Newington Center Historic District
The Newington Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987; a boundary increase addendum was listed in 1991. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from copies of the original nomination documents. [†, ‡] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Newington Center Historic District consists of an impressive grouping of public buildings and private dwellings ranging from the early-18th to early-20th century, inseparably linked to a virtually unspoiled landscape which combines an old cemetery, parade ground, the Town Forest and open fields indicative of the town's agricultural heritage.
All of the buildings in the Newington Center Historic District front Nimble Hill Road which runs in a north-south direction, coming to an abrupt end at the southern edge of the district, at the boundary with Pease Air Force Base. Until recently this road was known as the "parade," an area dating back to 1716, where the Town Militia was drilled and mustered. At the northern end of the Newington Center Historic District the Old Post Road enters from the northwest, part of the ancient road from Boston and Newburyport to Dover, Concord and the northern wilderness. From the west, Little Bay Road intersects Newington Road near the center of the district, separating the Frink property at the north from the town-owned land and cemetery to the south. A town road approximately twenty feet wide, Nimble Hill Road is paved, without curbing or shoulders. Since the 1950's, utility poles and electrical lines have crisscrossed the Newington Center Historic District, only slightly diminishing its rural character. The 1950's also brought about the creation of a mammoth neighbor for Newington's town center, in the form of Pease Air Force Base. Yet, despite the introduction of frequent aircraft overhead and the clearing of many acres of town forest land to the south and southeast of the Newington Center Historic District, the base has had little effect on the appearance of the district itself. At the southern end of the Newington Center Historic District a metal gate marks the forced end of Nimble Hill Road and the beginning of the base's property. The road, which previously continued to the Town of Greenland, has disappeared in favor of a runway.
As the historic civic center of Newington, the Newington Center Historic District contains a concentration of public buildings and sites including the church, the old town hall, library, school, cemetery, forest and two parsonages. At the northern end of the Newington Center Historic District are two private residences. The town was historically a farming community, and the structures and landscape of these residential properties surrounding the civic core reflect an agricultural heritage. Each retains its barn, related outbuildings and open fields.
The Newington Center Historic District is significant for settlement and architecture. It possesses integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. The Newington Center Historic District's period of significance runs from 1640, when the common ground was laid, to 1937 (to use the 50-year cut off, as the beginning of the construction of Pease Air Force Base began 25 years later, in 1952). The Newington Center Historic District retains Newington's early town center as well as agricultural and open space elements which reinforce the area's historic appearance. In addition, resources introduced to the area during the 19th and early-20th centuries reflect the architectural and developmental forces which shaped the community. The Newington Center Historic District's architectural resources constitute an attractive grouping which illustrate well-preserved examples of rural styling spanning the 18th to 20th century. Despite the presence of the Air Force Base abutting it, the Newington Center Historic District appears principally as it did in the early 1900s.
A unique union of architecture and open space, the Newington Center Historic District has served as the local center of political, religious, educational and social activity since the early 1700's. The buildings of the Newington Center Historic District illustrate a broad range of architectural history, as well as an evolution of changing community needs and expectations from the 18th to 20th centuries. Save those destroyed by fire over the years, all of the original town center buildings survive in a very good state of preservation and virtually free of modern intrusions. Development elsewhere in town, including the development of neighboring Pease Air Force Base, has insulated the historic center of town, leaving it very much intact.
The town of Newington, situated on the Piscataqua River and Great Bay is one of the oldest communities in the State of New Hampshire. New Hampshire's first permanent settlement started in 1623 nearby in a cove on the easterly side of Dover Neck. During the next one hundred years the southeastern section of what is now New Hampshire consisted of four great towns: Portsmouth, Dover, Exeter and Hampton. Today, this area, New Hampshire's earliest settled region, is widely considered to be its most historic.
The land area of Newington was originally granted as part of Dover, as were the townships of Durham, Lee, Madbury, Rollinsford, Somersworth and parts of Newmarket and Greenland. As early as 1633 the area which is today known as Newington was labelled Bloody Point, supposedly because of a fight between the king's agents from Dover and those of Portsmouth vying for the land. In 1712 due to the difficulty of reaching church services in Dover, Bloody Point was set off as a separate parish, incorporated the following year as Newington.
