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Peterborough, New Hampshire

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Peterborough is a town in Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, United States The population was 6,284 at the 2010 census1 The central settlement in town, with 3,103 people at the 2010 census,2 is defined as the Peterborough census-designated place CDP and is located along the Contoocook River at the junction of US Route 202 and New Hampshire Route 101 The community is 38 miles 61 km west of Manchester and 72 miles 116 km northwest of Boston


  • 1 History
    • 11 Town Library
  • 2 Geography
  • 3 Demographics
    • 31 Town center
  • 4 Education and research
  • 5 Economy
  • 6 Sustainability
  • 7 Culture
  • 8 Notable people
  • 9 References
  • 10 External links


Bird's-eye view in 1907

Granted by Massachusetts in 1737, it was first permanently settled in 1749 The town suffered several attacks during the French and Indian War Nevertheless, by 1759, there were fifty families settled Incorporated on January 17, 1760 by Governor Benning Wentworth, it was named after Lieutenant Peter Prescott 1709–1784 of Concord, Massachusetts, a prominent land speculator3

The Contoocook River and Nubanusit Brook offered numerous sites for watermills, and Peterborough became a prosperous mill town In 1810, the first cotton factory was established By 1859, when the population was 2,222, there were four additional cotton factories, plus a woolen mill Other industries included two paper mills, an iron foundry, a machine shop, a carriage factory, a basket manufacturer, a maker of trusses and supporters, a boot and shoe factory, seven sawmills, and three gristmills3

Abiel Abbot, after being charged with heresy by the Connecticut religious establishment, came to Peterborough as minister to the Peterborough Unitarian Church in 18274 Reverend Abbot founded the town's first prep school, the Monadnock Summer Lyceum,5 and the first free library in the US, all in Peterborough6

Other early cultural institutions include Mariarden, a summer theatre where Paul Robeson played in Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones at a time when roles for black Americans were scarce Bette Davis performed there as a teen7

Performance blossomed again in 1976, when Widdie and Jonathon Hall founded the Peterborough Folkway "Within a few years, it became a 'must play' on the East Coast for folk musicians and continued to be a popular stop" for two decades Regular performers included Tom Paxton, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, Martin Saxton and Suzanne Vega8

In the 1980s, thanks to publisher Wayne Green, "Peterborough was clearly the per capita magazine production capital of the world"9 Over 100 magazines, mostly about computers and technology, were published there; these included Byte and MacComputingcitation needed

Peterborough's leadership in environmental protection began in the 1990s, when its Earth Day USA office supported the US Air Force's annual Earth Day events around the world10

Town Libraryedit

Peterborough is home to the first tax-supported free public library in the United States The Peterborough Town Library was founded at a town meeting on April 9, 1833 This idea was revolutionary in a time when subscription libraries were popular The collection of materials would essentially be owned by the people and free to access Funds for the formation of the library were made available through the State Literacy Fund The Reverend Abiel Abbot already had experience in creating libraries In the six years he had spent in Peterborough prior to 1833, he had established the Juvenile Library, which he operated out of his home, and the Peterborough Library Company, a dues-paying membership library11 Due to the success of Abbot's libraries, specifically the Town Library, the New Hampshire State Legislature passed a law authorizing towns to raise money to establish and maintain their own libraries This law was enacted in 1849, making New Hampshire the first state to pass a law of this nature

The library started in the town's general store, which also served as the post office The postmaster also served as the librarian, until Susan Gates was appointed in 1854 By 1873, it was decided that the library materials would be moved to the Town Hall, but by 1890, there were 6,000 books and not enough space to accommodate the collection and patrons A new library was built and continues to operate as the town's library Since construction, the library has been expanded twice, and its collection has grown from the hundred original items to over 43,000 books A booklet on the history of the library is available at the circulation desk12


Mount Monadnock as viewed from Peterborough

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 381 square miles 987 km2, of which 377 square miles 977 km2 is land and 042 square miles 11 km2 is water, comprising 106% of the town1 Peterborough is drained by Nubanusit Brook and the Contoocook River The highest point in Peterborough is South Pack Monadnock Mountain 2,290 feet 698 m above sea level, in Miller State Park Peterborough is also home to Edward MacDowell Dam and Lake recreation area, where visitors can walk across the dam, hike, cross-country ski, swim, boat, picnic, play Frisbee golf, horseshoes or other recreational opportunities, many of them disabilities accessible

