HARRISVILLE — The hilltop property came with six buildings, 170 acres, splendid views and one obvious question.

“I was like, ‘What is this doing here? Why is there an old, dilapidated Mediterranean villa sitting on a hill in southern New Hampshire?’” said Shane Long, who bought the place with his family in 2014.

It certainly wasn’t a standard New England farmhouse. Perched at the top of a mile-long dirt driveway, the main building — Aldworth Manor — is a three-story Italian-style villa with yellow stucco walls, a red roof, Roman pillars, arches and an arcade and balcony that opens up to a view of Mount Monadnock’s sprawling ridgeline. Acres of lawns, gardens and meadows stretch to the woodline.

What it was doing there turned out to be complicated. And since the manor was plunked down in Harrisville in the early 20th century, it’s had lives and stories to fill its 17,500 square feet.

Courtesy of the Longs, the property is run-down no more, and the setting for expanding events business.

Back to the beginning

The manor was built not in Harrisville, but Worcester, Mass., in the mid-1800s, according to a 1960 article in Yankee magazine. “The house was built of wood, adorned with massive ornamental trim in the grand manner of the period,” authors F. Wallace Patch and Margaret D. Williams wrote.

As the article tells it, businessman Philip L. Moen left the house and $1 million to his daughter Alice — on the condition she live in the house.

But her husband, Arthur E. Childs, wanted to build a hunting lodge on a large piece of land in Harrisville. So they dismantled the house and moved it north by rail around 1908.

“After they did that, they decided they wanted a villa, so they converted the exterior to an Italian villa look,” Long said during a recent interview at the manor. The Childs family laid out elegant gardens, including a terraced lawn leading to a tea house and reflecting pool, and built a 75-foot water tower.

After their deaths, the property saw a series of uses. It was a sanitarium for about 20 years, according to the Yankee article. In the 1960s, it served as the Thomas More School, a private boarding school for boys. What is now Antioch University New England occupied the site briefly in the 1970s, before moving to Keene.

In 1976, according to county land records, a Seventh-day Adventist organization bought it and established the Mountain Missionary Institute. N.H. Secretary of State records list the institute’s purpose as training young missionaries and show it having owned several trade names, including one described as an “educational vegan bakery for Christian missionaries.”

The institute owned it until 2011, when the property sold to a nonprofit group founded by Seventh-day Adventists, New England Wellness and Educational Center Inc. The group hoped to renovate Aldworth Manor and turn it into a wellness center for children and adults, according to a 2012 article in The Sentinel about one of the founders.

Over time, the manor fell into disrepair. Brian Hannigan, a 1965 graduate of the Thomas More School, recalled a 1999 reunion in Rindge.

“We took a side trip up there to look at the campus, which was in terrible shape,” he said recently. The buildings were run-down, and the manor seemed uninhabitable, he said.

When the Long family bought the place in 2014, for just over $500,000, it was a similar sight, according to Shane and his mother, Tammy. Shane said hundreds of holes pockmarked the exterior, the result of a past attempt to drill into the walls to insulate them.

“It looked like a war zone, pretty much,” Tammy Long said.

In the years since, the Longs have rehabilitated the villa’s exterior and first floor; upgraded the electrical, septic, plumbing and fire detection systems; restored the gardens and installed a commercial kitchen and bar. They also fixed up several outlying lodge houses, which they rent during weddings and other events they host.

Earlier this summer, they also opened Hilltop Kitchen, a two-nights-a-week restaurant and bar at the manor.

Today, the first floor includes a handsome wood-paneled dining room, a sunroom, an oval dining room and a library that served as the headmaster’s office in the ’60s.

The rooms are filled with period furniture and other antiques — oil paintings, chandeliers, an old phonograph machine, two telephones that had been in the manor more than a century ago.

There’s even a black-and-white aerial photo of the grounds from the early 20th century, showing the property as it was in Alice and Arthur Childs’ day.

A new life

Another piece of the manor’s past was brought to life last month, when the manor hosted a reunion for Thomas More School teachers and students.

More than 30 alumni came, many staying on the former campus, said Hannigan, who is secretary and treasurer of the alumni association.

Hannigan said the school had 64 students when he attended. Then a Rhode Island high-schooler, he was sent to New Hampshire to repeat senior year and “get my act together,” he said.

“I really found a nurturing and intellectually stimulating experience there,” he said, partly because of the idyllic, isolated setting.

“I’m not exactly the Walt Whitman type, but it was very relaxing and calming,” he said. “And among other things, there really wasn’t much of an excuse not to do the studies.”

Seeing the campus restored to its former glory was powerful, Hannigan, now an Arlington, Va., resident, said.

“To stand in the old great room, what was our library-slash-meeting room, study hall, and just see that it’s a functional living place — it was just so heartwarming to all of us,” he said.

The current owners aren’t done fixing up the place. Curtains hide parts of the first floor, and the upstairs is cordoned off — Shane Long said they plan to create about a dozen “luxury suites” on the second and third floors.

Long said he found the property listed on Zillow, a real-estate site. Then a teacher in Boston, he was looking for a 100-acre property as a family getaway.

“The idea was to have something that we could come to as a family,” he said, “but during the summers, we were thinking that we could host both arts events and maybe a few weddings.”

The venture took off from there. Long now runs it full-time and lives on the property, as do his parents. His mother helps with the business side, while his father, Roger, has headed up the restoration efforts. Shane’s brother Jordan, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker, does social media and “gets his hands dirty when he’s here,” Shane said.

“Now it’s our life,” he said. “Or, it’s my life.”

Paul Cuno-Booth can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or pbooth@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PCunoBoothKS