History of Haverhill Corner Village in Haverhill, New Hampshire

Haverhill Corner Village in Haverhill, New Hampshire

Here is the fascinating history of Haverhill Corner Village in Haverhill, New Hampshire (follow link for picture gallery):

The Haverhill Corner Historic District possesses integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association and meets criterion C for eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places. The district is significant in the category of architecture for the period 1762 to 1921. This period spans the date of the grant of the township of Haverhill given by New Hampshire’s royal governor through the development of the community as the western shire town of Grafton County and an important social and commercial center and into a period of decline due to the economic shifts and the removal of the courts to Woodsville. The period of significance extends to 1921 which saw the end of Haverhill’s period of activity. Subsequent to that there was a period of inactivity which continued until the second half of the 20th century when growth pressures throughout New England gave rise to construction of several new structures within the village.

The Haverhill Corner Historic District is a well-preserved town center which displays to an unusual degree the architectural styles and town planning concepts which predominated in rural New Hampshire communities in the early nineteenth century. The village is the compact trading center of a township which was predominantly agricultural in nature and was otherwise characterized by large, separate farms. As a focus of county government and as the terminus of major transportation routes, the village came to include a wide variety of architectural types, ranging from private dwellings and taverns thorough school and court buildings, and including stores, offices, and shops. The architectural integrity of the district is further enhanced by open space resources relating to community planning (the commons) as well as the survival of fields which underscore the agricultural origins of the village. Because Haverhill Corner was relatively unaffected by change in the late nineteenth century and alter, the village remains a remarkably well-preserved example of a prosperous northern New England town center.

Haverhill Corner Historic District is remarkable for its concentration of early nineteenth-century structures of high architectural quality and wide-ranging types. These structures mirror the period of greatest prosperity in the village. Providing a context for these structures and the era they represent are a few earlier dwellings, reflecting the period of early settlement in the township, and a few later structures, reflecting a time when business and commerce had been attracted elsewhere by the railroad. At this later period, the Corner district became a quiet, bucolic village where people farmed, worked elsewhere, or were retired, living in their ancestral houses or occasionally building comfortable Queen Anne dwellings. The village remains a quiet place of relatively little commercial activity, typified by a combination of year-round and seasonal occupancy, with farming and lumbering the predominant activities on the land immediately surrounding the district boundaries.

The evolution of Haverhill Corner and the surrounding countryside are well reflected in the surviving buildings of the village. The fertile ox-bows of the upper Connecticut River had become known to New England soldiers returning in the early 1760s from the French and Indian Wars. Because alluvial lands are relatively rare in New England, those who saw or learned of the intervals or flood plains of the are called “Lower Coos” by the Indians were eager to settle in this distant frontier district, bypassing much intervening land of lesser agricultural promise. Settlers obtained a grant of the township of Haverhill from New Hampshire’s royal governor in 1763, and constructed the first permanent dwelling shorly thereafter. While none of these pioneer houses is known to survive, the Haverhill Corner district does retain a few dwellings dating between 1769 and the American Revolution. Farmhouses of this period are represented by the Welsh, Marvin, Klitgord, and Pompian houses. More ambitious is the Mitchell House, built sometime after 1769 by Col. Charles Johnston.

Col. Johnston was an avid supporter of Haverhill in its early years, and the preeminence attained by the community through its natural advantages and Johnston’s promotion resulted in an architectural evolution that can hardly be equaled by any other community of northern New Hampshire. Haverhill was designated the western shire town of Grafton County. Until specialized buildings could be constructed, Col. Johnston and others provided space at the Corner village for the County courts and jail. Because of its widely-known agricultural productivity, Haverhill also became the terminus of the first Province Road, completed between coastal New Hampshire and the Coos intervals around 1773-74.

By the early nineteenth century, Haverhill Corner was the juncture of the Coos Turnpike (1808) and the north-south thoroughfare; a county seat with a court house, county records building, and jail; the location of a distinguished private academy; the home of a prosperous bank, the site of a private “social” library; a printing center with its own newspaper and book publishing business; the center of mercantile activity, crafts, and trades, including cabinetmaking; and a village of many fine private homes of frame and brick construction, some of them doubling as offices for lawyers and judges. Supplementing these private dwellings were a number of taverns, required by the importance of the village in transportation, county government, and law. Surrounding the town center on the north, east and south were prosperous upland farms and, still more important, rich bottomland or “intervale” fields below the village terrace on the west. Haverhill Corner was richly endowed with natural advantages which had been improved by the enterprise of its settlers since the 1760s. The prosperity of the village was, and still is, reflected in the architecture of wide variety and high quality.