Even before Newington was granted as a separate parish the beginnings of a town center were very much in evidence. At a public town meeting on Dover Neck in 1710 some 50-60 acres of common land were set aside. This tract later became the Town Forest. The Newington Town Forest, which had reached 112 acres by the 1950's, was greatly diminished by the establishment of Pease Air Force Base. A meetinghouse (Newington Congregational Church, 316 Nimble Hill Road), though sparsely finished and relatively unfurnished, had already been erected, with additional land set aside for a parsonage when residents applied for separate status in 1712. The original design of the structure was apparently typical of the second period New England meetinghouse with a main entrance on the long south side opposite the pulpit and two tiers of windows. Structurally, parts of the meetinghouse may date from this early period although its present appearance dates to the c.1835 rebuilding. The meetinghouse is still owned by the town today.
Exemplifying one of the typical residential forms of the Pre-Revolutionary Period is the Old Parsonage (337 Nimble Hill Road). Although conclusive evidence for a specific building date is lacking, the 2-1/2-story frame structure with its saltbox configuration and central chimney would appear to have been constructed between 1710 and 1765.
A training field, better known as the "Parade" was laid out on the south side of the meetinghouse in 1716 with a burying ground established on the opposite side. Thus, prior to the Revolution the nucleus of a town center had already been formed with a meetinghouse, parsonage and schoolhouse (located near the site of the Old 1872 Town Hall (336 Nimble Hill Road)) fronting the Parade and surrounded by the Town Forest, with private residences stretching to the shores of Great Bay.
Despite a hiatus of significant building activity in the district between 1714 and the early-19th century, Newington was far from dormant. With the completion of the Piscataqua Bridge in 1794 linking the town with Durham, Newington entered a new period of growth. This vital Portsmouth-Concord transportation route was part of the ancient Post Road linking the region to Boston and Newburyport with Concord and the north wilderness beyond. In the absence of water power, agriculture became the dominant occupation in town, supplemented by limited industries such as brickyards on Little Bay.
Local prosperity manifested itself in accelerated building activity in the Newington Center Historic District during the early-19th century. Coinciding with the transition between Federal and Greek Revival styles, several building projects occurred within the district.
The Frink House (272 Nimble Hill Road), constructed c.1820-40 combines earmarks of the Federal style such as a semi-elliptical door surround, fanlight and partial sidelights with typical Greek Revival details including pediment ends and corner-block detailing on the door surround. The present appearance of the Meetinghouse/Newington Congregational Church also clearly reflects 1838 renovations during this period. In contrast to the early meetinghouse form, the location of the main entrance shifted from the broad south side to the recently pedimented end, indicative of a Greek Revival influence. The semicircular louvered fans capping the windows and front door represent stylistic holdovers from the then-waning Federal style. During these renovations, the building was raised, the foundation installed, and interior remodelled. The two stage bell tower with its unique heavy corner finials was also part of the renovations. The design of the tower was reportedly based on the Congregational Meetinghouse in the neighboring town of Greenland, a building which no longer stands. An additional public building, the Methodist Meetinghouse was constructed during this period (c.1834). Located on the site of the New Parsonage, it subsequently burned in 1865.
Building activity in the period following the Civil War included the construction of horsesheds behind the Congregational Church. Initially constructed in 1867, the original stalls were destroyed in a wind storm in 1893 and rebuilt soon thereafter. Limited funds and combined town and school purposes probably dictated the austere appearance of the Newington Town Hall (336 Nimble Hill Road), constructed in 1872. While this plain brick building does not fit into a particular stylistic category, it combines the massing of an Italianate period schoolhouse with features popular earlier in the century including double-hung 12/12 windows, a lunette window and a denticulated cornice with returns. Anachronistic as they are, these "colonial" features are either the work of an architect more than fifty years behind the times or a visionary anticipating the Colonial Revival before either the 1876 or 1893 Worlds Fair popularized the trend nationally.
Private and public interests combined for increasing building in the district at the end of the 19th century. The New Parsonage (317 Nimble Hill Road), dating to 1886 incorporates the simple 2-1/2-story 5-bay house form popular at the beginning of the century with vernacular Italianate detailing including entablature lintels supported by pairs of brackets and a flat door hood resting on decorative "Victorian" turned brackets. Made possible by a local summer resident, the design of Langdon Library (328 Nimble Hill Road) was the work of a Boston architect, William Ashe, who combined Richardsonian Romanesque features including a semicircular door opening and contrasting brick and stonework into a symmetrical brick structure demonstrating a growing Colonial Revival fervor. A fire in 1893 resulted in the construction of a new residence within the district for Jackson Hoyt (305 Nimble Hill Road). Ornament on the simple gable-front frame building is limited to a Victorian door hood.
