East Derry Historic District
The East Derry Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The East Derry Historic District (also known as Upper Village Historic District), located in the town of Derry, Rockingham County, New Hampshire, is comprised of 22 buildings of architectural or historical significance, the cemetery (Forest Hill Cemetery) belonging to the First Church, the Pearson field on Hampstead Road, and the Shepard fields which contain the Shepard carriage house on Hampstead Road, the foundation of the Thom Tavern, and the muster parade grounds. The East Derry Historic District's houses were all constructed between 1810 and the early 1900s, with the majority built in the early-to-mid 1800s. No houses have been built in the Village since 1929. The greatest number of homes within the East Derry Historic District are in the Federal style, but the East Derry Historic District does display a wide variety of well-integrated architectural styles. Few of the buildings have undergone major alterations, and all are in good condition. There is only one small non-contributing site, a storage building and playground located behind the First Church. The Upper Village is located on Hampstead Road at the top of the hill. The East Derry Historic District begins at the corner of Hampstead and Cemetery Roads and runs along Hampstead Road to the Betton house. It turns right at the intersection of Hampstead and Lane and precedes along Lane Road to the Hugh Jones house.
The Upper Village's twenty-two buildings provide an "unusually cohesive study of 19th century architectural styles from about 1810 to the beginning of the 20th century. While the majority of the structures are in the Federal style, the East Derry Historic District includes fine examples of buildings and modifications to Federal structures in a variety of styles including Italianate, Neo-Classical, Greek Revival, Colonial Revival and Queen Anne. The East Derry Historic District is fortunate that there is only one small non-contributing structure located behind the Church so that the area offers an unspoiled look at 19th century architectural styles.
The builders and owners of the Upper Village's houses were intimately connected with the religious, commercial, and educational activities of the area. It is the Upper Village settlers who were responsible for the establishment of the Presbyterian faith within New England. The First Church, located at the beginning of the East Derry Historic District on Hampstead Road, is the founding church of the faith, and several of the homes have direct connections to the church as they served as the residencies for the First Church's pastors and deacons.
The main street of the East Derry Historic District, Hampstead Road, featuring a superb mixture of early-to-late 19th century styles, is dominated by the First Church with its beautifully ornate bell tower added in 1824 by local builder and Church deacon, Nehemiah Choate. At this end of the street, the East Derry Historic District's public activities were and are centered. Next to the Church is the brick, Neo-Classical Taylor Library. Across the street, the Parker Store, though altered, still presents a characteristic commercial store front with its central entrance and flanking display windows. Next to the store is the Town Hall, a 2-story Italianate style building constructed in 1875.
In addition to the Town Hall, several other East Derry Historic District structures feature Italianate styling including the 1810 Reverend Edward Parker House, a Federal with an Italianate front porch, the Reverend Wellman House with a Italianate verandah, and the Deacon Humphrey House — all on Hampstead Road.
The East Derry Historic District includes a sizeable number of fine quality Federal houses which, have undergone few alterations including the Elizabeth MacGregor, William Oram, and James Thom houses on Hampstead Road, as well as the Alanson Tucker, Nehemiah Choate, Susan Harper, and Hugh Jones homes on Lane Road. In addition, the brick Derry Bank with its full length recessed window arches on Hampstead Road is in the Federal style.
The two newest homes within the East Derry Historic District, the 1913 Charles S. Emerson House on Lane Road and the 1921 Alan B. Shepard House on Hampstead Road, exhibit sympathetic architectural integration into the neighborhood. The Emerson house is notable for its mixture of styles which provides a kind of compact "evolution" of the different styles found within the neighborhood.
The Thornton Betton House is one of the more formal and ornate homes with a Palladian window, ornate cornice frieze, and lovely Queen Anne style porch. It contrasts nicely with the architectural simplicity and informality of the James Thom Store on Hampstead Road and the MacGregor Creamery on Lane Road.
Introducing different architectural elements into the East Derry Historic District are the Mary Ela House on Lane Road with a Colonial Revival portico, gambrel roof, and roof dormers as well as the Adams Female Academy which has a porch with a central peak and columns with ornate brackets at the roof line, and the only 4-panel front door in the East Derry Historic District.
While the Upper Village structures present a well-integrated mixture of styles, First Church Deacon Nehemiah Choate provides the focal point for the architectural coherence of the District. Choate was responsible for building six of the village's homes, five of which are still standing, as well as the Church spire. (The Choate house on Lane Road remained in the family until 1932. It is said that the communion bread for the Church was baked at this house.)
