The city of Keene, New Hampshire is located in the Ashuelot River valley and is surrounded by seven hills. This natural geography was perfect for the blossoming textile industry in the early 1800’s. The Ashuelot River provided the waterpower to run the machinery of the new industrial revolution and thus the mill industry flourished in Keene. Flat land was the easiest to cultivate in crops but the steep, rocky hills surrounding Keene were impossible to plow. However, they provided perfect grazing for sheep and sheep provided the raw material for the manufacture of woolen cloth. In the mid-19th century, the railroad open up access to farm land in the Midwest, consequently local sheep farms began to disappear.
The story of the Horatio Colony Nature Preserve began in 1892 when Horatio’s grandfather, Horatio Colony I, bought the Japhet Parker farm which was 132 acres of abandoned sheep pasture atop West Hill in Keene. The Colony family soon built Tip-Top House on top of the north slope – a summer cabin where they spent many a Sunday afternoons enjoying the solitude and expansive view of Keene. Horatio I enjoyed the land so much that he added to it. Between 1892 and 1925 he purchased nine more lots, piecing together what today comprises the nature preserve.
Horatio Colony II inherited the West Hill holding. Having a great respect for New England woods and wildlife, he allowed the forest to regenerate naturally. The cabin, which he built in 1938 to provide peace and solitude for his writing endeavors, still stands at the side of the entry trail to the nature preserve. This haven in the woods he had grown to love provided inspiration for Horatio throughout his life.
His desire to save this unique ecological resource led him to set aside his land as a wildlife sanctuary and nature study, to be used for education and research purposed in perpetuity.
The nature preserve is now 645 acres, with a 5 mile trail complex that is open to the public.