With the advent of Shattuck Shipyard during the First World War, Newington's economic base began to shift from agriculture to industry. Population growth predicted due to the shipyard resulted in the construction of the Stone Schoolhouse (353 Nimble Hill Road; Albert H. Dow of Dow, Harlow and Kimball, architect; Harry Wood, contractor) in 1921. Like many of the town center buildings preceding it, the Stone Schoolhouse was literally a product of the town's natural resources, with timber from the Town Forest furnishing lumber for its panelled interior and fieldstones from local stone walls used to build the exterior.
The coming of World War II and the resulting growth of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard continued the local trend toward industry. Due to its close proximity to Portsmouth, there was not much pressure for Newington to develop a commercial center of its own and increasingly the town became a bedroom community for nearby Portsmouth, while simultaneously developing a growing industrial area on the Piscataqua River.
During the 1950's Newington's most dramatic changes occurred, centering around the construction of Pease Air Force Base. Planning for this Strategic Air Command Base was met by great opposition by Newington residents. Construction began in 1952 and was completed in 1956. The base occupies nearly half of the town's land area or 2,445 acres. Prior to the construction of a public road through the base in 1972, the base bisected Newington and South Newington, forcing residents to travel through Portsmouth in order to reach the other side of their town. Construction of the base also claimed much of the town's best farmland, eroding the town's agricultural heritage. Within the district, construction of the base forced the sale of the Stone Schoolhouse as proximity to the base and the B47 aircraft initially stationed at Pease rendered the school unusable. Pease also resulted in the clearing of much of Newington's Town Forest in the area south and southeast of the Newington Center Historic District, leaving only the Downing lot on the east side of Nimble Hill Road intact.
The 1960's-80's have witnessed increased development along Newington's deep water port and the construction of two large regional shopping malls in the eastern part of town. Ironically, the cumulative effect of these events, together with the construction of Spaulding Turnpike, a north-south four lane divided highway running the length of Newington and constructed in the mid 1960's, have only served to insulate the traditional town center and residential areas in the northwestern part of town. Not surprisingly development has also heightened the awareness of local residents regarding their vanishing heritage. At a town meeting in 1974 a local historic district was established at Newington Center, spanning from the Air Base Line, north to the junction of Nimble Hill Road and Little Bay Road. A Cultural Resources Survey of Newington was completed by the Strafford Rockingham Regional Council in 1979. Simultaneously, Archeological Research Services (ARS) of the University of New Hampshire conducted a preliminary survey for historic sites on the Newington portion of the shoreline of Great and Little Bay, as well as two years of intensive work at the Parsonage site (337 Nimble Hill Road). Recently  restoration work at the Parsonage has begun and a town history was completed.
While the Newington Center Historic District is based on the values inherent in its architecture, it is to no small extent dependent on the integrity of landscape form and spaces which provide a setting for the buildings. The cemetery (approximately 500 feet square, situated north of the Congregational Church), Newington Town Forest, farm fields and vacant lot (located south of the New Parsonage and north of part of the town forest) are all integral parts of the Newington Center Historic District. Remarkably the present appearance of each is true to its historical use.
Within the region, as within the community, Newington Center remains a uniquely preserved microcosm of rural life. In Newington, in contrast to the seaport-inspired wealth of Portsmouth and the textile-induced monies of mill towns such as Dover and Somersworth, architecture was derived from the agricultural economy. The vernacular structures simply and succinctly reflect the needs and means of local residents. Unlike other districts of its type Newington Center still reflects both its town center and farming community functions. The open fields in the district retain their original character and have not been defiled by scrub brush, new construction or commercialism. More than anything, the Newington Center Historic District owes its significance to the individual and collective integrity of the structures in the district and its cohesive feeling. The universally high state of preservation and lack of intrusions within the district sets it apart from others of its kind.