Other existing houses built by Choate are the Hugh Jones house two doors down from the Choate home on Lane Road; the Alanson Tucker house, Choate's most ambitious effort with a unique double stairway; the James Thom house across from the Tucker house; and the Elizabeth MacGregor house next to the Town Hall. Another Choate house, which stood where the Emerson house now stands, burned in the mid-1800s.
The Choate homes were built between approximately 1810 and 1825 and all, while individually characterized, are marked by distinct similarities both inside and out. Federal in style, all of the Choate houses are 5-bay, 2-story structures with transom sashes over the central front doors. The Choate and Tucker houses have semi-elliptical fanlights, while the James Thom house has a round-headed sash, and the Jones and MacGregor houses feature Greek Revival rectangular lights. Both the Tucker and the Choate houses have sidelights flanking their front doors. The Jones house pilasters are coupled fluted columns, and the door has a beautiful, ornate entablature with tiny curved brackets.
Behind the First Church is the East Derry Historic District's cemetery, now called Forest Hill Cemetery, but originally known as the Old Burying Ground. The Forest Hill Cemetery contains many of the early settlers' graves. It was the principal yard for the interment of the dead within the territory embraced in the charter granted by King George to the settlers in 1722. A number of the family monuments display the unusual feature of recording not only the name of the dead, but also accounts of descendants and marriages and the localities where branches of the family settled. The Reverend James MacGregor, first Pastor of the Church, and descendants of his family, as well as early settlers Allen Anderson, Samuel Allison, James Gregg, and John Barnett, are all buried in the Forest Hill Cemetery.
The Forest Hill Cemetery also exhibits some fine examples of late-18th century graveyard stone carvings. James MacGregor's son, David, has a gravestone which bears his portrait. There are quite a few well-executed soul effigies such as those on the Gregg family stones. With two exceptions, all of the Gregg soul effigies have "Umbrella" shaped carvings over the effigies. James and Agnes Ewins (1781 and 1742) have one of the more ornate soul effigy carvings. The effigy is surrounded by a temple with Greek style pillars and a triangular pediment. Over the effigy is an hourglass turned on its side and the rather eclectic lines, "My glass is run. Redeem your hours. And so must yours."
Several of the double gravestones such as the Robert and Rebeccah Montgomery stone (1775 and 1769 respectively) and the James and Sarah Adams stone (1781 and 1778), have a soul effigy above the husband's grave and a portrait over the wife's. The Montgomery effigy is further decorated with a winged hourglass and a bird, probably a dove, on top of the hourglass.
The Forest Hill Cemetery displays an interesting variety of death's heads. The David and Maryany Morrison (1751) stone has an absolutely round death's head with equally round eyes, a triangular shaped nose and simple teeth, while Robert Montgomery's son, Robert (1746), has a winged death's head on his stone. There are also a good number of stones decorated simply with rosettes, diamond, heart, and casket shapes, as well as small shovels, skulls and crossbones, and flowering vines.
Perhaps the most ornate stone is that belonging to Dr. Philip Godfrid Kust, who died sometime in the 1700's. (The carver, unfortunately, did not finish the date the stone is quite unblemished.) Kust's stone is dominated by a scene with the moon, sun, and stars at the top. (Both the moon and sun have faces.) Beneath is a table on which sit three candles, an open book, and two implements resembling a compass and a square. The table's legs rest on a 3-tier step and beneath the step are a shoe, a tombstone, a coffin, and a hand holding a trowel. The elaborate carving is accompanied by an equally elaborate epitaph as follows:
"He was a Gentleman of extensive acquaintance and his benevolence was no less Confined. His hospitality was without Ostentation — In a word he was a benefactor (sic) to mankind. In his last Sickness his pain was extream (sic) which he endured with a truly philosophick (sic) Spirit without the Least repining almost beyond Example. He has left an inconsolable widow and five Small Children. Joined by the Multitude to Lament the Loss of a tender Husband, indulgent parent and Valuable friend."
While architecturally valuable, the Upper Village has also played an important part in the history of Southern New Hampshire. The 16 Scotch Dissenter families, who arrived in the Upper Village in 1719, then their fellow settlers and descendants, were largely responsible for the settlement of the Southern New Hampshire area now encompassing Derry and East Derry, Londonderry, Windham, and Chester. Upper Village settlers and descendants also settled the New Hampshire communities of Peterborough, Bedford, Merrimack and Derryfield, and were instrumental in the extablishment of Antrim, Henniker, Deering, Acworth, Amherst, and Hudson.
