When U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter retires this summer, you won't find him living in a beachfront condo or lakeside retreat.
Instead, Souter likely will return to a 200-year-old farmhouse his grandparents once owned and where he has lived since he was 11 years old. The dirt-colored house on a dead-end dirt road is bursting with books friends say Souter is eager to organize and read.
"He's got a stack of books, stacked on shelves and on tables and on the floor, that he keeps saying he wants to read. If he reads all the books he says he wants to read, that's going to fill up his retirement," said longtime friend Bill Glahn. "I think he'll just have time to not be so stressed out all the time."
On Friday, the only signs of life were the daffodils blooming along the home's east side and black flies buzzing around the peeling paint. The most attention anyone has paid to the ramshackle home came three years ago, when property-rights activists tried to seize it by eminent domain to build an inn.
The forces behind "Hotel Lost Liberty" were trying to get back at Souter for a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that New London, Conn., could legally take a group of older homes along the city's waterfront for development. The effort fizzled, though the state Legislature later rewrote the law to prohibit such property transfers, and voters amended the state Constitution to bar government from taking their property for another to develop.
The activists gave up, leaving Souter's home safe. None of his friends interviewed Friday expect him to move, and one longtime friend, the Rev. John McCausland, said Souter has at least one home-improvement projects in mind.
"He has a huge library, and he wants to build something to hold that and organize that and just enjoy country living again," he said.
Speaking at the groundbreaking for a new school a few years ago, Souter described how, as a kid, he would count down the 180 days to summer vacation starting on the first day of school. As a U.S. Supreme Court justice, he numbered the days of each session, counting down until he could return to New Hampshire for breaks.
And as Souter now counts the days until his June retirement, his friends back home are ready to welcome him back, and give him whatever space he needs to pursue the next phase of his life.
"I think he will be welcomed back into the community, his privacy will be respected and his service to the Supreme Court and to his country will be very much appreciated," said Neal Kurk, a state lawmaker in Weare, a town of 9,000 about 15 miles southwest of Concord. "People will say, 'Hi David,' and go on with their business."
"He's a private person. He likes to do his own thing," concurs Betty Straw, Souter's sixth-grade teacher and the one he credits with inspiring his lifelong study of history. "I think he will probably continue just as he has been, and that's fine: That's David."
Souter is no recluse, however. McCausland, an Episcopal priest from Weare, describes his friend as an extremely busy person, and said he's hoping to spend more time with him in the coming years.
"It's very difficult to get a hold of him. He has an enormous number of connections and friends from his life here, and I'm sure he'll continue to be busy, but not in such a pressured way," he said.
Like McCausland, Straw said she wasn't surprised about Souter's decision. He told her three years ago he was looking forward to retirement.
"I said, 'Good. We have plenty of work for you to do here with the historical society,'" said Straw, 83, who serves on the organization's board of directors. She said it was too early to speculate about what kind of role he may play.
"Whatever he wants to do, because he's a very independent person. He'll have things he wants to do I'm sure, but we're hoping that he will be able to take an active part," she said.
'I'm friends with David'
Kurk said he thinks Souter is eager to get back to the things he loves, including hiking and just "being at home in Weare."
"There are some people who want to work in a particular area until they die, but there are other people who do life in phases, and when the phase is over you're excited about leaving that phase and going on to a new phase. I think David Souter is one of those people."
Glahn said he looks forward to not having to squeeze in hikes or dinners with Souter during court breaks.
"It will be wonderful as his friend to have more time with him," he said. "If he leaves the court, I'll regret it for the United States of America, but not for him. I'm not friends with Justice Souter, I'm friends with David."