While the impact of Pease Air Force Base on the Town of Newington has been tremendous, it is important to emphasize that the base's impact on the appearance of the Newington Center Historic District itself has been minimal. Although there is now a vista of a runway southward from the edge of the district and the shadow and rumbling of aircraft overhead, all of the structures within the Newington Center Historic District appear just as they did before the base. Only the use of the Stone Schoolhouse has changed. Rendered unusable as a school by its proximity to the base, today it is owned by the Government and sits vacant. To the south and southeast of the Newington Center Historic District, the base forced the sale and clearing of many acres of the town forest. But that acreage which remained has, in a sense, been insulated and become more cohesive in the wake of Pease. The road to Greenland, the spine of the district, now dead ends at the southern part of the district. No longer is Newington Center subject to the growth pressures inherent in being located on any well-travelled road. A sense of timelessness characterizes the Newington Center Historic District, threatened only by the potential expansion of the air force base.
The year 1986 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the completion of Pease Air Force Base. While local residents have grown accustomed to the sound and shadow of aircraft overhead they are, now more than ever, determined that the tangible evidence of their past, exemplified by the Newington Center Historic District, must be preserved.
Although the Newington Center Historic District listed in 1987 discussed the history of the entire Town Forest, it only included that portion of the forest which lies outside of Pease Air Force Base. This boundary increase specifically addresses the section of the Newington Town Forest located within the Base boundary, which was previously unevaluated. In 1952 the United States government acquired approximately 99 acres of the 110 acre Newington Town Forest. Although it was widely believed by Newington townspeople that the original forest land on the base property was all but cleared, this has recently proven to be incorrect. Instead, the Air Force cleared approximately 30 acres of the forest for runway construction soon after it acquired the land, but left the remaining 69-acre parcel in a natural state. In fact, over the years, this forest land has been maintained by the Air Force with appropriate forestry management practices and thus possesses a high level of integrity.
The 69-acre section of the Town Forest which is the subject of this boundary increase is an irregularly shaped parcel with an east-west orientation, located to the south of the 1987 National Register Newington Center Historic District. The Forest parcel is bounded on the west by Nimble Hill Road, which becomes Short Street within the base territory. Much of the forest is bounded by dry stone walls, apparently erected during the 18th and 19th centuries. A small section of barbed wire encloses the southeast corner of the parcel. Barbed wire also runs along the northern boundary of the base which also acts as the northern boundary for the increase. Originally this parcel would have been continuous with the portion of town forest land described in the 1987 documentation. A buffer of additional forest land surrounds the town forest property. With the exception of a fire training area which abuts the southwest corner of the town forest, the forested buffer is no less than 200 feet wide. An aircraft parking apron is located to the south of the town forest with a runway further southwest. Air Force foresters have tried to keep a buffer of larger trees along the runway to prevent wind damage within the forest.
The town forest is bisected by two roads. New Road, now a pine-needle covered dirt road, was laid out in an east-west direction from just north of the Old Parsonage in 1896. Merrimac Drive, a paved, two lane road was laid out by the Air Force soon after it acquired the property and extends from the union of Nimble Hill Road and Short Street in a northeast arc across the forest parcel. Seasonally wet areas, associated with the intermittent Pickering Brook, are located throughout the forest land. Land elevations range from roughly 70 feet to a height of 99 feet within the forest. With the exception of the Stone School and the stone walls which bound the forest, there are no man-made structures within the forest bounds.
In terms of tree species, the town forest is dominated by the white pine. Lesser amounts of hemlock, also coniferous, are found especially in wet areas. Indigenous hardwood species most commonly found in the forest are white ash, hornbeam, black birch, American beech, red oak and shagbark hickory. The forest and base are also notable for containing some of the best white oak in the seacoast region. Most of the region's white oak stands were decimated in World War I and used as planking for ships. In various areas in the forest, new growth of hardwood such as sweet birch, beech and white oak are interspersed in the understory of the white pine and are generally allowed by foresters to remain until they threaten the pine from a forest management standpoint. For although these hardwoods may be hospitable to various types of wildlife, they often prove counterproductive to the establishment of a good pine forest by encouraging tree growth that is less perfect and thus less desirable from an economic view, and may demote a tree's value from saw wood to pulp.