The town center, or census-designated place CDP, is where nearly 50% of the population resides It has a total area of 477 square miles 1235 km2, of which 475 square miles 1229 km2 is land and 002 square miles 006 km2, or 052%, is water2 The CDP includes the village of West Peterborough, located 2 miles 3 km west of the town center, along Nubanusit Brook

The town is crossed by US Route 202 and Route 101


Historical population
1790 861
1800 1,333 548%
1810 1,537 153%
1820 1,500 −24%
1830 1,984 323%
1840 2,163 90%
1850 2,222 27%
1860 2,265 19%
1870 2,236 −13%
1880 2,206 −13%
1890 2,507 136%
1900 2,527 08%
1910 2,277 −99%
1920 2,615 148%
1930 2,521 −36%
1940 2,470 −20%
1950 2,556 35%
1960 2,963 159%
1970 3,807 285%
1980 4,895 286%
1990 5,239 70%
2000 5,883 123%
2010 6,284 68%
Est 2015 6,438 25%
US Decennial Census14

As of the census of 2010, there were 6,284 people, 2,713 households, and 1,629 families residing in the town The population density was 1670 people per square mile 643/km² There were 2,956 housing units at an average density of 784 per square mile 303/km² The racial makeup of the town was 961% White, 07% Black or African American, 02% Native American, 18% Asian, 002% Pacific Islander, 04% some other race, and 08% from two or more races Hispanic or Latino of any race were 14% of the population15

There were 2,713 households, out of which 281% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 458% were headed by married couples living together, 106% had a female householder with no husband present, and 400% were non-families 336% of all households were made up of individuals, and 152% were someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older The average household size was 224, and the average family size was 28515

In the town, the population was spread out with 215% under the age of 18, 62% from 18 to 24, 199% from 25 to 44, 303% from 45 to 64, and 220% who were 65 years of age or older The median age was 466 years For every 100 females there were 869 males For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 817 males15

For the period 2009–2013, the estimated median annual income for a household in the town was $66,026, and the median income for a family was $89,401 Male full-time workers had a median income of $66,314 versus $34,707 for females The per capita income for the town was $40,38516

Town centeredit

View of Main Street c 1906 Peterborough's solar energy facility is the largest in New Hampshire

The Peterborough census-designated place CDP comprises an area that includes the town center and extends north along US Route 202 as far as Greenfield Road NH 136, west to the town line thus including the area known as West Peterborough, east on NH 101 to Elm Hill Road NH 123, and south on US 202 to Old Sharon Road17 The US Census Bureau collects separate population statistics for the CDP area

As of the census of 2010, there were 3,103 people, 1,442 households, and 750 families residing in the CDP The population density was 6533 people per square mile 2525/km² There were 1,577 housing units, at an average density of 3320 per square mile 1283/km² The racial makeup of the CDP was 963% White, 05% Black or African American, 01% Native American, 18% Asian, 0% Pacific Islander, 05% some other race, and 08% from two or more races Hispanic or Latino of any race were 14% of the population18

There were 1,442 households, out of which 240% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 370% were headed by married couples living together, 111% had a female householder with no husband present, and 480% were non-families 412% of all households were made up of individuals, and 203% were someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older The average household size was 206, and the average family size was 27918

In the CDP, the population was spread out with 192% under the age of 18, 69% from 18 to 24, 199% from 25 to 44, 278% from 45 to 64, and 261% who were 65 years of age or older The median age was 479 years For every 100 females there were 814 males For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 771 males18

For the period 2009–13, the estimated median annual income for a household in the CDP was $37,889, and the median income for a family was $75,714 Male full-time workers had a median income of $47,118 versus $30,474 for females The per capita income for the CDP was $39,08819

Education and researchedit

The parade of giant creatures is a highlight of Peterborough's annual Children in the Arts festival Governor John Lynch at the Walter Peterson Forum in Peterborough

The public schools are part of Contoocook Valley school district SAU 1 which has a total of 11 schools and 1 applied technology center

