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Fri April 12, 2013
New Boston: 250 Years in the Making
New Boston is a town that sounds like it could or should be in Massachusetts, and at one time, it actually was. In the 1730s Boston proprietors were granted a charter to the town, but never did much with it, mostly because of the presence of Native Americans in the area. By 1741, when new borders were drawn up New Boston became part of New Hampshire, with a brand new set of residents says historian Stu Wallace:
The people who began to move into the New Boston area in the end were not Boston people. They were a group of New Hampshire people from the Merrimack Valley, these so called Scotts Irish. And they were the ones who pushed westward across the Merrimack into this land claimed by Massachusetts (and by the way they claimed it for New Hampshire). And so it’s eventually settled by... squatters.
The new town went through several names, Lanestown, Simpsontown, Piscataqua and even Cambridge Canada before it was incorporated as New Boston on February 18th, 1763.
Drive through the town and it’s easy to see why early settlers were attracted to New Boston. The three branches of the Piscataqua River flow through its steep slopes. That made it a perfect place to set up small mills that made everything from axes to piano frames. According to Dick Moody, President of the New Boston Historical Society, at one time the town boasted more mills than almost any other place in New Hampshire.
They came all the way down thru the Piscataqua and the mills farthest out would start running his mill very early in the morning until he ran out of water and then the next would start up and this would progress all the way thru until the last guy in town was probably doing his milling 4 o'clock in the following morning.
But in the 1830s things started to change for New Boston. Transportation was improving, residents went off to fight the Civil War, and New Bostonians started to leave. Dan Rothman, who volunteers with the Historical Society, says by then a lot of the trees were already cut down, farming becomes the new big business of town and those who went away found greener pastures elsewhere:
The farmland is not good here, there’s nothing but rock. They’d see the Midwest and they’d see the south and said, 'why are we banging our hoes against the granite here, when we could be out where there’s rich farmland’.
In the 1830s, the population of the town had reached nearly two thousand, but by the late 1950s that number plundered to 960.
But despite the hard times, new ideas and new innovation helped to keep New Boston on the map.
In the early 1940s, World War 2 was raging. Grenier Air Force base, now Manchester/Boston Regional Airport felt it needed to get its men prepared for bombing targets, and according to Dan Rothman, one part of New Boston, proved to be the perfect place for this practice:
There’s a pond, Joe English pond and there’s that giant Joe English hill as a kind of a backstop in case they missed and so they thought it would be a great target area. So they seized all that land.
The first test bombs fell in 1941 and continued until 1956. Fifth generation New Bostonian Robert Todd, remembers the excitement of hearing those explosions:
I can remember when I was in high school, the planes used to come over the center of town and they’d make their turns and go back to the bombing range and we could hear the bombs drop. We could hear the machine gun fire and this was a very impressive thing for children my age at that time.
Long time New Boston residents can also tell you about another man who made a splash in town, the founder of Babson College in Massachusetts
Roger Babson was really a brilliant man.
Dan Rothman explains why:
He came up with all kinds of financial analysis that made his fortune. He predicted the stock market crash. He hobnobbed with Thomas Edison, Clarence Birdseye. So he’d hang out with these smart, smart men but he had unusual ideas and he had a personal problem with gravity.
Babson lost both his sister and his grandson to drowning and felt if gravity could somehow be harnessed, they may have been saved. So in 1948, he founded the Gravity Research Foundation and figured New Boston as the perfect place for its home
He was concerned about nuclear war. So he wanted a place that was far enough from Boston, so if Boston was attacked, he’d be safe. Apparently he drew a 60 mile radius around Boston and he saw ‘oh, here’s New Boston’.
Babson purchased an old farm in town and set up his Foundation. It had a famous stuffed bird exhibit, and a bed that Isaac Newton once slept on. Tiny New Boston became an international hub for a niche market of those who believed in Babson’s teachings until the foundation closed in the 1960s.
But if there’s one resident who seems to still get the most attention, it’s Molly Stark.
Molly is actually an eight-hundred pound cannon that claims to be one of the world’s oldest pieces of artillery still in use.
Cast in Paris in 1743, it made its way to the New World. After that, the history gets fuzzy, but at some point it ended up in the possession of New Hampshire General John Stark who gave it to New Boston, a town he felt had one of the largest and best militias in the state.
But for more than a century many tried to take away that honor. Manchester, Goffstown, Dunbarton all wanted it, Dan Rothman says, each time they came the Molly Stark would happen to go missing:
There’s a hundred years of the New Boston artillery company hiding it in the river or in a millpond or in a haystack.. 1860-something we’re in the middle of a Civil War and the Federal government says, you’re not going to use this old 1743 cannon, give us that we want to melt it down, make a new cannon and once again New Boston says we can’t find it you can’t have it.
The hiding lasted until 1938 when the State made New Boston the official custodian of the Molly Stark. Every Fourth of July since, the cannon gets pulled out, paraded through town and fired three times.
Its events like that that show the tight-knit community that New Boston seems to be. The population rebounded since the 1960s and now stands at more than 5 thousand residents. But it still gives off a small-town feel with a lot of community involvement and one place where that’s most evident is its one and only school.
This year, the fifth grade students are working with an artist in residence to create two cement sculptures to honor New Boston’s sestercentennial. By the end of the school year, it will be displayed for the whole town to see. A gift from some of New Boston’s youngest residents to remember the past, look to the future and honor a town, small in size but known throughout its history for making some kind of bang.