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History of Nashua


Nashua was originally part of the town of Dunstable, Massachusetts, which also included not only parts of what is now Dunstable, MA., but also Tyngsborough, MA., parts of Hudson, Hollis, Milford, Brookline, and of course Nashua, NH.

Chartered in 1673, the township of Dunstable, was founded by Jonathan Tyng, whose frame house overlooked the Merrimack River, in the section of the town which now bears his name.

His father, Edward, from Dunstable, England, had given him 3,000 acres some time around 1668, which Jonathan Tyng named Dunstable.

In the early 1670s, settlers began to migrate to the north and west from Boston and vicinity and soon the town of Dunstable began to see new homes erected as land was cleared to start farms.

However, when word of Indian massacres, in what has been known as King Philip's War, began reaching the settlers of the town, many of the residents decided to abandon it.

The war had ended by 1677 and some of Dunstable's former settlers returned to their homes, most of which were undisturbed.

Among those who joined the returning settlers was Rev. Thomas Weld, the first clergyman in the town. He arrived in 1678 and established the first church in a meeting house just north of Spit Brook Road and what is now the Daniel Webster Highway in Nashua.

A larger meeting house was built on the same site in 1683. On Dec. 15, 1685, seven men who accepted the covenant for the town church, formally organized what is now The First Church of Nashua. Weld was ordained as its first minister.

The French and Indian Wars had a marked effect on Dunstable, as Indian raiding parties, led by French officers, made their way down from Canada and into New England and New York.

One such raiding party struck unsuspecting Dunstable residents in September of 1691, near what is now the site of the Fairgrounds Junior High and Elementary Schools in Nashua.

Later that month, another raiding party struck families near the Nashua River, killing the residents. This attack resulted in yet another exodus from the region as fear gripped those families who had remained.

By 1698 the war had all but ended and residents of Dunstable once again returned to their hastily abandoned homes. Within three years the population had reached 180.

In 1702, their spiritual leader, Rev. Weld died. A short time later, war again broke out.

It seems that the end of the French and Indian War, was not really an end, but an interlude as once again Indian attacks resumed on the settlers of Dunstable in what was now known as Queen Anne's War.

In the summer of 1703, an Indian raiding party surprised 10 men, women and children in their homes, killing them all. Again residents of the town took up their belongings and fled.

Britain and France finally came to terms in 1713, however, the war and the threat of war, kept those settlers who had remained in Dunstable and those who returned for a third time from finding a spiritual leader to succeed the Rev. Weld. It wasn't until 1720 when Rev. Nathaniel Prentice was called to fill the pulpit left empty by the death of Rev. Weld.

During this period New Hampshire had continued to grow, and it disputed Massachusetts' claim to the lands from Lake Winnipesaukee south along the Merrimack River, south and east and west of the Merrimack as well. That bitter dispute was finally settled by the King's Council in London. It was on March 5, 1740, that King George II awarded the upper valley of the Merrimack River to New Hampshire, which in essence divided the original township of Dunstable in two.

Most of the saw and grist mills as well as the meeting house were now located in the New Hampshire portion of what was Dunstable.

Six years later New Hampshire's provincial government chartered Dunstable (Nashua) first; the north town line with second, Merrimack; the west, Holles (Hollis), third; and across the Merrimack, Nottingham West, now Hudson.

The town of Dunstable, NH, located on the confluence of the Nashua and Merrimack Rivers, began its transition into the Industrial Revolution early in the 1800s, when in 1813, the state legislature chartered the Dunstable Cotton & Woolen Manufactory. Unfortunately, the company never got off the ground. With mills in nearby Lowell, Mass., and New Ipswich, NH, beginning to show profits, local political and business leaders set about the task of establishing textile manufacturing in Dunstable.

The new venture, which was located along the Nashua River, west of the Main Street Bridge, was chartered by the legislature in 1823. Among the more prominent names in the list of investors was Daniel Abbot, Joseph, Alfred and Ezekiel Greeley, and Daniel Webster. The company was known as the Nashua Manufacturing Company, a textile firm which continued in existence until 1945, when the mills were bought out by Textron Inc., which eventually closed them in 1948.

Dunstable continued to grow from a small rural New England village into a large and bustling city. Following considerable discussion by political and civic leaders, the New Hampshire Legislature, on Dec. 15, 1836, approved changing the name to Nashua. The change became effective Jan. 1, 1837.

Disagreement over the town's name change continued for several years, with much of the debate centered over the siting of a new town hall.

The residents of the north part of town wanted it built in their section of the town, while those living in the south side, wanted it built in their section. A referendum was held and the voters in the more populous south won the referendum which determined the new town hall would be built south of the Nashua River, which runs west to east through the town.

Residents of the northern part of the town successfully pushed a bill through the 1842 state legislature creating the town of Nashville with the lobbying efforts of Franklin Pierce, who would become the 13th President of the United States.

This bitter disagreement over the location of the town hall, resulting in the division of Nashua, the formation of the town of Nashville to the north, the Nashua River serving as the dividing line, and the remainder, the town of Nashua to the south, remained unresolved for some 11 years.

It wasn't until 1853 when the two communities resolved most of their differences and were reincorporated as the city of Nashua.

Nashua continued to grow and prosper as a mill community as can be seen in this map of the city from 1883.

Library of Congress
American Memory Collection:
Photos of Nashua


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© 1998 - 2002 Donald K. Dillaby
27 Palisade Drive, Nashua, NH 03062-2119
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Last Updated Thursday, 07-Mar-2002 04:13:17 MST