  • Contoocook Valley Regional High School, built in 1970,20 serves approximately 900 students
  • South Meadow School, founded in 1989,21 serves approximately 400 students The school began as Peterborough Middle School
  • Peterborough Elementary School, locally known as PES, serves approximately 250 students
  • While the area has many private kindergartens, pre-schools and elementaries, The Well School, founded in 1967,22 is the only Pre-8 school within the town The Well is a day school that serves approximately 160 students on an extensive rural campus
  • Clay Mathematics Institute, a foundation supporting cutting-edge mathematics research, is also located in Peterborough

In addition to formal education, the town has dance and karate studios, arts, sports, fitness and nature activities year round, for children and adults


Peterborough is a global village and entrepreneurial seedbed23 Start-ups that grew up here include New Hampshire Ball Bearing, Microspec, Pure Flow, Peterboro Basket Company, Borrego Solar, MobileRobots Inc, Toadstool Bookstores, Froling Energy, Brookstone, and Hyndsight Vision Systems According to a fall 2015 survey of residents, run by the Peterborough Economic Development Authority, approximately a third of Peterborough workers are home-based entrepreneurs or telecommuters24 Telecommuters surveyed work for corporations in many parts of the US and EU

Wild azaleas in the springtime

Like the rest of New Hampshire and the Monadnock region, Peterborough's third largest industry is tourism25 The town's outdoor amenities include hiking trails, wild flowers, cross-country skiing, kayaking, cycling and small lakes for swimming, sailing, fishing and ice-skating It is a popular bird-watching area, one of two sites of the NH Audubon autumn migratory raptor count26

Conservationists watch for raptors in Peterborough

Its cultural attractions include the Monadnock Center for History and Culture, the exhibition gallery and craft gallery of the Sharon Arts Center, the Peterborough Players theatre, Peterborough Community Theater cinema, Monadnock Music concerts, the Monadnock Summer Lyceum, MAXT Makerspace and Mariposa Children's Museum Peterborough's First Saturday contradances are a place for singles and dance enthusiasts to enjoy live music in the spacious Peterborough Town Hall


The town of Peterborough is a leader in sustainability: It has been cited by the US Environmental Protection Agency for its Green Purchasing Practices; since 2014, the town achieved 100% reliance on sustainable energy27 Its model for funding the largest solar facility in New Hampshire has drawn national and international attention, including climate scientists from around the world in the US Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program28 The solar array was built atop a wastewater treatment plant29


Sign on Route 101 Town library in 1906 Kayaking in Peterborough

Many artists' introduction to the town comes as fellows to the MacDowell Colony, a wooded creative retreat that provides grants to over 250 artists per year "While working at MacDowell, Leonard Bernstein composed his Mass; Aaron Copland composed Billy the Kid; Thornton Wilder wrote Our Town and The Bridge of San Luis Rey; James Baldwin wrote Giovanni’s Room; Willa Cather wrote Death Comes for the Archbishop; DuBose and Dorothy Heyward wrote Porgy and Bess; and Virgil Thomson composed Mother of Us All Alice Walker worked on her first novel and Meridian at MacDowell Michael Chabon wrote The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay; Alice Sebold wrote The Lovely Bones, and Jonathan Franzen completed The Corrections"30

The town celebrates First Friday monthly with presentations by MacDowell Colony artists, along with gallery openings, special shopping opportunities and events in the downtown area Favorite hang-outs include Harlow's Pub with its live music and the riverside Water House

Restaurants line Route 202, from family-style Brady's American Grill north of town to The Pearl and the Parker House Coffee Roaster on south 202 The Peterborough Diner, a classic Worcester railway lunch car in the center of the village square, attracts many presidential hopefuls every four years31

Peterborough hosts many events The Snow Ball in January, Children and the Arts Day in May, Thing in the Spring music festival in June and Greenerborough, a summer festival promoting the town's leading position in sustainability, are just a few of the music, arts, farm, energy and nature celebrations held annually

The Peterborough Town Library is the oldest free library supported by taxation in the United States32 It was founded on April 9, 1833, by Unitarian minister Abiel Abbot The original collection comprised 100 books and was housed in Smith and Thompson's General Store, along with the post office It later moved to the town hall, then in 1893 was given its own building designed by the noted bridge engineer George Shattuck Morison The collection now includes over 50,000 volumes33

The Moses Cheney house in Peterborough served as a stop on the Underground Railroad in the mid-19th century, and Frederick Douglass stayed at the home Moses' son Oren B Cheney founded Bates College in 1855, and his son Person C Cheney was a US senator

The Peterborough Players have performed since 1933, having employed such renowned actors as James Whitmore and Sam Huntington

New Hampshire's oldest continuously active state militia unit, the Lafayette Artillery Company, was founded in Peterborough in 1804 It is now based in nearby Lyndeborough However, since the early 20th century, Peterborough has been home to the Amoskeag Veterans, founded in Manchester in the mid-19th century

The town was a model for the play Our Town, written by Thornton Wilder while in residence at the MacDowell Colony His fictional town of Grovers Corners appears to have been named for Peterborough's Grove Street34 At the corner of Grove and Main streets, a cell-phone Quick Response Code near the horse-head fountain starts a QR-code tour of Peterborough

The film The Sensation of Sight was shot entirely in Peterborough

Notable peopleedit

Unitarian Church in 1906, built in 1825 with published plans by architect Asher Benjamin
  • Abiel Abbot, minister, educator and founder of the first free library
  • Charles Bass, US congressman
  • Perkins Bass, US congressman
  • Robert P Bass, farmer, forestry expert and 53rd Governor of New Hampshire
  • Jotham Blanchard, lawyer, newspaper editor and Canadian politician
  • Ingrid Chavez, actress and musician35
  • Moses Cheney, abolitionist, legislator, and founder of Bates College
  • Landon T Clay, businessman, philanthropist and founder of Clay Mathematics Institute
  • Person Colby Cheney, manufacturer, abolitionist, US senator, and the 35th Governor of New Hampshire
  • Frank Gay Clarke, US congressman
  • Richard Despard Estes, conservationist and author
  • Matt Deis, musician
  • Wayne Green, publisher and candidate for Vice President of the US
  • Charles Franklin Hildebrand, journalist
  • Sam Huntington, actor
  • Bill Kennedy, author and entrepreneur
  • Beth Krommes, illustrator, winner of 2009 Caldecott Medal
  • Edward MacDowell, composer
  • Marian MacDowell, founder of the MacDowell Colony
  • James Miller, US congressman and general
  • Elting E Morison 1909-1995, distinguished US historian, professor emeritus at MIT, founder of the MIT's Program in Science, Technology and Society known as STS, lived and died in Peterborough 36
  • Walter R Peterson, Jr, realtor, educator and the 72nd Governor of New Hampshire
  • Jeremiah Smith, jurist, US congressman and the 9th Governor of New Hampshire
  • Robert Smith, US congressman
  • Samuel Smith, manufacturer and US congressman
  • Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author and long-time Peterborough selectperson
  • John Hardy Steele, mechanic, manufacturer and the 19th Governor of New Hampshire
  • George Walker, attorney, state congressman, banker, corporate executive, political adviser, prominent advocate for bimetallism and US Consul-General in Paris
  • Isaac Davis White 1901 – 1990, commanded the US Army, Pacific USARPAC from July 1957 to March 1961
  • James Wilson I, US congressman
  • James Wilson II, US congressman
  • John Wilson, US congressman
  • Elizabeth Yates, Newbury medalist author of 26 books


