl who planted a little garden on top of a big rock a long time ago and the people who, more than two centuries later, continue to tend it.
Her name was Mercy Harriman and in 1767, the year she was 9-years-old, she filled her apron time and again that spring with dirt and carried it to the top of what is known as Great Rock.
“We understand that Mercy grew corn, pumpkin and cucumbers with seeds she found her mother’s trunk,” said William Scott, 78, who has tended Mercy’s garden for the past 30 years.
The Great Rock is a stone’s throw from the Ammonoosuc River, across an incredibly fertile hay field. Over the course of many years, Mercy’s garden has been enlarged, Scott said, but those who have kept it up have stayed true the first crops she planted there.
Time and the challenge of keeping up a garden on top of a rock accessible only by a wooden ladder could have made it a footnote in local history, but instead, the site and story of Mercy Harriman’s garden has made for a pleasant summer attraction in Bath.
The Pine Grove Grange has maintained the garden since the 1930s and before that, the Hannah Morrill Whitcher Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in nearby Lisbon kept it up for some time. The chapter installed a plaque at the base of the rock, with the dates 1767-1928. The chapter closed at some point after that, Scott said, and the Grange took it over.
This year’s planting, as is the custom in the North Country, will take place soon after Memorial Day, when farmers are all but assured frosty nights are behind them for the next several months.
The harvest that comes from the garden is not much, but by mid-summer, Scott said, “There’s not enough room to walk around it without doing damage.” By then, the pumpkin vines have established and the corn heads skyward.
The challenge is providing water throughout the hot summer months and Scott doesn’t mind a little help from visitors, who can borrow a watering can at the top of the path that leads to the garden.
When the cucumbers burst forth, Scott would rather see someone pick a couple and enjoy them, than have them go by.
“We encourage people to take stuff,” he said.
Mercy Harriman’s father, Jasiel, was one of the first settlers of Bath, in an era when the land was hardscrabble and those first residents needed to cultivate the land or lose title.
The family did not remain in Bath and instead settled across the Connecticut River in Vermont.
According to local history, Mercy Harriman grew up and met a man named Carr from Chester, Scott said. She was 40 at the time of her marriage and the couple ended up living in Corinth, Vt. She did not have children of her own, but did have stepchildren.
“I think she would think we’ve made rather a lot of her garden,” Scott said with a laugh.
A historic marker on Route 302 just west of Bath Village, where the Brick General Store is located, marks the site of the garden. Scott just last week set up the picnic tables there and put up freshly painted signs that point the short walk down a green path to the garden.
Visitors are invited to sign a guest book.
“We have people who come from all over the world and we have people who sign it two or three times a summer,” he said.
Like most of the familiar green historic markers that dot New Hampshire, there is not enough room to note much history in a particular locale.
But it gladdens Scott’s heart that the one in Bath remembers a little girl’s deed more than 200 years ago.
“Historical monuments usually deal with something truly amazing, but this one tells about a child’s imagining a garden,” he said.
As well as the garden, Scott maintains the footpath that leads to it. It is not a difficult walk, but sturdy shoes are suggested.
~ Lorna Colquhoun