The Monadnock Region

H I S T O R Y   o f   t h e   M O N A D N O C K   R E G I O N


A Touch of Nostalgia
By Tracy Cook Wagoner

Protected by mountains, gracefully lined with rivers and dotted with lakes and ponds, the Monadnock Region has captured in its midst, the nostalgia of years gone by. 

Nestled amongst the security of the land are towns and villages where historic town halls and meeting houses continue to echo the voices of town meetings and resound to the beat of square, contra and line dancing. 

In the Monadnock Region, folks picnic on emerald green commons flanked with white steepled churches and walk down streets lined with buildings dating to an era past. Even the wildlife, moose, deer, fox, coyote, wild turkey and bear, seem oblivious to the urbanized world which resides just over the mountains. 

Overseeing the area and rising 3,165 feet above sea level is Mt. Monadnock, the most climbed mountain in the world without vehicular access. Under the protection of Monadnock State Park, more than 40 miles of trails wind across the mountain's landscape. Majestic stone walls remain as the only boundary sign of the farm pastures which once covered this forested land. 

A paradise for the outdoor lover, the Monadnock Region abounds with year-round recreational possibilities, not just on Monadnock, but on many other mountains in the area as well. 

Temple Mountain, Crotched Mountain and Pack Monadnock along with their smaller neighbors, Bald Mountain in Hancock, Gap Mountain in Jaffrey and Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard are covered with miles of trails for walking, hiking, mountain biking and cross-country skiing. The Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway connects Mt. Monadnock and Mt. Sunapee and traverses the region, as do the Metacomet and Wapack Trails. Numerous dirt roads and old carriage lanes provide additional terrain for recreating. 

Groomed cross-country trails are found in many varied locations including Windblown in New Ipswich and Temple Mountain in Temple, which also provides downhill skiing. Sargent Camp in Peterborough, and Woodbound Inn in Jaffrey provide additional ski touring terrain. 

The Monadnock Region is blessed with thousands of acres of protected land. In addition to Monadnock State Park, fishing, camping and snowmobiling can be enjoyed in Greenfield State Park. Other state parks
in the area include Miller, Pisgah, Rhododendron, as well as the preserved lands of Annett State Forest, Fox State Forest and Shieling Forest in Peterborough. Numerous ponds and lakes offer sanctuary to boaters, fishermen and folks wishing a refreshing swim. 

Cultural events are well repre-sented in The Monadnock Area. Providing entertainment and an outlet for those of you who like to perform, community theatres are found in Peterborough, Francestown and Antrim. Professional summer theater is offered by the Peterborough Players in Peterborough and in Milford at The American Stage Festival. Children may not only perform, but enjoy performances by their peers at Andy's Summer Playhouse in Wilton. 

A variety of excellent cultural performances are sponsored by Franklin Pierce College in Rindge and Keene State College in neighboring Keene. If you enjoy the visual arts, the area easily fulfills these requirements as well. Numerous galleries display local crafts and art work and The Sharon Arts Center not only exhibits the art work and crafts of local artists, but additionally offers courses and lectures. 

Educational and intellectual stimulation is found in the programs of The Monadnock Summer Lyceum in Peterborough and The Amos Fortune Forum in Jaffrey. 

The hills of Monadnock do indeed resound with the sound of music. The Temple Band, founded in 1799, is this country's oldest continuously performing town band. Blues music pours from The Rynborn in Antrim, and Del Rossi's in Dublin hosts a variety of musical performers. 

Classical music is also abundant. The internationally acclaimed Apple Hill Chamber Players present a variety of programs. Professional performers join together at The Monadnock Music series for concerts of chamber music, symphony and opera. And The Monadnock Chorus, which has entertained audiences since the 1960's, has traveled internationally to share the music of its talented volunteer members. 

While The Monadnock Area has a rich cultural climate and an innate natural beauty, it is the historic towns and villages of the Monadnock Region which continue to provide a quiet solace for the visitor and resident alike. Though each town has encountered vast growth and change, the quality of life in this sequestered corner of New England remains one of quiet nurturing. As did their predecessors, residents of
each town foster a sense of community which extends to neighboring towns. 

The Abenakis, Native Americans of the Algonquin tribe, were the first to call the region home. By the 1600's pioneers began to settle the area and faced the challenges of weather and uncharted land with a determination inherent to New Englanders. 

In 1760, Peterborough became the first town to be incorporated in the region. By the turn of the nineteenth century, Peterborough was a prosperous mill town producing lumber, paper, textiles and baskets and was home to the first mill to weave cloth mechanically. 

In 1824, the building which is now the Unitarian church was erected and a few years later in 1833, the citizens of Peterborough built the first free library in this country to be supported by taxation. The offices
of BYTE, the world famous computer magazine published by McGraw Hill, reside in the building which in the 1800's housed another prominent town business, The American Guernsey Cattle Club. The MacDowell Colony, dating to 1908, remains a refuge for writers, artists and composers. Built in 1918, the Peterborough Town House was patterned after Boston's Faneuil Hall, and the lovely All Saints Church was constructed of Peterborough granite in 1923. 

Today Peterborough is the second largest town in the area and remains a commercial and cultural hub. The town provides an extensive recreational department for all ages and residents are active in civic and community organizations. Monadnock Community Hospital serves area residents with medical and related services. 

