The hub of Main Street

  • The downtown Concord Christmas tree. Courtesy James Spain

For the Monitor
Published: 12/2/2020 11:27:01 AM

There are places we go in search of comfort and compassion seeking the feeling of belonging somewhere. We progress through life and think back to our comfortable places and often refer to them simply as home. Nostalgia increases as years pass, and the thought of going home provides a deep inner peace for some.

Our great nation is full of “Main Streets” and though the name is similar the experience is varied in some ways. The Main Street that we hold fondly close to our hearts remains here in Concord and many that were born and raised here visit each and every year, especially around the holidays, to rekindle those early special memories of the way life used to be.

The very first settlers arrived in our community around the year 1659 and found old-growth forests and many natural resources pristine. The Native Americans were living here in Concord for well over a thousand years, clearing the land along the Merrimack River for farming the remainder of our town remained heavily forested. As the early settlers arrived primitive housing was constructed at key vantage points with the Massachusetts Bay Colony granting Pennycook Plantation in 1725. It was within a few short years that more settlers started to arrive, Captain Ebenezer Eastman and others from Haverhill, Mass., settled during the period of 1725 to 1727. It was in the year 1734 that our little community was incorporated as the town of Rumford, New Hampshire.

The early settlers during the 1700s set about building their homes and establishing their farms, with local garrisons constructed too. The settlers worked diligently clearing large sections of land to provide timber for construction as well as wood to keep them warm during the cold New Hampshire winters. The key focus for land clearing was our present-day Main Street where shops were established by early merchants selling needed supplies to our ancestors. As the early 1800s progressed and Concord became further developed there were only two well-defined streets; Main Street and State Street. As more people arrived during the 19th century there was a need for further development with the early addition of Franklin, Washington, Centre and Pleasant Streets. During this period of time, there were approximately 200 homes in Concord with the unexpected increase in population that the next decades would deliver. The development of the Concord granite industry, established stagecoach lines, steam ships traversing the Merrimack River, the railroad and the potato famine in Ireland all contributed to rapid growth and development.

As people arrived throughout the 1800s by stagecoach, train, steamship and horseback they initially congregated near Main Street in search of rooms to rent and meals to sustain them. The taverns and shops were key to communication and those in search of employment found jobs along Main Street. The majority of our ancestors lived north of the city hall and there were only three schoolhouses to educate the children with the Bell School on the site of the Rollins Mansion that we all know as the St. Peter’s Rectory. It was a two-story brick building and provided for the children in search of their elementary education. In addition to the Bell School House in the north end of Concord, there was also the original high school and the third school on South Main Street. All schools were within walking distance to our Main Street where the shops and businesses continued to prosper as more people arrived from abroad in search of a future for themselves and their families.

The south end of Concord was slower to develop with the South Street we see today not existing. A local veteran named Major Bullard was one of the first to venture south of Main Street to build his home on a large parcel of land. He encouraged others to also build by offering lots at low cost and some at no cost. West of Main Street continued to be somewhat uninhabited for the first century after the settlers arrived, many pastures and some open spaces after the timber was harvested. West of State Street from the area of the old state prison on our present Beacon Street heading south all the way through town to West Street was unused land. The area was very wet, swamp-like and not good for development or building construction. As the years passed this area was filled with sand and gravel from the top of our present-day Washington Street area, then known as “Sand Hill” or the “Whales Back” it contained the material needed to fill these low wetlands.

It was in the year 1834 the city of Concord established a committee to organize and name the streets that were being constructed. This committee was comprised of William Kent, Abiel Walker and Timothy Chandler. The original committee was very pleased to see the names they so gracefully bestowed upon the streets of Concord remained and were not changed for many decades. Many of the names remain to this very day. The names placed were both practical and commemorative, Fisherville Road led to Fisherville, Portsmouth Street led to Portsmouth and certainly Main Street was the center of activity for the people.

Main Street has survived depressions, recessions. Times of peace and times of war, both scandals and prosperous periods. Main Street has greeted the famous and provided a place to send our young men and woman off to war. We have seen many gatherings at Christmas as the beautiful festive lights on our State House Christmas tree welcome another holiday season.

It is here on our little Main Street that we have gathered with others in times of need. Yes, there are places we go in search of comfort and compassion seeking the feeling of belonging somewhere. I hope you take a moment this Christmas to visit the Main Street of your early years either in person or just for a nostalgic moment or two. Coming home provides the inner peace that each and every one of us needs and desires.

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