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Back in Time: the Tilton Arch

CHRISTOPHER KLEINFOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

NORTHFIELD, N.H. — Charles Tilton had cash. Lots of it. His Gold Rush fortune paid for bridges, a new Town Hall, and public statuary throughout the hamlet named in his family’s honor. So when the wealthy benefactor wanted a memento of his trip to Rome in 1881, a mere postcard or souvenir ashtray wasn’t going to cut it. Instead, Tilton built a colossal memorial arch atop a 150-foot-high peak in close eyeshot of his grand mansion.

Inspired by the Arch of Titus, the Concord granite monument overlooking downtown Tilton soars more than five stories high. Tilton dedicated the structure to his ancestors and hoped that, in contrast to its Roman counterpart, his arch would commemorate peace, not war. The Tilton Arch indeed crowns a tranquil park with expansive views of the New Hampshire countryside.

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Below the archway a carved Numidian lion sprawls atop a 50-ton red Scottish granite sarcophagus polished as finely as glass. According to local histories, Tilton intended to be buried inside, but there was one problem. The Tilton Arch isn’t in Tilton. It stands in Northfield, which could never be persuaded to join its counterpart across the Winnipesaukee River. Forgoing a burial on Northfield’s foreign soil, Tilton was instead laid to rest in his hometown.

While Tilton may not be up there to forever oversee the town he helped to build, in wintertime his souvenir from a Roman holiday peeps through the bare trees like a nosy old-timer keeping tabs on the neighborhood.

TILTON ARCH  Entrance off Summer Street, Northfield, N.H.

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