Census says Henniker grew faster than any town in New Hampshire – what gives?

Monitor staff
Published: 8/14/2021 3:00:00 PM

With few exceptions, there weren’t a lot of surprises to be seen in the detailed population figures revealed last week by the 2020 Census.

Most of New Hampshire grew slowly over the decade, increasing by 4.6%. There were pockets of very slow or negative growth in the North Country and the Connecticut River Valley, and pockets of fast growth here and there, especially within fringe commuting distance of Boston or the Seacoast.

Merrimack Country grew 5%, slightly more than the state, and Concord grew 3%, slightly less.

Ho hum.

Then there’s Henniker.

“I was shocked when I saw that number,” said Joe Devine, Henniker town administrator.

“I’m very surprised. I’d want to dig into it,” said Mark Fougere, the town planner.

They were surprised because the Census Bureau says Henniker grew faster than any town or city in the state between 2010 and 2020: A whopping 27.9%, a figure topped only by a handful of tiny places in the North Country where the move of one household causes gigantic percentage swings.

To put Henniker’s number in context: Windham on the Massachusetts border, a poster child for smaller places drawing Boston-area expats, grew only two-thirds as fast. Bow and Dunbarton, both part of a north-of-Manchester development surge, grew about 9% each, just one-third Henniker’s rate. And Henniker’s similar-sized neighbor Hopkinton grew just 5.8%.

Although Henniker has seen new housing built over the decade it has not been the target of many large subdivisions or multi-family housing developments that would produce eye-popping growth. “We’re definitely growing, but not like that,” said Devine.

So what gives?

The obvious culprit is New England College. The census counts where people are living on April 1, when students are still in campus or in-town housing, and NEC has been in growth mode for years.

However, a check with Dr. Michele Perkins, the college president, finds otherwise. On-campus student population grew by just 81 people to 1,168 between the two census counts.

“Our enrollment has grown significantly, as you know.  But the major growth has been in graduate programs (most of which are low-residency) or online.  These students do not live in Henniker,” she wrote in an email. 

So that’s not the answer. But until more detailed demographic analysis is available, there’s no obvious alternative.

Actually, there is one: These numbers might be wrong. It’s not unknown, although it is very unusual, for census data to be tweaked after it gets released. Perhaps that will be the case here.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.



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