Nelson’s* population in the Census of 1790 was 721. The most recent (2020) Census shows a population of 734 – a whopping increase of 13 people over a 230 year period. Of course there are some twists and turns in the story, and we’ve added some graphics to spice up the tale.
*The town was then called Packersfield, and would not become Nelson until 1814. Read about what other names were considered.
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Here’s a view of the roads in Packersfield in 1790. Early on it was a busy town despite its limitations and challenges. But it included a part of what is now Roxbury (southwest corner). More significant in terms of population, it also included the northern part of what is now Harrisville. The Nelson boundary with Dublin went along the southern shore of Harrisville Pond (just north of the village) and along the south side of Child’s Bog and Silver Lake.
This was the year of peak population for Nelson, or Packersfield as it was still known. New England was filling up, and people hadn’t started traveling west yet (in any significant numbers). Two years later, in 1812, the southwest corner of Nelson was sacrificed to the newly incorporated Roxbury, which would have been a factor the lower number in the next (1820) Census. Packersfield was primarily agricultural, with a few saw mills and a grist mill, but not yet seeing the larger operations, such as the mill in Munsonville, which later added some diversity to the economic base.
Nelson reached its lowest population in 1930. The next decade saw the influx of folks who had lost their wealth in the depression, and came up to take refuge in what had been there summer homes. But the population grew only slowly until the 1970s, when there were several years of significant growth, leveling out only in the last decade.