“The House by the Side of the Road” was once the home of New Hampshire poet Sam Walter Foss. Since he inhabited the home, it has been known as The House by the Side of the Road as a reference to his famous poem by the same name. While Foss did not achieve widespread fame for most of his life, his works were recognized throughout the 20th century. In addition to the poem that shares a name with the home, his other recognized works included “The Calf-Path” and “The Coming American.”
Originally constructed in 1783, The House by the Side of the Road is a beautifully preserved example of an 18th Century residence, featuring Greek Revival flourishes and a gable roof. There are few signs of modification or renovation. Only the treatment of the wood of the front door bears any signs of notable change. As of the creation of the NRHP listing, the house had been owned by the same owner for nearly a decade, unmodified since its purchase.
The House by the Side of the Road was the home of poet Sam Walter Foss while he attended the Tilton Seminary in the late 1870s. The House was given a nickname that matched the title of his famous poem, which was published in 1897. In truth, though, the “real” House by the Side of the Road was his childhood home in Candia, New Hampshire.
Sam Walter Foss was a graduate of Brown University who worked for most of his life in the newspaper business, publishing small poems for the entertainment and enlightenment of local readers. He was at various times an editor, a publisher, and a journalist, though for the last decades of his life he was a humble librarian at the Somerville Public Library in Somerville, Massachusetts. His last book of poetry was published just four years before his death in 1911 and contained notable works on the uniqueness of the individual and the virtues of freeing oneself from the limitations of the past.
Below is recorded the text of two of his poems. The first is his most popular poem, “The House by The Side of the Road.” The second poem is, fittingly, his second most popular poem, “The Calf-Path,” included here because of its relevance to the story of human history that brings us here in the first place.
THE HOUSE BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD
He was a friend to man, and he lived
In a house by the side of the road -- Homer
There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran --
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
Let me live in a house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by --
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner's seat,
Or hurl the cynic's ban --
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
I see from my house by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears,
Both parts of an infinite plan --
I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice,
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.
Let me live in my house by the side of the road --
It's here the race of men go by.
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish -- so am I;
Then why should I sit in the scorner's seat,
Or hurl the cynic's ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
One day, through the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.
Since then two hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.
The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bell-wether sheep
Pursued the trail o'er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bell-wethers always do.
And from that day, o'er hill and glade,
Through those old woods a path was made;
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged, and turned, and bent about
And uttered words of righteous wrath
Because ‘twas such a crooked path.
But still they followed -- do not laugh --
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked,
Because he wobbled when he walked.
This forest path became a lane,
That bent, and turned, and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street,
And this, before men were aware,
A city's crowded thoroughfare;
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.
Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed the zigzag calf about;
And o'er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;
For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach,
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.
But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!
Ah! many things this tale might teach --
But I am not ordained to preach.