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‘River Dave,’ long a New Hampshire recluse, says he can’t go back to being a hermit

David Lidstone, 81, has been jailed since July 15 after being accused of squatting for 27 years on the private property

David Lidstone, an off-the-grid New Hampshire hermit known to locals as “River Dave,” doffs his hat outside the Merrimack County Superior Court after a court hearing in Concord, N.H., that determined he’ll be able to collect his cats, chickens and remaining possessions from the site where he has lived on for 27 years.
David Lidstone, an off-the-grid New Hampshire hermit known to locals as “River Dave,” doffs his hat outside the Merrimack County Superior Court after a court hearing in Concord, N.H., that determined he’ll be able to collect his cats, chickens and remaining possessions from the site where he has lived on for 27 years.
Elise Amendola / AP

CONCORD, N.H. — An off-the-grid New Hampshire man’s days living as a hermit appear to be over.

“River Dave,” whose cabin in the woods burned down after nearly three decades on property that he was ordered to leave, says he doesn’t think he can return to his lifestyle.

“I don’t see how I can go back to being a hermit because society is not going to allow it,” David Lidstone said.

Even if he could rebuild his cabin, Lidstone, 81, said, “I would have people coming every weekend. So I just can’t get out of society anymore. I’ve hidden too many years, and I’ve built relationships, and those relationships have continued to expand.”

Lidstone, a former logger, chopped his firewood and grew his food in the woods along the Merrimack River in the town of Canterbury. He initially built the cabin with his wife, from whom he’s now estranged.

He said he’s not grieving the loss of his life in isolation.

“Maybe the things I’ve been trying to avoid are the things that I really need in life,” said Lidstone, who drifted apart from his family, including his daughter and three sons. “I grew up never being hugged or kissed or any close contact.

“I had somebody ask me once, about my wife: ‘Did you really love her?’ And the question kind of shocked me for a second. I ... I’ve never loved anybody in my life. And I shocked myself because I hadn’t realized that. And that’s why I was a hermit. Now, I can see love being expressed that I never had before.”

On July 15, Lidstone was jailed on a civil contempt sanction and told he’d be released if he agreed to leave the cabin following a property dispute that dates to 2016. Landowner Leonard Giles, 86, of South Burlington, Vermont, wanted Lidstone off the property — undeveloped and mostly used for timber harvest — that Giles’s family has owned since 1963.

Lidstone previously said a prior owner in the family gave his word years ago that he could live there but had nothing in writing. He later disputed he was even on the property.

In court Wednesday, both sides agreed to arrange for Lidstone to collect his cats and chickens and remaining possessions.

A fire destroyed the cabin Aug. 4, hours after Lidstone defended himself during a court hearing. He was released from jail the next day after the judge ruled that he how had less incentive to return to “this particular place in the woods.”

Smoke rises Aug. 4 from the burnt remains of a cabin in Canterbury, N.H., inhabited by 81-year-old David “River Dave” Lidstone, who for 27 years has lived in the woods of New Hampshire along the Merrimack River in the solar-paneled cabin.
Smoke rises Aug. 4 from the burnt remains of a cabin in Canterbury, N.H., inhabited by 81-year-old David “River Dave” Lidstone, who for 27 years has lived in the woods of New Hampshire along the Merrimack River in the solar-paneled cabin.
Canterbury, N.H., Fire Department

People across the country have offered to help Lidstone by raising money or offering a place to live.