CONCORD, NH – An off-grid New Hampshire hermit known to locals as “River Dave” whose cabin burned down on a wooded property he had squatted for 27 years was inundated with offers from as far away as California for a new place to live.
David Lidstone, 81, lived in the woods along the River Merrimack in the city of Canterbury. He was jailed on July 15 for civil contempt and was told he would be released if he agreed to leave the cabin. Owner Leonard Giles, 86, of South Burlington, Vermont, wants Lidstone to vacate the property.
A fire destroyed the cabin on Wednesday afternoon, the same day Lidstone appeared in court to defend himself. He was released from Merrimack County Jail on Thursday after a judge ruled he would have less incentive to return to “that particular place in the woods” now that the cabin had burned down. His whereabouts were unknown.
The state fire marshal’s office said it was investigating the blaze, but referred the questions to the Canterbury Fire Department. Lt. Dave Nelson of Canterbury Fire said he expects the investigation to take a few days and no update was available on his case on Thursday.
“We just had the fire yesterday, it’s taking a while,” Nelson said.
Jodie Gedeon, an avid kayaker who befriended Lidstone about 20 years ago, said “people were just devastated” by the news of the fire.
But she said they weren’t giving up their efforts to resolve Lidstone’s dilemma, including finding a compromise with Giles. Money raised from supporters could be used to bring Lidstone compound into compliance with the code – it currently violates local and state zoning and environmental regulations – and to build an access road to the property.
“They just can’t believe this has happened. We felt like we had some hope, ”she said of the recent court hearing. “We thought the landowner and David would come to an agreement. One option was to lease this portion of land to Dave. Bring it to code. We thought it would be a realistic resolution if the two men agreed.
Lidstone’s first cousin, Horace Clark of Milton, Vt, agrees that he should be allowed to stay on the property. Lidstone grew his own food, chopped his own firewood, and looked after his pets and chickens.
Lidstone Woodland was a few miles from Interstate 93, north of the capital Concord. But he was hidden by the trees; it is on 73 acres that were used for harvesting timber. The property has been owned by the same family since 1963. There are no plans yet to develop it.
“Leave the guy alone. He doesn’t hurt anyone, ”Clark said. “If it wasn’t a problem 27 years from now, it won’t be now.”
But Giles’ attorney Lisa Snow Wade said there was no discussion about allowing Lidstone to remain on the property.
“I spoke to Jodie Gedeon this morning who brought up the idea of a lease, but explained to her that we had considered this idea in the past when Mr. Lidstone had an attorney, and we all concluded that this did not change the responsibility of the landowner to the city for having someone living in an illegal structure on the property, ”she said in an email interview.
The other option for Lidstone would be to move to another piece of land, a real possibility given that Gedeon has received around 20 offers from Maine, New Hampshire and all the way to California. Many of these offers resulted from media coverage of Lidstone’s plight.
“It tells me people have compassion and humanity and don’t agree with what’s going on,” Gedeon said, adding that she planned to discuss options with Lidstone on a call. telephone in prison Thursday evening.
Lidstone told a judge during his court appearance on Wednesday that he had no desire to comply with the order to leave the cabin. Most of his belongings were removed before the fire.
Lidstone, who is from Maine, also said the cabin was not a real home but rather a hunting and fishing camp. He does not have a lawyer for his court case. Another hearing in this case is scheduled for next week.
“You came with your weapons, you arrested me, brought me here, you have all my possessions. You keep them, ”Lidstone told a judge during the court appearance. “I’m going to sit here in your uniform until I rot, sir.” “
Whittle reported from Portland, Maine. AP correspondent Michael Casey contributed from Concord, New Hampshire.