Home2019-11-22T20:53:29+00:00

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.


Home Life in Nelson: The Table
Rev. Edwin Noah Hardy (1861-1950)
Transcribed and edited by Roberta Wingerson

The wooden table was long, narrow, and roughly-made often supported by saw-horses in the early days. The tablecloth, then known as the board-cloth was made of the most durable hand-woven linen. Napkins were not used until later. The knives and forks were made of steel and bone-handled. The forks were small with only two tines. Spoons were largely made at home from pewter poured into molds for that purpose. A few of the more prosperous had some silver utensils. Many of the large mixing spoons were hand- carved of wood. Large and small wooden trenchers, in fact, most of the table ware including plates and pitchers were made of wood. Pewter began to replace wood as people prospered. Wood was also commonly used for milk pans until locally made heavy red earthenware became available for setting milk in the buttery and for storage in jars and crocks of various sizes.

Preparing for our holiday tables. Print by Fran Tolman

Cider was the common beverage and used in great quantities. Home-brewed beers were also much used in the spring and summer. Distilled or “ardent” liquors were, undoubtedly, used for the first fifty years. Afterwards, because of a very strong local temperance sentiment, heavy drinking was considered a disgrace and even moderate drinking soon became increasingly unpopular. Few towns can boast of a finer temperance record than Nelson. Many herbal substitutes for tea were used until that beverage became less expensive. Coffee came very slowly into common use. A delicious coffee was, however, made from the hard and dried crusts of rye-Indian bread.

Fruit was little used as an article of food that was served with meals. Apple trees were set out very soon after the arrival of the early settlers and soon furnished an abundance of this delectable fruit. Among the smaller fruits cultivated, gooseberry and currant were great favorites. Wild strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry grew in astonishing quantities when the land was first cleared. Blueberries were dried and other berries preserved. The apple, which many have named as the most useful product of the field next to corn, expanded many household’s diets. It was made into delicious apple pie, dumplings, and apple jack. It was the chief ingredient in various kinds of sauce, cooked alone or with other fruits. But the crowning concoction was the New England boiled cider apple sauce. This was made from choice quarters of apples stewed for a long time in boiled cider. This boiled cider was an indispensable article for old-time cooking. The process of cider making is too well known to require any description. While the cider was sweet, it was boiled down to thick syrup or a rich red color. This, properly jugged, would keep without fermentation for years. Not infrequently a barrel of apple sauce would be made before Thanksgiving for the winter use. The sharp acid flavor was particularly enjoyed when served with rye-Indian bread or with the pork and fat meats which were consumed in large quantities.

The table never lacked … click here for the rest of this story.

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.

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.

Town Meeting

This block print of Fran’s – as a work of “art” – is both typical, and terrible. Look at all those legs, table and human. Which is which? Are there enough to go around? I haven’t counted yet.

Fight Over Incorporation

At the proprietor’s meeting in March 1773 the town voted to petition the royal governor for incorporation as a town. Breed Batchellor was appointed agent to present the petition on behalf of the Monadnock Number Six proprietors. Almost immediately Batchellor heard rumors that the Blanchard family would fight him.

Rick Church’s Tidbits

Rick Church has been plowing through old town records accessioned into our Town Archives and property records registered at the Cheshire County Registry of Deeds for many years now. Please see the posted articles that he has contributed to this town history website.

Spring Cleaning (or An Empty Barn Full)

While driving around town looking at old barns, and imagining those long lost to decay, we wonder the plight of our old New Hampshire barns. Here's the scoop on our own barn!

Insanity Above Spoonwood Pond

High above Spoonwood Pond sits a special place called Greengate. Today the scene is one of a beautiful house sited to take full advantage of majestic views and surrounded by nicely kept landscaping. What was it like in 1904 when William S. Hall bought the property from Wilmer Tolman?

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.