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Congregational Church in Haverhill Corner Village in Haverhill, New Hampshire

Several of the public buildings of Haverhill Corner are especially significant. The Congregational Church of 1827 is a fine example of a brick meeting house in the Federal style. Its overall design is characteristic of rural meeting houses of its era and locale, its detailing is refined and imaginative, and its state of preservation is excellent. Adjacent to the church is the brick academy building of 1813-16. As a private institution of the type that provided secondary education before New Hampshire communities were empowered to establish public high schools in the mid-nineteenth century, Haverhill Academy built one of the most ambitious structures in the state. Because of its substantial size and architectural dignity, the academy building doubled as the county courthouse until a specialized court building was completed in 1846. Today, the academy building survives as one of the earliest and most ambitious structures of its kind to survive in New Hampshire.

Picture of Pearson Hall in the Village of Haverhill Corner in the Town of Haverhill, New Hampshire

Pearson Hall (Haverhill Academy) in Haverhill Corner Village in Haverhill, New Hampshire

Of similar architectural importance are the county buildings constructed during the 1840s east of the academy. The earlier of these, closest to the academy/courthouse, was built in 1840 for county offices. A two-story brick structure with granite window lintels, this building originally had a balanced five-bay façade, later lengthened to seven bays. The structure is a rare survival of an early nineteenth century office building, once providing a counterpoint to a similarly designed bank building (burned in 1906) which stood on the west side of the common. The building was converted to a library in 1929, with no change to its exterior appearance. Another little-altered survival from the same decade is the counrthouse, built east of the county offices in 1846. Although the building strongly reflects the Greek Revival style in its colossal Doric portico, it is a conservative structure. The building retains the feeling of the Federal style in much of its detailing, and even the pointed door and window openings represent a local eclecticism which commonly mixed Gothic features with Federal-style classicism. Of related interest are the jail and jailkeeper’s houses east of the courthouse. Remodelled at the time of construction of the courthouse, these are rare survivals, dating from the late eighteenth century, of building types that seldom remain today.

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Courthouse in Haverhill Corner Village in Haverhill, New Hampshire

Of equal significance are the many private structures included in the district, especially the houses and taverns. The largest and most ambitious residences in the district were built as taverns in the late 1700s or early 1800s. The architectural importance of these buildings reflects the large itinerant traffic brought to the village by its agricultural productivity, its status as a county seat and banking center, and its position at the end of an important colonial road and later a turnpike. The two largest wooden taverns in the district are the Bliss Tavern of about 1790 and the Williams Tavern of 1797, balancing one another in style and position on opposite corners of the intersection of the old Province Road with the marginal road around Haverhill Common. Still more impressive is the brick Grafton Hotel of 1810, the only three-story dwelling in the village. Possessing excellent Federal detailing both within and without (including a delicate spiral staircase), this building originally had a hipped roof and even more fully reflected the form of the great coastal New England mansions of its era.

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Bliss Tavern in Haverhill Corner Village in Haverhill, New Hampshire

These three taverns and many of the private dwellings of the village reflect the work of unknown builders who reproduced in the upper Connecticut River valley the same inventiveness and delicacy of joiner’s work and the same ambitious scale seen in coastal cities at the same period. Probably in part because of the availability of published builders’ guides like Asher Benjamin’s Country Builder’s Assistant (1797) and American Builder’s Companion (1806), by 1810 there was no architectural time-lag between Haverhill Corners and such coastal cities as Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Newburyport, Massachusetts. Many of the same architectural motifs are seen in Haverhill and coastal communities at this time, especially the semielliptical doorway fanlights, bordered with alternating rosettes and fluting, probably suggested by Plate 32 in The American Builder’s Companion.

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Williams Tavern in Haverhill Corner Village in Haverhill, New Hampshire

The predominance of brick for ambitious public and private structures in Haverhill after 1810 also reflects an increasing awareness in the upper Connecticut River valley of coastal preferences. Between 1805 and 1815, old coastal communities like Portsmouth and Newburyport began to rebuild in brick after their compact wooden neighborhoods were devastated by fire.

