“Citizens of Candia, we are gathered here today to celebrate the incorporating of our Parish and to begin the process of creating a government that will ensure its success forever…”
That’s Candia resident Bob Claver who was playing the role of Samuel Emerson, who conducted the first official town meeting that Candia had shortly after becoming a town in December of 1763. It was part of a play that ran just last week that capped off a yearlong sestercenntial celebration, for the town.
Held in front of a packed house at the local Congregational Church, the play had residents in colonial uniforms acting out scenes about how Candia became a town two hundred a fifty years ago, there was a visit from Colonial Governor Benning Wentworth, militia men who fired off their rifles as well as a cannon outside the church and interspersed between all of that was resident Diane Philbrick who would lead the audience in festive rounds of Christmas carols dressed as Jeremiah Ingalls, one of the first American composers.
“And this is not only a celebration of our town becoming a town, but it’s also Christmas what a time to sing Here we go! I saw 3 ships come sailing in…”
Unlike the other 12 towns that were granted in 1763, the incorporation of Candia had nothing to do with the frontier opening up after the end of the French and Indian war. According to New Hampshire Historian Stuart Wallace, this area had already been established, part of a much larger southeastern New Hampshire town called Chester.
“Chester was one of those 2nd tier towns founded in 1722. We finally pushed out of the Seacoast area and began settling towns away from the seacoast and those towns were big, they were much bigger than the current towns. As people move in, they’re going to want to be closer to the meetinghouse or closer to the road or whatever. And so you start to see these 2nd tier towns subdivide. Candia is a part of that subdivision.”
The town was originally named Charmingfare and when it was granted by Governor Benning Wentworth on December 17th, 1763, the town was renamed to Candia.
“I have heard your plight that it is too far to travel to Chester, especially during the wintertime when the roads are so ill managed. So fair citizens of this town, what shall now be known as Candia. I come before you to declare that you are indeed a town of this fair state. (applause)”
No one really knows why Candia got its name, but Historical society president Ed Fowler says, the popular myth in town has to do with a time that Governor Wentworth was sailing through the Mediterranean Sea and landed on the Greek island of Candia, which today we know as Crete.
“The story is that he had visited the island of Crete and he wound up imprisoned but he loved Candia, he loved the island of Crete and so when he was coming up with a name, he named it Candia.”
And now the New Hampshire town is the only one with that name in the world.
Candia established itself as a mill town making everything from shoes to reed-woven baskets. When the railroad came to town it was a major stopping point between Portsmouth and Manchester.
But the town may be more famous for the making of several important people.
Boston’s 29th mayor Albert Palmer was from Candia. And there was Fredrick Smith who served two-terms as New Hampshire Governor and four terms as the mayor of Manchester, where he put in the Queen city’s first sidewalks, streetlights and sewer systems.
Finally there was the popular turn of the century poet, Samuel Walter Foss who published several books of poetry and whose most famous poem “The House by the Side of the Road” was based on his growing up in Candia.
“I see from my house by the side of the road, By the side of the highway of life, The men who press with the ardor of hope, The men who are faint with the strife. But I turn not away from their smiles…”
But maybe the most famous thing to come out of Candia was a building. In 1955, Old Sturbridge Village, a famous living museum in Western Massachusetts was looking for an authentic one-room school house. As Ed Hood, Vice President of the village explains, after looking around New England they found the perfect one built in the early 1800s in Candia.
“You want one that’s well preserved with a lot of original fabric and character that’s in good shape so when its brought here it can be restored and used by the 100s of thousands of visitors that would come every year and in the case the one in Candia, NH, it seemed to be the perfect fit for us. You get a real sense of the character of that early 19th century time period.”
Although a big mill town for decades, today many refer to Candia as a bedroom community. Residents like Thelma Brown Weeks, who this June will have lived in Candia for 90 years say it’s because of that and the fact that there’s no real town center that it’s been hard to get people involved in the community . And why one-time big events like their 4th of July parade have fizzled
“The parades, they were given up because they didn’t have the support to do it. So we have lost those kind of people who do the supporting. People came in and they just lived here and went to work and put their kids in school but they didn’t actively join in and produce.”
But the town’s anniversary may have changed that, at least slightly. Linda Thomas, coordinator of the 250th celebration says that because Candia is a pretty fiscally conservative town, committee members decided not to ask their selectmen to fund their anniversary. Instead they sold commemorative calendars and coins and asked for donations and when they did ask, Thomas said, many townspeople delivered.
“Townspeople were very generous and came forth with all kinds of help in the form of finances as well as elbow grease. There were some people that we didn’t know before and came out to help who had an interest. So in that respect, I think it did attract a different group of people and we were able to make friends.”
And so last week’s anniversary and holiday celebration put a nice little bow on the town’s 250th year, where residents could come together, maybe this time a little bit closer and take pride in its town’s long history and celebrate that this bedroom community may have found a little more harmony.
For NHPR I’m Keith Shields