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250 Years
(and counting)  
in Nelson,New Hampshire!
(1767-2017)

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
Garden
A Colonial Garden was created to celebrate Nelson’s 250th anniversary. The celebration is over, but the garden continues. It has been tucked in for the winter, but it will bloom again next spring outside the lower level of 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.


“My Defiance to these Traitors …”
By F.B. (Floppy) Tolman
From Grapevine-2, Spring 1988

“MY DEFIANCE TO THESE TRAITORS, TO OUR COUNTY, ITS LAWS AND INSTITUTIONS, ITS IDEALS AND TRADITIONS, IS WAVING IN THE BREEZE”

By F. B. (Floppy) Tolman
From Grapevine-2, Spring 1988,

Jack Sherrard, photo by George Kingsbury

The misconduct of public officials is hot stuff these days. In the past, there were newsmen who searched out and wrote up scandals. They were “muckrakers.” And right here in Nelson, back in the thirties and forties, we had our very own muckraker––“Jack” ––William J. Sherrard.

When Jack wasn’t tending the animals in his rabbit factory (first located in the substratum of the old Munsonville brick mill) or working as a house painter, he dedicated himself to the art of hunting down miscreants. Sifting through old records of land grants, noting changes in town roads that had become either county or state roads, he nosed through convoluted legalities pursuing any possible error. Having pinpointed one, his next step was to write up charges right and left. He spared no one, accusing the Selectmen, Town Lawyers, the Moderator, the Town Clerk, all of Treason, Felony, and Graft. Fearless in his denunciations, he pulled no punches above or below the belt.

“Falsification of Town Records to avoid Payment of Taxes,
and also to cover up misuse of Funds and other Corrupt Practices.”

At every Town Meeting there was Jack in the back of the Hall, waiting for his moment in the sun. When it came he strode to the front, facing us––tall, shabby, dignified and fierce––and proceeded to blast us all for allowing the Selectmen to get away with Outright Corruption.

“Let them stay and stew and wallow and stink
in their mental filth and damnation ignorance.”

“If these damned ignorant fools of so called Selectmen
were not lost to all sense of Shame, Honor or Decency
they would proceed to Concord and apologize
 for their detestable practices as expressed in this
richly deserved and fully warranted scathing indictment.”

Just what were these acts of corruption? What muck did he actually rake up? This Jack was not about to reveal. It was, apparently, classified information that he had no intention of giving away. He dealt with hecklers or with anyone who dared to question his facts by reaching into a pocket and bringing out a sheaf of tattered papers. Holding them aloft he announced in a voice like a battering-ram, “Here it all is––you can see it Right Here––material proof which is about to be presented to the Attorney General of the State of New Hampshire!” In the following silence he would stalk out of the Hall.

“Must I always act as
School Teacher free gratis?”

He stunned us with his fiery histrionics. His letters were masterpieces. Occasionally he included notes to himself. “You stuck them all up Sherrard with your clever strategy.” And again, “You gummed them all up like flies on fly paper in their ignorance and damnation stupidity.” And always written in a flourishing script, works of art––memorials to a crusading spirit, to a Muckraker with style to spare?

(Quotations in italics are taken from letters written by Jack Sherrard.)

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 or click here for a full listing of the articles that have thus far been posted on this website.

The Tolman Mill

Especially in Nelson, because of the available lumber and water supply, the early farmer found that he could keep up with rising living costs by supplementing his income through a small mill or shop and by manufacturing within the home.

Making Cider

I had a great uncle named Bill French, a tall, raw-boned old Yankee, who worked around my grandfather’s farm. Generosity was his virtue and his pleasure, and nothing so delighted him as going to country auctions from which he would return with a truck load of booty to bestow upon his friends or to donate to the farm.

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.

Come Early Summer

We think that the northern part of heaven lies down a stretch of dirt road that leaves the paved Harrisville Road in southwestern New Hampshire. We get there, as we say, by going down the rabbit hole. That’s a bit of fantasy, I know. The “rabbit hole” is a 500-foot descent down a tree-covered road that opens onto a kind of Wonderland—Tolman Pond and vicinity.

Pests

A small problem can itch and harass as much as a black fly bite and can be as hard to get rid of. For instance, 59¢ showed up on a town bank statement one year when I was treasurer. It didn’t belong to the town’s account. I had receipts for every cent I’d deposited - receipts for dog licenses, taxes, car fees - everything.

The Nelson Town Hall Front Door

In 2013, the Town of Nelson received a grant from the State of New Hampshire’s Division of Historical Resources Moose Plate Program “to repair the historic windows and front door of the Nelson Town Hall.” The Moose Plate Grants are funded by the sale of “moose” conservation and heritage license plates.