250 Years
(and counting)  
in Nelson,New Hampshire!

What’s up with these
old photographs?

Postcards of these photos are now available at the Harrisville General Store (Harrisville, NH) and at certain town events. Click here for captions.

Nelson’s History (The Short Version)

The settlement of what would become Nelson was established by a grant of land from King James I, who awarded John Mason a charter of land which included all the land between the Naumkeag (today called the Merrimack) and Pascataqua Rivers extending 60 miles inland. The place was to be called New Hampshire and Mason’s charge was to settle the area. Mason died in 1635 leaving only minor heirs. The title to the lands fell into dispute – a dispute resolved by a court case in 1746, which awarded the right to most of the original grant to John Tufton Mason who in turn sold his rights to a group of men who came to be styled the Masonian Proprietors. On December 6, 1751 the Masonian Proprietors granted “Monadnock Number Six” (as the area of Nelson was then identified) to another group of proprietors who would have the direct responsibility of settling the town. One of them was Thomas Packer, who never in fact lived here, but for whom the town was briefly named. The first settlers were Breed Batchellor and Dr. Nathaniel Breed, who arrived in 1767, and it is this year that has been chosen as the birth-date of the town, which was officially incorporated in 1773. The town changed its name to Nelson in 1814.

Engraving by R.P. Hale, July 2017

Like many small New England towns, Nelson had a steady growth in population through the first few decades of the 19th century. Population figures are somewhat misleading, as the town in those days also included what is now the northern part of Harrisville. However, with the opening of the west, a decline in sheep farming, and the Civil War (to which Nelson contributed significantly), the population fell into a decline which began a very slow reversal in the 1920s. A chair industry once flourished in Munsonville (a “suburb” of Nelson on the north side), and small mills dotted the landscape. But the town never had railroad service, and its hilly rocky terrain was a deterrent to aggressive settlement. Today there are no stores, and mostly just cottage industry. Nevertheless, the town has a rich cultural heritage of writers, artists, musicians and craftsmen, and a very vibrant community spirit.

Nelson’s Colonial
A Colonial Garden was created to celebrate Nelson’s 250th anniversary. The celebration is over, but the garden continues – come check it out behind the library. Click on the Nasturtium to download a 4-page pdf brochure about the garden.

250-logo1– A Sense of Place –

In 2017, the town of Nelson, NH, population 749, according to the last census, embarked on a yearlong observation of the settling of this rural community. Nelson has long been a haven for artists, writers, musicians and anyone seeking peace and beauty in a pristine environment, surrounded by mountains and encompassing several crystal clear lakes. A committee was formed a few years prior to 2017 to plan activities for the community that would celebrate the talents and achievements of those who lived in the past, and those who are still among us who keep those values alive. There were those who settled here with skills of carpentry, brick making and laying stone, and those who could sing and dance and write poetry. There were men who went to war, and some never came back. There were those who raised sheep, and those who made mills and ran them, and those who taught school, and some of the men served in the State Legislature. Everyone farmed, at least for a while. And lots of people told stories and some of them wrote them down, and some of them are true.

The new Center School, District No. 1

The committee agreed on the theme “A Sense of Place” and the logo is of the Old Brick Schoolhouse built in 1838 and still standing on the Town Common. It is one of ten original schoolhouses built in Nelson so that every child was within walking distance of a school.

While the initial focus of this website was to explore the many events of the town’s 250th anniversary celebration in 2017, the site will continue to be an ongoing and ever-improving resource for local history. Please browse through the many articles and pictures that convey why Nelson is such a unique place.

Memories of Old Home Day
by Bob Struthers
From Grapevine-2, August 1993

Mockup of poster celebrating Nelson’s 50th Town Picnic. Poster by Fran Tolman

When I was a kid back in the 1930s, Old Home Day was held in Melville’s Grove – a stand of hardwood trees along Center Pond Road a few hundred yards from the center of Nelson. Today a large boulder on the south side of the byway marks the area where picnic tables were set up for the annual celebration. In an adjacent clearing was a platform for the band and a small stand for selling soda pop, candy bars, ice cream, and Cracker Jacks.

There was no electricity in the Grove, and I recall being as awed by the dry ice (the outdoor refrigerant of the day) as I was by the tiny Dixie Cups of ice cream and Eskimo Pies that remained frozen beneath an eerie white vapor that rose from portable chests. Most items cost five cents, but money was scarce back then. We might have a single coin and one choice. The Cracker Jacks cost a dime. Inside the brightly colored box full of caramel-coated popcorn was a tiny tin whistle or a cricket that clicked when it was pinched.

During the noon hour on Old Home Day, while picnickers shared food across long tables, a band played marches and popular ballads. According to lore, one year a band from Peterborough or another nearby town was paid $100. When our longtime mailman, Edgar Seaver, passed by on his mail route and heard the band, he asked how much the band was being paid. “One hundred dollars!” he shouted (he was a bit deaf). “Why, Lord, my band will blow its guts out for seventy-five!”

Thereafter, Edgar got the job and his Chesham Band, which included several Nelson residents, became an institution at Old Home Day for many years. For the rest of Bob’s story click here.

Randomly Selected Articles

Below are some randomly selected articles from this website. Refreshing your page will provide a new set of selections. Click on the title to read the full article.

Frank’s Kitchen

Frank Upton was the consummate Nelson story teller. Perhaps it was yesterday’s social media, but news got passed along around Frank’s table – the good with the bad. Stories that now make up a large part of our local lore were told. This was a true gathering of community vitality where things were shared and ideas were born. Frank’s kitchen was a “happening” place, where a kind of grassroots democracy thrived.

Sally Minot Melville: A Woman of High Respect

“Sometime prior to 1792, Josiah Melville, the first of the family in Cheshire county, came to Packersfield with his wife, Sarah (Minot) to whom he was married January 28, 1790.” This entry in the Struther’s History of Nelson is all we would have known of Sarah (called Sally) Melville if not for the survival of two insightful reflections written after her death in 1811.

Fishing on Tolman Pond

When I was a boy I lived in a house on the edge of Tolman Pond where in the morning I could look out from my bedroom window and see the sun rise behind the black spruces of Thumb Mountain that turned the lake into a sparkling causeway of little suns dividing two blue fields of water.

After the Summer Folks Go Away…..

Where I live, everything gets quiet on the day after Labor Day. Where there was splashing at the dock, the thunk of tennis balls, and echoes of cocktail parties rising off the glassy water of later afternoon, suddenly there is only silence and space.

Home Life in Nelson: The Heating of the House

The leaves have fallen, the days are getting shorter, and the smell of wood smoke brings nostalgic thoughts of the past; but most of us just turn on the furnace when days really get cold. What was it like before this convenient way of heating?

Excerpts from “Family Notes by Beth Barrell”

Beth, Newt Tolman's first wife, helped with the family business at Tolman Pond: running the boarding house, the summer camps and entertaining the many guests. The following, excerpted from her family notes, gives a delightful accounting of what life was like at Tolman Pond during the 1930s: