CANTERBURY, NH (AP) – For nearly three decades, David Lidstone, 81, lived in the New Hampshire woods along the Merrimack River in a small cabin adorned with solar panels. He grew his own food, chopped his own firewood, and looked after his pets and chickens.
But its off-grid existence has been challenged in court by an owner who says he’s been squatting for all these years. And to make matters worse for Lidstone, his cabin was set on fire on Wednesday afternoon in a blaze which is under investigation by local authorities.
Lidstone, or “River Dave,” as boaters and kayakers call him, was jailed on July 15 for civil contempt. He was told he would be released if he agreed to leave the cabin, but he remained where he was.
“You came with your weapons, you arrested me, brought me here, you have all my possessions. You keep them, ”Lidstone told a judge during a court appearance Wednesday morning. “I’m going to sit here in your uniform until I rot, sir.” “
Lidstone is accused of having squatted for 27 years in a cabin on private property in Canterbury. The two-level wooden A-frame cabin had a small, cluttered kitchen with pots and pans hanging from the ceiling, appliances, and curtains on the windows. Its porch had a footrest with a base made of stacked beer cans. He turned a wood stove into a beehive. He attached lights, a mirror and a pulley for a clothesline to the logs supporting the cabin. There were piles of firewood.
Nearby was a gravel path leading to vegetable gardens bordered by logs and berry bushes. Lidstone drew its water from a stream.
In court, Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Andrew Schulman agreed Lidstone wasn’t harming anyone, but said the law was clearly on the landowner’s side.
“You do your own thing in the ‘live free or die’ state, so there’s a lot of sympathy for you,” he said. “But there is a lot of weight on the other side of the balance sheet, and not just on what the (owner) wants to do with the land, but the weight I feel in upholding the court judgment and the rule of law. . “
Jodie Gedeon, an avid kayaker who befriended Lidstone around 20 years ago, had worked with other supporters to help him, including organizing a petition and raising money to cover the property taxes.
“I am devastated,” she said when she learned of the fire.
“He’s just a really, really very caring guy, and he just chooses to live off the grid,” she said in an interview last week. “It’s really a matter of humanity, it’s really a matter of compassion, of empathy… he doesn’t hurt anyone.”
Gedeon and other supporters attended a meeting of the city’s selection committee on Monday. Board members said the city currently has no position in the land dispute.
But even if there was a way to allow Lidstone to stay, it would be an uphill battle. Her home was in violation of local and state zoning and environmental regulations, and there was no access to a road.
“You are in a dilemma. So do we, ”coach Robert Steenson said.
The woodland that Lidstone called his home was only a few miles from Interstate 93. But it was hidden by 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.
The owner of the land had sought to demolish the cabin before the fire.
Lidstone claimed years ago the owner gave his word – but nothing in writing – to allow him to live there. But in the eyes of the current owner, he’s a squatter and he has to go.
Landowner Leonard Giles, 86, of South Burlington, Vt., Didn’t even know Lidstone was there until the city administrator found out in 2015 and told him so, expressing concern “in regarding solid and septic waste disposal and potential zoning violations created by the structure, ”according to Giles’ complaint in 2016.
Lidstone, a short, lively bearded man, has resisted efforts to leave since a judge ordered his departure in 2017. Following this, the two sides tried to come to some sort of agreement for him, but without success, according to court documents.
The judge suggested on Wednesday that Giles and city officials work with a mediator, but Giles’ attorney said the logistics would be too intimidating.
The vast majority of Lidstone’s personal items had been removed from the cabin before the fire, Giles’ lawyer Lisa Snow Wade said Wednesday evening. Several outhouses remained and no animals were found, either running or dead, Canterbury Fire Chief Michael Gamache said.
Lidstone, who does not have a lawyer, insisted his cabin is a hunting and fishing camp, not a house. He also argued that Giles did not own the property but was under pressure from the city.
“He’s a hell of a old man, I’ve spoken to him a few times. It’s not his fault, it’s not my fault, “he said at the hearing.” It’s lying, deceiving corrupt judges like you who trample on little people like Me. But I’m telling you, sir, you’re stepping on me, I’m going to bite your ankle.
Before the fire, Lidstone could be released if any of the following three things happened: he agreed to leave, the cabin was demolished by Giles, or 30 days had passed since his imprisonment. Another hearing was scheduled for next week, but Lidstone’s status was not immediately clear.
Gamache said the cabin “mostly collapsed on itself” when firefighters arrived in an all-terrain utility vehicle 3 km into the woods. He said the state fire marshal’s office was tasked with investigating the cause of the blaze.
Lidstone had no further contact with law enforcement, unlike the case of a man from Maine called the “North Pond Hermit,” who also lived in the woods for nearly three decades and pleaded guilty in 2013 to multiple burglary and theft charges.
Over the years, Lidstone, a US Air Force veteran and father of four who made money as a lumberjack, is known to invite kayakers and boaters to his home, sharing stories about his life. in nature.
Lidstone’s decision to live in the woods is “exactly the lifestyle he wants,” said his brother Vincent Lidstone, 77, of Lafayette, Georgia.
“What they do to him is not good for anyone, be it my brother or anyone’s brother,” he said. “He’s 81 years old. Leave him alone.”
Vincent Lidstone said he had lost touch with his brother over the years, but described how the two and a cousin enjoyed spending time outdoors. They grew up in Wilton, Maine.
“We used to live in the woods,” he said. “We camped, fished, hunted. We have done everything together for many years.
It’s unclear where Lidstone would go. Vincent Lidstone said he did not have the resources to help him. The Associated Press contacted two of his three sons, who said they had not been in contact with their father recently. Her daughter did not respond to a message asking for comment.
Before the fire, Gedeon had said the issue had not yet been discussed by his group.
“We want him to be able to live his final years where he is,” she said.