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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 – 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.


Nelson’s One Room Schools

Roberta Wingerson
The Nursery of Liberty: Schools and Education in the Monadnock Region. Historical Society of Cheshire County, 2009

Settlement began in Nelson, then called Packersfield, in 1767. The first town meeting was held in 1772 but it was not until 1785 that the town voted to raise thirty pounds to support a “reading and writing school”. Prior to that, Nelson’s children were encouraged to have instruction at home largely focused on religious teaching. The first one room school was built on the hill south of the present village. It was across the road from the site of the old meeting house where the Nelson Cemetery is now located.

The population of the town grew rapidly after the Revolutionary War reaching a maximum of 1076 in 1810. Farm settlements were scattered and roads in some areas were no more than grassy paths through the woods making travel to the village school difficult. The state-sanctioned solution was reached in 1805 by dividing the town into 10 school districts. A one room schoolhouse was built in each district.


An old schoolhouse, possibly #7

Each district was controlled and administered independently taxing its residents for the support of the school. They became, in fact, a separate entity independent of town government. A state law passed in 1827 established a Superintending Committee consisting of one to three town residents giving general oversight to town schools. However, records show that independent management continued within the districts. Each school was still supported by taxes from residents within the district as determined by the district school board. The length of terms, divided into the summer school and the winter school term, varied from district to district as did the competence of teachers some of whom may have only completed a local district education. The summer term was shorter because help was needed on the farm during this busy time of year. Some of the boys only attended school in the winter term when farm labor was not so demanding. Attendance was often irregular and classroom behavior sometimes difficult for young teachers to maintain. Tales are still told in the village of the older boys who often tested a new teacher’s merit by physically removing him from the classroom with the intent of closing school for a few more days. Click here for the rest of the story.

Early photo of the Munsonville School, now part of the Nelson School, built in 1893


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.

Haying at Tolman Pond

When I was a boy, my grandfather kept three or four cows. He had just enough hay fields to provide enough hay to last them through the winter, although if the hay crop were particularly poor, perhaps he might have to buy an extra ton or two to tide them through until the cows could be put out to pasture in the spring.

Social Contracts of the Early Settlers

The issue of social security is prevalent in our lives today. But this has always been a concern. In exploring our town’s archives, Rich Church has come across information about how people met the needs of being cared for in their later years.

Nelson History: Early Settlement

The task of settling Monadnock Number Six, a town eight by five miles in the middle of the wilderness, must have been daunting. It would take a strong will to make it happen. The 25,000 acres had been granted to a set of proprietors with the requirement that there be 50 families settled in houses with 12 acres cleared and fenced within six years of the grant.

“Snippets” from Don Bennett

HERE are some "snippets" that Don Bennett found in some of his stuff, although the attached photographs don't necessarily depict these dates:

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.

Nelson History: In the Beginning

King James I awarded John Mason a charter of new land in the New Hampshire/ northern Massachusetts in 1623. The grant 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.