The destruction by fire of a large commercial block on the west side of main street in 1848, coupled with the decision of a railroad corporation to direct its route north to the village of Woodsville, weakened the predominance of the Corners village within the region. The increasing commercial importance of whetstones mined in East Haverhill (Pike Village) also drew capital away from the old center, especially when the arrival of the railroad propelled the whetstone business into one of international significance. Removal of the courts to Woodsville in 1891 sealed the architectural and commercial fate of the village. From that time forward, Haverhill Corner slipped increasingly back to its original status as an agricultural community. Only a few houses were built in the late-nineteenth-century styles, notably the Queen Anne Buckler-Hillis House of 1881; the Queen Anne “Westgate”, remodeled from an older house in 1890; the brick Campbell House of 1907, built on the site of a brick bank building that burned the year before; and the colonial revival Henderson House of about 1916, replacing an old hotel which had burned in 1902. The only public building constructed during this era was the new Haverhill Academy of 1897, built adjacent to the old academy by the trustees of the still-private school.

For the most part, Haverhill Corner in the twentieth century has been a quiet agricultural village, occupied by year-round farmers, businesspeople employed elsewhere, retirees, and seasonal “summer people”. Because its buildings were ate least adequately maintained even during the Depression, Haverhill Corner has survived as an exceptionally intact village with the marked character of the early nineteenth century. Today, the village has few modern buildings which do not contribute to its historical integrity, and still fewer intrusions of any kind. The economic health of the community has improved since World War II, and hence the level of preservation and public interest in the appearance of the village has increased steadily. Most preservation activity in the village has been carried out privately in the form of good maintenance of the structures and, in some cases, by deliberate “restoration” of certain houses. A bequest by local resident Mildred W. Page established a trust fund for the preservation of public buildings at Haverhill Corner, ensuring future maintenance of the church, the school buildings, and the library (county records building) as symbolic focal points of the village.

Haverhill Corner was planned as a compact village in accordance with specifications laid down in the charter of the township. These specifications, inserted by New Hampshire’s royal governor Benning Wentworth, in turn reflected royal instructions imposed by George II. Because Benning Wentworth construed the western boundaries of New Hew Hampshire to extend to the southwestern corner of present-day Vermont, he granted 128 new townships in Vermont as well as many in western New Hampshire before leaving office in 1767. Chartered in 1763 and subdivided into lots immediately, Haverhill thus represents an epitome of eighteenth-century town planning in northern New England, reflecting attitudes toward land use throughout a large region which embraces parts of two present-day states. The plan of the village of Haverhill Corner, combining convenience for the settlers and compliance with royal instructions, illustrates the practical and aesthetic success possible under a general formula of village planning devised in England and applied wholesale across a varied landscape.

When George II appointed Benning Wentworth governor of New Hampshire in 1741, the king’s instructions encourage the granting o new frontier townships, each to embrace abourt 20,000 acres. In making these grants, Wentworth was obliged to adhere to several safeguards to ensure responsible settlement. Among the standard provisions of Wentworth’s grant was one copied into the charter of Haverhill: “That before any Division of the Land be Made To and among the Grantees, a Tract of Land as near the Center of the Township as the land will admit of: Shall be Reserved and marked Out For Town Lotts one of which shall be allotted to Each Grantee of the Contents of Once Acre.” In many townships where there was no reason to do otherwise, settlers followed these instructions exactly, placing a village of one-acre lots at the geographical center of the township grant.

In Haverhill, however, settlers were keenly aware that the principal agricultural potential of the grant lay in the fertile alluvial oxbows of the Connecticut River. They therefore chose not to place their village in the center of the township, but at the extreme southwestern corner, on a terrace overlooking the valuable intervale land. They also divided the intervale into many small, narrow lots, giving a share of the highly productive floodplain to every proprietor of the township. The remainder of the township consisted of hilly or mountainous uplands, and this territory was laid out in a standardized grid of hundred-acre farm lots. This choice, made on the site by those who knew the topography of the township, resulted in the creation of a compact village which satisfied royal specification yet was near the most productive fields.

After establishing the location of the village, settlers made other decisions that created the impressive town square seen today. Chief among these was the creation of the North and South Commons. These fields were not required by the original specifications for the village, but apparently were laid out in response to popular wishes. One common was donated to the twon in 1798 and second in 1802; bothwere composes of parts of some of the one-acre village lots required in the town charter. It is thought that the commons were laid out principally to contribute to the attractive appearance to the Corner village, though they probably served as militia parade grounds and continue to be used for public gatherings.

Source: National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form (pdf)

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