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Amherst Town


Amherst Town Hall is located at 2 Main Street, Amherst, NH 03031; phone: 603-673-6041.

Beginnings [1]

Prior to 1675, groups of native people inhabited what would become New Hampshire. The largest group, the Pennacook, was centered in the Merrimack Valley, and the Souhegan tribe was centered near what would become Amherst. Many place-names remind us that the Pennacook lived in villages and hunted and farmed the surrounding lands.

Between 1735 and 1741 settlers began to arrive in the Souhegan Valley and built homesteads. One of their first tasks was to establish a burial ground. The "Old Burial Ground" is believed to be the oldest public cemetery in New Hampshire. In 1739 they built a meetinghouse at the northeast corner of the village, and two years later, hired their first minister, officially forming the First Congregational Church. The settlers also established a large open area for grazing animals and for training militia in the center of the village and referred to it as "The Plain." In 1760, Amherst Village incorporated as the Town of Amherst.

Because of its location at the intersection of three routes (Portsmouth to Keene, Boston Post Road to Boston, and the New Hampshire Turnpike north to Vermont), Amherst was the transportation hub for inland New Hampshire. In 1770 Amherst became the seat of the courts for southern New Hampshire and location for the county jail. In 1774 residents converted the first meetinghouse into the county courthouse, and built a new meetinghouse on The Plain.

At the time of the Revolution, Amherst was the largest, most significant town in New Hampshire west of the Merrimack River. Many notable politicians and government officials participated in court activities within the town. Prominent among these was Daniel Webster, who, in 1805, made his first legal plea here in the Second County Courthouse (now a residence on Foundry Street). The town had several mills, stores, factories, and a printing establishment. Horace Greeley was born in Amherst in 1811 and his birthplace is still extant. Franklin Pierce, who would be elected President in 1852, was practicing law in Amherst during the Federal Period. In 1834, he married Jane Means Appleton, at the Means House on the corner of Pierce Lane and Court House Road.

Accompanying this growth of civic and commercial activity was a surge in construction. Many existing houses in the Village were built, reflecting Georgian styles. In 1825, the Third County Courthouse was built adjacent to the Old Burial Ground. It would later become the Town Hall.

In the 1800s Amherst became a rural retreat for urban dwellers from New York and other large cities, traveling by train and coach and staying on farms and in small inns and hotels.

With the opening of the west, the building of railroads, and the development of new large industrial cities (such as Manchester and Nashua), Amherst's commercial activity declined. By 1864, the county court, jail and records had been moved from Amherst. Amherst's population remained sparse, and began dropping into the early 1900s. By 1920, Amherst had only 868 residents.

In the 1950s, migration away from cities began, and towns in southern New Hampshire became desirable as residential communities. Amherst's population grew from 1,174 in 1940 to 9,476 in 1980, and increased 44% between 1970 and 1975 alone. Many of the town's farms underwent conversion to residential housing, as demand for suburban real estate increased. Fortunately, in 1970, residents had the foresight to establish the Local Historic District and in so doing, preserved one of its most valuable assets, Amherst Village.

  1. Town of Amherst, NH, Amherst Master Plan — 2010, www.amherstnh.gov, accessed December, 2014.
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