  1. ^ a b "Geographic Identifiers: 2010 Demographic Profile Data G001: Peterborough town, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire" US Census Bureau, American Factfinder Retrieved November 6, 2015 
  2. ^ a b "Geographic Identifiers: 2010 Demographic Profile Data G001: Peterborough CDP, New Hampshire" US Census Bureau, American Factfinder Retrieved November 6, 2015 
  3. ^ a b Coolidge, Austin J; John B Mansfield 1859 A History and Description of New England Boston, Massachusetts: AJ Coolidge pp 613–615 ISBN 1-4369-8768-7 
  4. ^ "Abiel Abbot" Explore Our Town Monadnock Center for History and Culture Retrieved December 14, 2015 
  5. ^ "History" Monadnock Summer Lyceum Retrieved December 14, 2015 
  6. ^ "History" Peterborough Town Library Retrieved December 14, 2015 
  7. ^ Mansfield, Howard 2004 Bones of the Earth, Shoemaker & Hoard, Washington, DC, p 148
  8. ^ Lauren Bergeron February 23, 2010 "The Folkway: It was 'a community' Former Peterborough venue remembered" The Keene Sentinel Retrieved December 14, 2015 
  9. ^ Jay Ranade and Alan Nash, "The best of BYTE", Byte magazine, December 1993, page 6
  10. ^ "ACC Earth Day Organizer's Guide" ACC CES/ESC 1996 Retrieved December 14, 2015 
  11. ^ "The Peterborough Town Library: The Oldest Free Public Library in the World Supported by Taxation" libraryhistorybufforg Retrieved November 17, 2016 
  12. ^ "HISTORY: Peterborough Town Library" Peterborough Town Library Retrieved November 17, 2016 
  13. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2015" Retrieved July 2, 2016 
  14. ^ "Census of Population and Housing" Censusgov Retrieved June 4, 2016 
  15. ^ a b c "Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010 Census Summary File 1 DP-1: Peterborough town, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire" US Census Bureau, American Factfinder Retrieved November 6, 2015 
  16. ^ "Selected Economic Characteristics: 2009-2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates DP03: Peterborough town, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire" US Census Bureau, American Factfinder Retrieved November 6, 2015 
  17. ^ "TIGERweb" US Census Bureau Retrieved November 9, 2015 
  18. ^ a b c "Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010 Census Summary File 1 DP-1: Peterborough CDP, New Hampshire" US Census Bureau, American Factfinder Retrieved November 6, 2015 
  19. ^ "Selected Economic Characteristics: 2009-2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates DP03: Peterborough CDP, New Hampshire" US Census Bureau, American Factfinder Retrieved November 6, 2015 
  20. ^ "About ConVal High School" ConVal School District Retrieved November 4, 2007 
  21. ^ "South Meadow School Handbook" ConVal School District Retrieved November 4, 2007 
  22. ^ "History of The Well School" The Well School Retrieved November 4, 2007 
  23. ^ "Peterborough, New Hampshire" Peterborough Economic Development Authority Retrieved December 14, 2015 
  24. ^ http://wwwtownofpeterboroughcom/vertical/sites/%7B792D537E-D69C-464A-80FB-790917F72F17%7D/uploads/Peterborough_Internet_Connectivity_Executive_Summary_Fall_2015pdf
  25. ^ Jocelyn Mackie April 15, 2015 "Top Three Industries in New Hampshire" Newsmax Retrieved December 14, 2015 
  26. ^ "Raptor Observatories" NH Audubon Retrieved December 14, 2015 
  27. ^ "Green Power Leadership Awards: 2014 Award Winners" US Environmental Protection Agency Retrieved December 14, 2015 
  28. ^ Benji Rosen June 17, 2015 "Climate scientists visit town: International energy experts hope to learn from solar project" Monadnock Ledger-Transcript Retrieved December 14, 2015 
  29. ^ David Brooks November 6, 2015 "Peterborough to turn on state's largest solar-power facility" Concord Monitor Retrieved December 14, 2015 
  30. ^ "FAQs" MacDowell Colony Retrieved December 14, 2015 
  31. ^ http://wwwpeterboroughdinercom
  32. ^ "Library" The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001-07 Bartlebycom Retrieved April 15, 2008 
  33. ^ American Libraries April 2008; Vol 39, No 4, pg 24
  34. ^ "Our Town" Thornton Wilder Society Retrieved December 14, 2015 
  35. ^ http://wwwwmurcom/news/local-artist-who-collaborated-with-prince-reflects-on-icons-death/39154580
  36. ^ MIT edu

External linksedit

  • Town of Peterborough official website
  • Peterborough Economic Development Authority
  • Video: Welcome to Peterborough
  • Peterborough Town Library
  • Peterborough Historical Society
  • Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce
  • Guide & Calendar for Downtown Peterborough, NH
  • New Hampshire Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau Profile
  • Peterborough Players
  • Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
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