The old towns in New Hampshire have long and storied histories. Native Americans have been living in this area for over 12,000 years, and the first settlement by Europeans happened nearly 400 years ago! When white settlers first landed in New Hampshire they did so on the coast, along Portsmouth’s natural harbor. The seacoast has some of the oldest towns in the state for this reason. Over time, settlers from Massachusetts opened up the Merrimack Valley, which became an important economic area as New Hampshire’s main business shifted from fishing and trade to textiles. Finally, the northern reaches of the state opened with the help of the railroads. These 9 old towns show the progression of the settlement of New Hampshire, and boy is the story interesting!
Rye is the site of the first permanent European settlement in New Hampshire. In 1623, English traders and fisherman set up a small village at Odiorne Point. The spot overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Portsmouth Harbor was the perfect place for fishing the rich New Hampshire waters and trading with other settlements.
Portsmouth, along with Dover, Exeter, and Hampton, is one of the four original towns in New Hampshire. These were established when the New Hampshire seacoast was settled in the early 1600s. Portsmouth soon took off, becoming the largest settlement and a hub of trade for fish, wood, and European goods.
It is now known for its beautiful beaches, but when it was founded in 1638 Hampton was known as a beautiful, rich farming area. In fact its original name, Winnicunnet, meant “pleasant pines” in the local native American language. Today, that name is still used around town, including for the local high school.
Exeter was established in 1638, making it among the oldest settlements in the United States. The town was initially a port town, it soon became a settlement focused on manufacturing. In fact, Exeter Manufacturing Company was one of the few mills that stayed open after the Civil War, when most manufacturing moved down south. Exeter is also home to one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the country, Phillips Academy, which opened its doors in 1781.
Dover was one of the four initial settlements in New Hampshire, built on an economy of trade and fishing. However, when that began to slow in the 1800s, Dover was one of the first states to transform itself into a manufacturing hub, building textile mills that would soon take over New Hampshire’s economy through late 19th and early 20th century.
This settlement was started by farmers from Northern Ireland in 1719, one of the first in-land settlements in New Hampshire. It was initially know as Nutfield because there were so many nut trees in the area, but the name was later changed to Londonderry to honor the area of Northern Ireland that many of the settlers had left. The original settlement at Londonderry included what is now Derry, Windham, and parts of Manchester, and was the site of the first potato grown in North America!
Berlin wasn’t incorporated until 1829, making it young compared to many towns in the southern and coastal areas of New Hampshire. However, it was one of the first logging villages in New Hampshire to take off, and was the gateway into the previously inaccessible forests of the White Mountains. By the 1850s, turbine engines in dams on the Androscoggin River could generate power for mills. When the railroad arrived in Berlin in 1852 it brought with it immigrants who were willing to endure the hard work of logging, giving the city a drastic economic boost.
The largest city in New Hampshire had a tumultuous early history. It was first inhabited by the Pennacook Indians, who called the area Namoskeag, which meant “good fishing place.” In 1727 Massachusetts granted the land that is now Manchester to veterans of Queen Anne’s War. Soon after New Hampshire separated from Massachusetts in 1741, the area became known as Derryfield. In 1807 the area got its modern name, when a businessman built a series of canals and locks that he said would make Derryfield “The Manchester of the New World,” referencing the industrial town of Manchester in England. The name stuck and Manchester grew into one of the most important cities in New England.
Concord was first settled by Europeans in 1725 after the land was granted by Massachusetts. It was initially called Rumford, but after a fierce boundary dispute it was renamed Concord in 1765 to reflect the new peace, or concord, between the feuding towns.
There is such a rich history here in the Granite State.