The forgotten hills of Concord

By JIM SPAIN

For the Monitor

Published: 06-03-2023 11:00 AM

It was on Jan. 17, 1725 our little town of Concord was officially recognized and legally established. It was on this cold winter day here in New England that the Plantation of Pennycook came to exist under the Legislative Sanction of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. The explorers were now free to explore and the settlers were now free to settle. Some of the early colonists were already here at this Plantation of Pennycook while there would be many more to come.

As the garrisons were being constructed and the farms established to provide food, people continued to arrive and establish their lives here in Concord. As the years progressed and the town was surveyed, a Main Street, originally known as a highway, was constructed as the first source of commerce. The earlier settlers benefited from various land grants and others arrived as tenants with nothing but a dream in their back pockets.

Prime property could be found everywhere, water was harnessed for primitive mills, hilltop views were abundant and available, and fertile soil ran along the great Merrimack River to ensure wonderful crops year after year. The first minister arrived, storefronts were filled with basic necessities that could not be grown or woven on the farm, and town officials were voted in. The First Church and Meeting house was constructed and the people came together to act as one in the best interest of the community. Many stayed near the center of town, close to the garrisons just in case shelter was needed from the original indigenous inhabitants.

Pennycook Plantation eventually became Rumford and then Rumford became Concord. As each year passed, the people within the community made decisions as the surveyors set boundaries and names were known. Near the Main Street in Concord there were three hills during the colonial period that attracted much interest because they offered premiums that some of the flat and low land did not afford. Our ancestors’ three hills were simply known as Pond Hill, Wattanummon’s Hill and Brimstone Hill.

The Pond Hill was located at the bluff on the very north end of Main Street and overlooked Horseshoe Pond. It offered views of the distant mountains and the interval above to the east. The very first settlers found this hill to be a very recreational area and frequented the site for gatherings, picnics and short hikes. There was also a parade ground for the military companies assigned to Concord and a town pound to house the stray sheep and cows that would wander freely about town. One day, plans were made and approved by the people of Concord to allow the Concord and Claremont Railroad to excavate the little Pond Hill and lay railroad tracks. Soon the area looked both primitive and somewhat of an industrial yard, which attracted the construction of the Concord Ice House. The years continued to pass and the forest grew – the people no longer visited Pond Hill for it was now gone, just a fond memory to the earliest settlers in Concord. Nature’s diamond in the rough, this little bluff that was no more.

Wattanummon’s Hill was the highest land on the interval and therefore protected from the common rush of ice each spring in the Merrimack River, known as a freshet. This hill was also esteemed by our early ancestors as a sacred place where they could gather. Some of the earliest religious gatherings were held under the sun on this bluff. The people came and enjoyed Wattanummon’s Hill for its natural beauty as well as the story associated with the origin of the name.

The first English settlers to arrive are said to have been greeted by an indigenous man named Wattanummon. He befriended the early Englishmen and welcomed them.

This premium piece of Concord landscape enjoyed this romantic story, where the settlers first encountered the Native people, for many years. People have always questioned this tale, some discarding it as simply folklore created by the Englishmen to justify the early settlement.

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In time the Concord and Montreal Railroad laid railroad tracks and changed the configuration of the original landscape. With the railroad came more commerce and more people. Both the story of Wattanummon and the original beauty of this land have been lost to time. People would never watch a sunrise from this hill again.

The Brimstone Hill was located at the very south end of our current Main Street. The Brimstone Hill area was first viewed from canoes the early settlers arrived in as they explored for garrison locations. There is no doubt that the original inhabitants, Penacook Abenaki people, watched from the Brimstone in wonder and fear to see strangers unlike themselves arriving in canoes. This elevated hill was located near the incoming turnpike and Water Street where the Butters Tavern once stood. This area developed rapidly into our compact Main Street of days gone past.

The three hills have long been forgotten, simply names in long lost history books. The memories of the beauty they provided to past residence is lost too. Stories were handed down until they were worn, foggy and finally forgotten. The days spent along the river on the once prominent hills at Concord are no more.

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