CONCORD, N.H – An off-the-grid New Hampshire hermit known to locals as “River Dave,” whose cabin burned down on the wooded property where he was squatting for 27 years, says he’s grateful and overwhelmed by fundraising efforts and offers for a place to live.
“I feel about as good as I ever have in my life,” David Lidstone 81, said in a phone interview with the Associated Press on Sunday, saying he has many friends.
He added, “I live down there in the woods because I like being alone, being away from people, so this publicity is not anything that I’m used to at all.”
Lidstone lived in the woods along the Merrimack River in the town of Canterbury. He was jailed on July 15 on a civil contempt sanction and was told he’d be released if he agreed to leave the cabin. The property owner, 86-year-old Leonard Giles, wanted Lidstone off the property.
A fire destroyed the cabin on Wednesday, hours after Lidstone defended himself during a court hearing. He was released Thursday from jail after a judge ruled that he would have less incentive to return to “this particular place in the woods” now that the cabin had burned down.
Canterbury Fire Chief Michael Gamache said Monday in a news release that “there’s no evidence to support the assumption that this fire was intentionally set and nowhere enough evidence to consider criminal charges.”
Just prior to the time of the fire, the cabin was in the process of being dismantled by a representative of the property owner, as directed by a judge, Gamache said.
The investigation “indicates a probability that this fire began as a result of unintentional/accidental means,” he said. Gamache said the investigation identified several potential causes of the fire, but the origin and cause are still undetermined.
Lidstone, who is currently staying with friends, said he tried to go back to the site to collect some things, but was told he had to go to police first.
“The main thing I wanted out of the whole thing was my Bible,” he said. “Hopefully, Canterbury police took it home. … I had the keys to camp and the camp’s just ashes. So I have the keys to God’s heart, and that’s all I got.”
The woodlot Lidstone called home was just a few miles away from Interstate 93, north of the capital city of Concord. But it was hidden by the trees; it’s on 73 acres that have been used for timber harvests. The property has been owned by the same family since 1963. There are no plans at this time to develop it.
Lidstone had said a prior owner gave his word years ago that he could live there, but had nothing in writing. He later disputed that he was even on the property.
“It looks to me like now I may never set foot on that piece of land again,” he said. Still, he wants to be able to prove he was right. He wants to get a surveyor on the property. Another hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
Jodie Gedeon, an avid kayaker and advocate for Lidstone, said there’s been discussion of setting up a trust for him, in addition to finding him a home. There have been at least 20 offers for him to relocate to another plot of land, from California to Maine.
“So, it’s really up to David now,” she said. “David, pick where you want to live, and we will get you set up before winter.”