WALPOLE, N.H. -- Nearly 260 years after Col. Benjamin Bellows settled the area, his descendants returned to tour the homes and visit the sites their ancestors had built.
The trip, orchestrated by Sue Bellows, of Charlotte, Mich., brought more than 40 members of the Bellows family who traveled from throughout the country.
"This makes it real," Sue said of seeing her family's historic home. "I've read a lot about history and to see it in person is just amazing. It makes me want to learn more."
On Friday, the group of Bellows gathered at the Walpole Historical Society and were led along Old North Main Street, the site of several historic homes built by their family members.
Donna Drouin, president of the society, said the group represented "living history" and that after researching the ancestry of the Bellows family, it was a treat to see the branches and limbs of the family tree in person.
"The Bellows family is a fascinating story that begins around 1753," she said.
At that time, Col. Benjamin Bellows was a surveyor for King George III's royal governor, Bennings Wentworth, and was assigned to figure out the controversial borders of Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
"They came upon many of the native people in this area, the Abenaki Indians, and there was quite a battle," Drouin said. "To figure out how many there were, Bellows and his men would count the pairs of legs and they counted nearly 200
Col. Bellows built a large fort to defend the land against the Abenaki, which eventually became his home. He also was hired to survey what are now the townships of Chesterfield and Westmoreland and, as a reward, was allowed to chose which township he wanted.
"He knew the land and he chose well. Walpole," Drouin said.
Around that same time, English colonists settled an area across the Connecticut River called Great Falls, which was later renamed after the Colonel as Bellows Falls, she said.
Once inside the Walpole Historical Society and Old Academy Museum on Friday, the Colonel's family members walked through an exhibit made of almost entirely Bellows family antiques.
Dewey Bellows and his wife, Delores, made the trek from Three Rivers, Texas, and said that looking at their family's heirlooms gave them "chills."
Looking at the portraits of their distant relatives that lined the room, Dewey said he could see the family resemblance.
"Baldness is a Bellows trait," he said. "Seeing these kin folk means a lot, especially as I've gotten older and gotten to know them at our family reunions. Being here and able to see where your family originated is special. I'm interested to figure out how we go to Texas though."
At some point, members of the Bellows family went west and made lives for themselves in at least 10 different states including California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia.
Walpole Selectboard member Chas Street and Cheshire County Commissioner Jack Pratt welcomed the group and thanked them for their visit.
"It's fun how this ties two centuries of history together," Street said. "You can see the Bellows name all over town and to see the living members here is great."
As the "birthplace" of this country, New England history is vital to understand how the United States was built, Pratt said.
"It's fascinating historical drama that we're getting to see play out here," he said of the Bellows family returning.
For Lois Ford and Lou Ciercielli, the Bellows name and family has been very close to their hearts.
The couple opened Bellows House Bakery in the 1900s in the home of Josiah Bellows III, built in 1814 as part of a bed and breakfast.
Business boomed and it quickly became New Hampshire's largest mail order bakery.
"We read a lot of this Bellows family history when we bought this house so it's cool the see the family linkage here," Ford said. "They're a wonderful family and we're glad we got to know some of them."
Josh Stilts can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.