NH News
7:30 am
Fri October 25, 2013

Haverhill: 250 Years In The Making

Credit Keith Shields, NHPR

If you ask people from Haverhill where they’re from, you may not get the simple answer you’d expect to get.

“If somebody said where you from, they’ll say, I’m from Woodsville, long before they’ll say I’m from Haverhill. I grew up in Haverhill corner. It’s not just in Haverhill; I grew up in Haverhill corner. I have to be specific about that and people from this area understand that.”

In fact there are seven distinct villages in the town. Included with Woodsville and Haverhill Corner, this is North Haverhill, East Haverhill, Center Haverhill, Pike and Mountain Lakes.  And if that’s not complicated enough, lifelong resident Gary Scruton will tell you it gets worse

“In town there are 2 separate highway departments. We have 3 fire departments, 4 libraries. There are 5 registered water systems in the town of Haverhill.  I haven’t figured out a number 6 yet, but there are 7 cemeteries in the town of Haverhill but only one cemetery commission.”

Add to that 4 different post offices and zip codes; that’s a lot of diversity for a town with a little more than forty-four hundred people.

But in many ways, the story of the town of Haverhill is one of diversity, of neighbors who have worked together and yet have always maintained a sort of geographic individualism.

The town even shares its anniversary with its neighbor across the Connecticut River, Newbury, Vermont. Both towns were granted to Captain John Hazen and Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Bayley. The two men had fought together in the French and Indian War and passed by the area on their way back home.

Hazen was from Haverhill, Massachusetts, Bayley, from Newbury, Massachusetts. According to Gary Scruton, publisher of the local newspaper, ‘The Trendy Times’ when it came time to sign on the dotted line, the two men came up with a compromise, where each got to be head signer of one town.

Archive photo of the John Hazen House
Archive photo of the John Hazen House
Credit Archive

“John Hazen and Jacob Bailey were the 1st two signers of the Haverhill charter Jacob Bailey and John Hazen were the first two signers of the Newbury charter both on May 18th 1763.”

From the start, Haverhill had a lot going for it. Unlike many New Hampshire towns whose settlers came for good farmland and never really found any, this area had fertile soil.

And the town became an early center of transportation. According to New Hampshire Historian Stuart Wallace that soon made Haverhill a booming frontier town

“The center of Haverhill was considered to be the ideal spot to live along the Connecticut at least up to that point and it is from Haverhill that any number of towns was then subsequently settled up the river. Haverhill becomes kind of a launch point where they’re settled.”

It was so ideal that it was nearly in the home of Dartmouth College.  In 1769, many people thought that Eleazer Wheelock would bring his Moore’s Indian School to Haverhill, but in the 11th hour, it lost its bid to a much smaller town to its south, Hanover.

But there would be many other economic opportunities for the town of Haverhill. And the greatest one would be found right underneath its feet.

The year was 1821. And Haverhill resident, Person Noyes noticed that a particular kind of rock found in the area, called mica schist, could sharpen his scythes better than any other stone he used. Wayne Fortier, chair of the Haverhill/Newbury 250th committee says that Noyes started selling these ‘whetstones’ in the area and after he died, his widow’s 2nd husband, Isaac Pike, started Pike Industries.

Archive photo of Isaac Pike
Archive photo of Isaac Pike

“Isaac Pike started developing these stones, it was very crude at first, and then they modified it and made it smaller so you could sharpen by hand your blade on your scythe. And that stone was of such high quality that it became known not only through the United States but worldwide.”

By 1846, the first load of whetstone were shipped off to Europe and soon this area of Haverhill, that began to be known as Pike, became the world’s leading manufacturer of whetstones. Four generations of the Pike family would run the company until it closed in 1961.

Over the years, the town has stood out in other ways as well. Haverhill boasts the nation’s oldest documented covered bridge still standing.

The town was the home of two Governors, John Page and Henry Keyes

And it when the railroad came to a section of Haverhill called Woodsville. Stuart Wallace says the town became a major transportation crossroads once again.

Archive photo of Woodsville Rail Station
Archive photo of Woodsville Rail Station
Credit Archive

“The Boston Concord and Montreal worked its way up thru Haverhill. The Railroad on other side of the river, on the Vermont side, that came up there as well. And the White Mountain railroad that branched off from Woodsville into the White Mountains and when those three railroads came together, it made Woodsville one of the major rail centers in New England.”

These villages formed in part out of necessity.  North Haverhill for its farming, Pike for its whetstones, and Woodsville for the railroad. But long after the demise of Pike Industries and after the railroad has stopped running. Residents still hold on to their village pride.

But over the decades, this pride has become tense at times. Haverhill’s newest development called Mountain lakes has created some resentment from long timers over the number of second homes and what they call ‘flatlanders’ living there.

And several years ago, Woodsville even tried to break off and become its own town.

But residents today will tell you that for the most part these resentments have died down. And some like longtime Woodsville resident Shirley Cobb will tell you it’s been the 250th celebration that has once again, strengthened those ties.

Credit Archive

“I think we went separate ways for a while because each had more pride than they probably should have had but now I think we’ve come together. I think the 250th has been a wonderful thing.  Because we’ve had lectures in Haverhill and Woodsville and Newbury and I think we’ve just all grown adults.”

The celebration for Haverhill and its 7 villages and Newbury, Vermont, and it’s has 14 different villages is a year long event. It began on New Year’s Eve of 2012 with a dance in Haverhill and will end with a Christmas celebration in Newbury.

The sesquicentennial has a theme as well, “Two towns, one community”. An Ironic phrase in a way considering they’re in two different states, two separate counties and the two towns share 21 unique villages. But to the residents here it makes sense. Fraternal twins they’ve called Haverhill and Newbury… unique in their own way but indelibly linked by friendship, family, history and community.

For New Hampshire Public Radio, I’m Keith Shields