What’s the deal with Stotham, Massachusetts? Look up this little town online and you’ll find that it doesn’t actually exist. Yet architect Hubert G. Ripley waxes rhapsodic about the ‘unspoiled New England village’ in Volume VI, Issue II of the White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs, written in 1920. When it was printed, nobody questioned Ripley’s account. It wasn’t until the 1940s that catalogers at the Library of Congress discovered the apparent hoax.
Ripley writes of a small town which, by the early 20th century, was virtually preserved as it had been during its glory days, without the blight of cheap contemporary buildings. He goes into great detail about the lineage of the family that founded the town, explaining which of the descendants built each home featured in the photographs. “Generations of blushing maidens have swung on the old Billings gate, opening on the path leading to the meadows, in the pale light of the harvest moon, lending shy ear to the rustic swains of the village, as in whispered and halting phrases they spoke of their hopes and aspirations; and as a result of these meetings, old traditions were kept alive.”
Passages like this reveal that perhaps Ripley wished he were a novelist rather than an architect, for everything he writes about in this issue is fictional. There’s even a ghost story. So what was Ripley’s motivation for doing such a thing, especially when the White Pine Monographs were known for being so carefully researched and accurate?
The truth, as editor Russell Whitehead revealed in the 1960s, was that there were a great deal of photographs that didn’t make it into earlier publications for various reasons. He and Ripley looked through them and found them too good to be wasted, so they hatched a plan to write a little story. You can read the whole thing at the White Pine Monograph Library.