These settlers introduced the culture of the potato into New England, and brought the first spinning wheel turned by foot. The thread and linen produced by the residents of the Upper Village became so well known for its superior quality that the villagers faced the problem of imitation linen being falsely sold as products of their manufacture. Upper Village linen may still be seen at Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, where shirts worn by George Washington and Jefferson have the Village's linen stamp.
The group of Scotch Dissenters who established and settled the Upper Village colony and surrounding areas were also responsible for the establishment of the Presbyterian faith in southern New Hampshire. From the First Church, as it was then and is now called, the faith spread south and west. In 1739, approximately 40 families petitioned the First Church to establish the West Parish of Londonderry. In 1741, Windham, to the south of the Upper Village, was set off from the mother church (and became a separate, incorporated town in 1742.) In 1797, a group of parishioners withdrew and formed a Congregational church and society called the Third Parish of Londonderry. The Third Society re-united with the First Church in 1809, and the re-united congregation established a parish with an essentially Congregationalist form of worship. In 1837, 40 East Parish members established the First Congregational Church in Derry Village.
The Upper Village settlers had left Ireland to escape religious persecution. One of the four pastors who led the group from Ireland to the Upper Village was the Reverend James MacGregor, who was the owner of the land now occupied by the Church, cemetery and common, and the first pastor of the Church. Even in their new home, the settlers encountered religious prejudice. Soon after the colony was established, a party of about a dozen men came up from Haverhill, Massachusetts to fight because they did not like the Scotch Dissenters. The Haverhill gang threatened to drive the Scotch from the area. When they arrived, MacGregor was holding a public religious service, and the Scotch told the Haverhill men they would fight after the service was over. The assailants agreed, and retired to watch the service. The assailants, "struck with the firm, resolute and undaunted appearance of the people ... relinquished their hostile design ..." The leader of the gang, Herriman, remarked "It is vain to attempt to disturb these people; we shall not succeed, for God is evidently among them."
Despite the prejudice they encountered, and the wilderness nature of the area they had chosen to settle, the Upper Village thrived. It grew from 16 families in April of 1719 to 70 families by September. In 1722, the colonists received a charter from King George of England, which confirmed their title to the land. Fifteen years after the establishment of the Church, nearly 700 communicants were present at a Church sacrament.
During the 1800's, the community functioned as a self-contained unit with its own Post Office (the first in the area), bank, tailor shop, schools, stores, creamery, library, church, and parsonage, interspersed with a number of homes used only for residential purposes. Properties in the East Derry Historic District related to the Church are the Reverend Edward L. Parker house, the Wellman house next door which was built by the Church for the Reverend James Wellman, and the James Thom store, purchased by the Church in 1873 as the parsonage and still used in that capacity today.
Education, for both the early Upper Village settlers and their 19th century descendants, was an important part of the community. A schoolroom, the first in the area, was built in 1723, only one year after the completion of the first meeting house. In 1793 a classical high school was established on the land just behind the current Taylor Library. In 1814, Upper Village resident John Pinkerton donated $13,000 to establish Pinkerton Academy, Derry's current high school. Pinkerton's brother James also contributed to the building fund. Other Upper Village residents who were members of the first Pinkerton Board of Trustees were the Reverend Edward Parker, pastor of the First Church for 40 years, Isaac Thom, physician, justice of the peace, and owner of the Thom Tavern, and the wealthy Alanson Tucker, who established the Derry Bank.
The Upper Village is the site of another early educational center, the Adams Female Academy. Its first home, in 1824, was next to the Church where the classical high school had stood. About 1830, the school moved to the building on Lane Road now known as the Adams Female Academy. The Academy was the first incorporated academy in New Hampshire for women, and one of the first in the country to prescribe a regular course of studies for women. It became one of the chief education centers of New England and one of the two first headmistresses, Miss Mary Lyon, went on to found Mt. Holyoke Seminary.
Newell, Harriet Chase. House of the Double Range and East Perry, N.H. Littleton, N.H.: Courier Printing Company, 1954.
Parker, Rev. Edward L. History of Londonderry. Boston: Perkins & Whipple, 1851.
Willey, George F. Willey's Book of Nutfield. Derry Depot, N.H.: George F. Willey, Pub., 1895.
________. Glimpses of Derry, N.H. 1719 - 1969. Derry, N.H.: Ed Hatch, Pub., 1969.
† Claire S. Larrabee, East Derry Improvement Society, East Derry Historic District, Derry, NH, nomination document, 1981, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.