Just south of Peterborough, the village of New Ipswich was incorporated in 1762 and was the site of the original mills for cording, spinning and the weaving of cotton and wool. In 1810 the Wilder Chair Factory was renown for the production of spindle back, wooden seated chairs with more than 40 designs. Built during this same period, The Barrett House stands as a prime example of Federalist architecture. The Georgian and Colonial architecture of New Ipswich remains an attraction for visitors to the area. 

Wilton, which has one of the oldest town landfills converted to a recycling center in the state, was also incorporated in 1762. Located on the banks of the Souhegan river, residents often watch films in the historic town hall. Just outside of Wilton and listed in The National Register, Frye's Measure Mill offers tours, museum areas and a gift shop where browsers can buy hand forged ironware, reproductions of colonial tinware, wood products and many other mementos of yesteryear. 

1768 was a busy year with the incorporation of three towns, Temple, Rindge and the quaint and secluded village of Mason, once the home of our nation's symbolic relative, 1812 war veteran "Uncle Sam". 

Temple lacked the water power necessary for mills but in the late 1700's became known for its glass works. The hand blown Temple glass is now considered to be quite rare. Temple is home to the oldest
town band in the country. 

Rindge, a popular vacation spot with numerous lakes and ponds, is also an educational center. Franklin Pierce College welcomes the public to its musical, theatrical and cultural events. The Cathedral Of The Pines, an inter-denominational outdoor shrine, attracts thousands of visitors a year. 

Situated at 1,493 feet above sea level, the tiny village of Dublin was incorporated in 1771. Named after Dublin, Ireland, the area has always attracted writers, artists and vacationers to a region where Mt. Monadnock reflects its image onto the pristine waters of Dublin Lake. 

Standing guard in the center of Dublin is a historic granite structure housing the "oldest public library in the United States supported by private funds." Two publications which portray the true essence of New England, "Yankee Magazine" and "The Old Farmers Almanac" are published from the village center. 

The next year, Francestown, a village of equal charm to Dublin, was incorporated. The quarries of Francestown once supplied New England with soap stone used for sinks, stoves, hearths, mantels and for other home and industrial purposes. Today meeting houses dating from 1773 and 1801 stand among the lovely Federal style houses. 

Hillsborough, the northernmost town in the region, was the birthplace of the 14th president, Franklin Pierce. Though the first area settled, Hillsborough was not incorporated until 1772. During this period, the mill town produced wool, cotton, hosiery and underwear. 

Jaffrey, now the largest town in the area and Fitzwilliam, renown for its town common and antique shops, were incorporated in 1773. 

Jaffrey considers itself the home of Mt Monadnock and the views of the mountain west of the town are a graphic illustration of why. Jaffrey is a thriving economic and business center with the grand historic charm of two hundred year old meeting houses and a grist mill turned textile factory which is listed in the National Historic Register. 

Fitzwilliam, with its steepled town hall and stately Fitzwilliam Inn, was in the 1800's one of the busiest rock quarrying centers in New Hampshire. 43 of the then 250 residents of Fitzwilliam died fighting in the War of Independence. 

In the early 1700's, Scots who had migrated from Ireland settled in Antrim. The town was not incorporated until 1777, but maintained the original name from Antrim, Ireland. The former mill town is a haven for water recreation, hiking and cross-country skiing. 

Named for John Hancock, the first governor of Massachusetts and signer of The Declaration of Independence, Hancock was incorporated in 1779. The Town Meeting House, which now houses a church and pre-school, is said to have a bell cast by Paul Revere. The picturesque town is the home of The Hancock Inn, a wayside for weary travelers and hungry folks for more than two hundred years. In Hancock one can pick apples, cut a Christmas tree or visit the Harris Conservation Center. 

Settled as part of Peterborough, the tiny community of Sharon was incorporated in 1791. Once known as Sliptown, lumbering and farming were the occupations of the earliest settlers. Now primarily residential, town meetings are held in a one room school house built in 1833. The Sharon Arts Center, showcasing and selling works of local artists and craftsmen, is located here. 

In the historic town center of Greenfield, incorporated in 1791, stands the oldest original meeting house which served both church and state. Named for the fertile land encased between two mountains, Greenfield is a year-round recreational area with Greenfield State Park and its clear Otter Lake. Greenfield's Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center is renown for its educational, rehabilitative and therapeutic programs. 

In 1815, the village of Troy was incorporated. The Troy Blanket Mills was the major industry of a town now noted for its picturesque village green. Today, the Troy Mills produces a variety of products including textiles for automobiles. 

Originally part of Hancock, the mill town of Bennington was incorporated in 1842 and named to commemorate the Revolutionary War Battle of Bennington, Vermont. The town's heritage lives on at The Monadnock Paper Mills, the oldest continually operating mill of its kind in the United States, which now produces speciality paper. 

Harrisville, on the banks of Nubanusit Pond, represents one of the best preserved water-powered New England mill towns. A favorite of painters and photographers, the entire town center is a National Historic Landmark. Settled in the mid-1700's, Harrisville was not incorporated until 1870, making the town one of the youngest in the area. Today, Harrisville Designs manufactures looms and runs a weaving school. 

The youngest town in the area is Greenville, incorporated in 1872. This community, situated close to the Massachusetts border, sports a town center whose many historic residences are clustered on the hillside. 

Each and every town in the Monadnock Region shares a special piece of history. Add the quintessential New England beauty, recreational resources, cultural, entertainment and employment opportunities, it is easy to see why the "quiet corner" is a special area to live or visit. An easy province to call home, once you "experience" the region, you may never want to leave. 

A Peterborough native and resident, Tracy Cook Wagoner is a freelance writer and teacher. 

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