River Darby

The phrase "River Darby" does not appear in the Darby novels. I made it up for this guide to designate a part of Darby that pops up over and over again in the Darby Chronicles but does not have a name in the books. Often a village in a New England town is named for a specific location, but not always. For example in my town of Westmoreland, NH, I live in the village known as Park Hill after the Park Hill Meeting House, which I see through the trees from my front door. However, the area in Westmoreland that people call The Depot is less obvious. Westmoreland once had a train depot, but the tracks have long since been abandoned and there is no trace remaining of the actual depot building.

Center Darby is easy enough to find. You're in the geographic middle of the town with the town common, town hall, library and village store. Darby Depot and Upper Darby are just chucks of territory that got labeled, but not named after any particular place, so I figured that somewhere in the history of Darby, perhaps shortly after the pioneers laid out lots along River Road, which runs more or less parallel to the Connecticut River, they started calling that section River Darby.

River Road in Darby (like River Road in Westmoreland) runs along the high bluffs above the river valley, but here and there where runoff from melting glaciers thousands of years ago cut ravines through bluffs the road winds down along the river briefly before twisting up to the top of the bluff again. It all makes for a pretty ride. Unlike the rocky land of the hills, the soil on the bluffs and below is alluvial and the farmers like it. The road today is still narrow and windy, and sometimes it floods in the spring, but it's paved, a nice ride for bicyclists such as Garvin Prell, who had an unfortunate accident on the bicycle in Live Free or Die. The distance from the Prell house in the highland of Upper Darby to the proposed PLC development on River Road is about six miles.

Used to be if you drove your horse and buggy along River Road in Darby you'd pass farm after farm, the landscape in the summer looking almost midwestern from the sight of cornfields. But the farms have been losing over the course of a century, and now there are only a few. The farmers have been selling off lots and retiring to warmer climes, their sons and daughters no longer interested in tilling soil. In those newer lots are single-family homes in the ranch style, which to my eye do not look right in this environment. You might find a few camps for getaway along the river, but no trailers. Seems as if after a big company from down country bought a couple of local farms and built a trailer park, the town banned any further construction of mobile homes. How then did a trailer park spring up in Darby Depot? Answer: Politics in an (as yet) untold story in the Darby Chronicles.

One of the features in River Darby is what was once an oddly shaped hill; that is, oddly shaped for the terrain. Most of the hills in Darby are rugged, cut by ravines, with outcroppings of granite, the soil littered with stones. This particular hill was modest in height and smooth, no stones, no ledge. After the original pine trees had been logged off it in the 19th century, the soil was found to be sandy. The pioneers had discovered what later would be called a glacial moraine. In the 20th century the Hillary farm family used the hill to mine sand, a "sandbank" in the local parlance. Imagine that: a bank where God made a deposit of sand and the earthly proprietor made withdrawals.

The Avalon Hillary Farm is the main set in the third Darby novel, Whisper My Name, and the sandbank plays a role in the seventh novel, Howard Elman's Farewell. There's a sandbank on River Road in Westmoreland, but that's pure coincidence. When I was writing about my sandbank on River Road in Darby I didn't know about the one in Westmoreland very close to the location that it appears in Darby.