The town forest is intensively managed by the U.S. Air Force under a multiple use concept, the main objectives being timber production, recreation and wildlife management, objectives which are consistent with the original intent of the town forest. A large portion of the land has been managed to improve cutting. Timber sales took place in the town forest in 1983, 1986 and 1990 removed a total of over 200,000 board feet of sawtimber, predominately white pine, as well as 53.5 cords of firewood and 150 tons of softwood pulp. Base foresters have limited the use of heavy machinery and timber landings are reseeded.
Some additional cutting takes place under the base firewood program whereby base personnel are permitted to conduct limited tree cutting according to forester specifications. Wood roads within the forest have found additional use by snowmobilers and cross country skiers. Overall, the impact of man on the historic integrity of the site is negligible and much wildlife, including deer and turkey continue to inhabit the forest.
Base foresters have divided the town forest parcel into twelve sections or stands, differentiated by tree species, size, stand height and stocking.
Boundary Increase Significance
The 69-acre Newington Town Forest parcel which is the subject of this boundary increase is significant for settlement because it represents the balance of the surviving common land already included as contributing to the Newington Center Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. It possesses a high level of integrity of location, setting, materials, feeling and association. The town forest property is significant, not only as common land set aside beginning in 1640 but also as open space retaining the Center's landscape and setting which are integral to the district. Although town ownership of the land was interrupted by the acquisition of the land for Pease Air Force Base in 1952, the historic use of the land as forest has continued to the present. In fact, the forest has continued to be held in public ownership for public benefit and under the stewardship of the base foresters its historic integrity has been carefully maintained and enhanced.
Newington's Town Forest has been referred to as the first town forest in the country although published reference to this or other early forests has found to be lacking. As has been discussed in the 1987 documentation, in 1640 much of the land which was to become a community forest was reserved as common ground or unallotted lands for the settlers on Bloody Point, then a section of Dover. Part of the land was cleared for pasture and part was held as timberland to be used for building and for fuel. At a public town meeting at the meetinghouse on Dover Neck May 22, 1710 approximately 50-60 acres was formally set aside with the intent of preserving some of the town's valuable natural resources from development and overuse. This action is generally considered to be the beginning of the Newington Town Forest.
Historically the town forest can be divided into three sections, known as the Church Lot, the Parsonage Lot and the Downing Lot. The Church Lot, lying west of what is now Nimble Hill Road, originally contained 42 acres. Most of this area is contained in the 1987 Newington Center National Register District; the southern portion of the Church Lot was part of the property acquired by the Air Force in 1952 and subsequently destroyed for a runway.
The 69-acre town forest includes sections of both the Parsonage and Downing Lots. The Parsonage Lot, consisted of twenty acres of "pitch plains" granted to Richard Pomeroy in 1689. The lot was purchased by the Town of Newington along with the Old Parsonage in 1765 for the minister. The town at that time already owned about 20 acres adjacent which was also common land. During the 19th century, the Town's selectmen managed this woodlot, giving fuel to the town poor, allowing citizens to cut their winter supply of wood and selling the growth on the lot to fund town projects such as construction of a town library, water system and school. Portions of stands were cut in 1912 and the area was reseeded with 8,000 trees in 1915. Also, portions were cut in 1894 and 1919.
The Downing Lot generally refers to the thirty acres north of New Road. The Town apparently held and managed this forest since Revolutionary days. The first record of cuttings in this area appeared in 1874 when the town voted to sell timber rights on twenty-four acres to pay off the Civil War debt. In 1919 the growth on the balance of six acres of the lot was sold. In 1922 about 200 cords of wood were sold. The Report of the Forestry Commission in 1924 notes that "at the present time the cut-over lands are coming back to pine with a few blocks of mature pine and hardwoods."
Mausolf, Lisa. Newington Center Historic District, National Register Nomination. Listed November 30, 1987.
"Biennial Report of the N.H. Forestry Commission." Concord: 1924.
Auger, Phil (Rockingham County Extension Forester). Letter to Lisa Mausolf, January 27, 1987.
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Mausolf, Lisa. Newington Center Historic District, National Register Nomination, Listed November 30, 1987.
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Information from Martin Curran, Forester, Pease Air Force Base, October 1990.
† Lisa Mausolf, consultant, Newington Center Historic District, Newington, NH, nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
‡ Lisa Mausolf, consultant, Newington Center Historic District (Boundary Increase), Newington, NH, nomination document, 1991, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.