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Salinger’s First Secluded Cornish Property Put Up for Sale

Cornish — It’s easy to see why J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author, chose the secluded spot that he did to escape the attention that came with literary fame.

Turn down a side road in Cornish, and continue a mile and a half down a winding, bumpy dirt road flanked by “No Trespassing” signs and you’ll eventually find the house that Salinger purchased in the 1950s and later vacated after separating from his first wife, Claire Douglas.

Now, the present owner, Joan Littlefield, has put the 2,900-square-foot home up for sale, with an asking price of $679,000.

Littlefield, whose husband, James, died two years ago, said maintaining the 12-acre property on her own was difficult.

“It’s like trying to run General Motors out of a phone booth,” she said on Tuesday.

Littlefield declined to comment in detail on the house’s history or her relationship with Salinger, but said that she had been considering advertising the house, which she bought in the 1980s, in the New Yorker , in the hopes of attracting literary types.

“Formerly the home of writer J.D. Salinger, this charming house is set in an enchanting garden of flowers and trees,” says an online listing posted by Jane Darrach, of Martha Diebold Real Estate in Hanover. “Land on both sides of the road ensures privacy.”

The property has an impressive pedigree. The land once belonged to Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the eminent American sculptor and founder in 1885 of the Cornish Art Colony. A descendant of his built the house in 1939, and Salinger later made his own additions.

While the house’s legacy doesn’t factor into the price, it certainly is a selling point, Darrach said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Celebrity real estate sales are known to attract attention — when Darrach sold the late C. Everett Koop’s house, visitors were fascinated to see the old photographs and political cartoons strewn around it — but as of Tuesday there had only been one showing of the Salinger house, she said.

Nestled in the wooded hills of Cornish at 342 Lang Road, the house boasts a view of Mount Ascutney.

The interior, filled with little cushions, crystal china and fabrics in warm pinks and oranges, reflects three decades of use by the Littlefields, but still conjures impressions of a cozy writer’s den.

After acquiring the house, the Littlefields came across various Salinger memorabilia, including old checkbooks, sections of fence and, notably, his toilet, which made national news after a collectibles dealer tried to sell it on Ebay.

The commode showed up on the auction site at an asking price of $1 million in August 2010, after the Littlefields gave it to memorabilia merchant Rick Kohl, of North Carolina.

“Who knows how many of (his) stories were thought up and written while Salinger sat on this throne,” said the listing, which also advertised the toilet as “uncleaned and in its original condition.”

The toilet came with a note of authentication from Littlefield.

What Salinger composed during his long seclusion in Cornish, in the lavatory or otherwise, is anyone’s guess. Littlefield said that around the time she bought the house, the author had a safe in it that was rumored to contain unpublished writings.

Salinger’s last published work, Hapworth 16, 1924 , appeared in the New Yorker in 1965. He died of natural causes in January 2010.

While Salinger lived in Cornish, residents of the town earned a reputation for protecting his privacy by brushing off and even sometimes misdirecting gawkers looking for his house.

“I always remember it as people literally saying, ‘You know, I’m getting my degree in English; it would mean so much to me: Can you tell me where he lives?’ ” said resident Peter Burling.

But four and a half years after the writer’s death, Salinger mania has largely faded, Burling said.

It’s a big snore now,” he said. I think all of the secrecy has fallen away.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

CORRECTION: Augustus Saint-Gaudens was an eminent sculptor who once owned the land in Cornish where his descendant built a house in 1939 that later was sold to the author J.D. Salinger. An earlier version of this story misidentified Saint-Gaudens’ life work.