Now that he has an estimated $250,000 in the bank, “River Dave” Lidstone may find it difficult to build a new home on his preferred choice — land on the Merrimack River owned by a former neighbor, the local Quaker church.
The topic of Lidstone is expected to come up when the Concord Friends Meeting holds its monthly business meeting on Sunday, said co-clerk Richard Kleinschmidt.
Last month, Kleinschmidt expected the Quaker meeting would at least consider allowing the 81-year-old hermit to live on church property after his cabin burned down while he was in jail after refusing to leave his homestead.
Now, Kleinschmidt said, he doesn’t know what proposal he can fashion that would allow Lidstone to build a structure on a forested portion of the seven acres that the church owns in Canterbury.
“In some ways, Dave having six figures is wonderful, but we’re facing a more complicated situation now,” said Kleinschmidt, who stressed that any decision will be up to the congregation.
A home would require the use of heavy equipment, and a bridge would have to be built over a ravine, Kleinschmidt said. Also, Canterbury has zoned the church land for commercial use, he said.
“It was much simpler with Dave putting his camp on a piece of property than a building project,” he said.
Kleinschmidt noted that courts have ruled in favor of Quakers when it comes to town regulations. In 1980, the state Supreme Court sided with a Quaker family in a dispute with the town of Westmoreland over the family’s dry compost toilet.
Lidstone’s friend and advocate, Boscawen resident Jodie Gedeon, said she has been speaking to church representatives and recognizes the problems.
“It’s going to be a challenge. Canterbury is going to make it difficult or impossible,” she said. But Gedeon said Lidstone will be happy with a cabin and does not need to live in a modern home.
She said Lidstone prefers the church property, which is adjacent to his beloved river. He is hoping for an answer from the meeting. If money is needed for lawyers to work out a solution, that isn’t a problem, she said.
“He’s received other offers, but nothing that’s tapped his trigger,” Gedeon said. “If the Quakers can’t do it, he’s got to have a Plan B in place.”
The church property is adjacent to the 73-acre woodlot where Lidstone lived for 27 years until July, when a judge jailed him after he repeatedly refused a court order to vacate the land.
Lidstone disputed the ownership of the property, saying a previous owner had granted him lifetime permission to live on the land.
The judge released Lidstone the day after his cabin burned to the ground. Meanwhile, support poured in for Lidstone from across the country, including a $180,000 donation from high-tech billionaire Alexander Karp.
Adding in smaller online donations, Gedeon estimated that Lidstone has received more than $250,000.
Others have pledged to provide physical help once construction starts. She said she hopes the money will not discourage their participation.
Lidstone plans to live with friends over the winter; Gedeon has declined to say who or where. She said Lidstone’s nine chickens will live with him and his friends, but his two cats will have to live with a nearby friend.
So far, Lidstone has been able to gather up six of the chickens. He will concentrate on capturing the cats and the rest of the chickens this week.
Lidstone is not a member of the Quaker meeting. Kleinschmidt said any decision about Lidstone’s use of the land would be up to the members who come to the business meeting on Sunday.
Usually about 15 to 20 people attend worship on Sundays, he said.
He said decisions are not reached by consensus or compromise, but after open discussion and quiet prayer, with an outcome that feels in harmony with God’s will.