History of Dublin

One can barely imagine the hardships undergone by the early settlers in wresting a livelihood from the thin, rock-strewn soil found within the township’s boundaries. Nevertheless, they cleared the land, and from it derived all their necessities: not only food (bean porridge being the staple fare) but flax and wool for clothing. Despite these difficulties, Dublin prospered. By 1775, the Town had settled a minister, started work on a meetinghouse, and made provision for schools. There were 305 people in town that year. By 1800 there were over a thousand.

The Town was chartered in 1771 under the name of Dublin, but there is no record of why that name was chosen. There is speculation that one of the first settlers, Richard Strongman, was a native of Dublin, Ireland, but nobody knows for sure.

Farms vs. Factories

In spite of Dublin’s steep hills, the only water power sufficient for manufacturing was on the very northern boundary, at the outlet to Harrisville Pond, where the first woolen mill was built in 1799. While Harrisville developed into a flourishing textile village, the rest of Dublin had to stick to farming. This led to divergent interests in the two sections, and ultimately to division of the Town.

When railroads were being constructed in the 1860’s, the mill owners in Harrisville wanted railroad service to their village in order to move their raw materials and products. The farmers in the rest of Dublin, where the hills were in any case too steep for tracks, had no such interest, and defeated a proposal at the Town Meeting of 1869 to raise the subsidy required to attract the Manchester & Keene Railroad. This led to a petition by Harrisville to the state legislature to be set off as a separate town, comprising the northern third of Dublin and part of Nelson. This petition was granted, and the towns were separated in 1870.

The Decline of Agriculture

The year 1820 was a watershed in Dublin history. The Town’s population peaked in that year at 1260, a figure which would not be reached again until the 1970’s. Farmers were leaving the rocky hillsides, some for the factories in Harrisville, Peterborough and the Merrimack Valley, some for less stony soil on the western frontier, leaving as their monument the many abandoned cellar holes found in our woods.

The same year saw the settlement of Levi Leonard as the Town’s third minister. He presided for thirty-four years over what one historian has called “Dublin’s Golden Age”, during which the Town became renowned for its high standard of education, culture and behavior. At the same time, better roads and the opening of stores meant that many of life’s necessities could be bought more easily than raised, ending the need for subsistence farming. Farmers turned to grazing, principally of sheep, as a less strenuous means of livelihood.

During the next fifty years, the gradual decline in the farming population was offset to some extent by the simultaneous growth of the woolen mills in Harrisville. The separation of Harrisville reduced Dublin’s area by third, but its population by more than half, leaving only 455 inhabitants at the time of the 1880 census.

Dublin as a Summer Colony

An agricultural slump after the Civil War made sheep farming unprofitable, but farm families, here and elsewhere, found a new cash crop in summer boarders. The Appleton House hotel, later the Leffingwell, was opened in 1871. The first summer cottage was built in 1872, and over fifty others followed in the next twenty years. For the best part of a century, Dublin was first and foremost a summer resort. Much of the land painstakingly cleared for farming went back to trees. Care-taking for summer estates furnished the principal source of employment for the remaining permanent residents, whose number had dropped to 408 by 1920.

Like other American summer resorts, Dublin began as an artists’ and writers’ colony. Unlike the others, however, Dublin retained the loyalty of its art colony, among whom were the painters Abbott H. Thayer and his pupils, Richard Meryman and Alexander James, as well as George deForest Brush and Joseph Lindon Smith. Amy Lowell, the cigar-smoking imagist poet, had a house on Beech Hill. Mark Twain spent two summers here in rented houses. In the leisurely days before World War I, the British Embassy moved for several summers to what is now the Pool’s house on Snow Hill Road.

Dublin Today

In the last twenty years, Dublin has entered a new phase. Many of the former “summer people” have winterized their houses and retired here as permanent residents. New houses on Boulder Drive, Greenwood Road and elsewhere, as well as some converted summer houses, provide homes for a new group of professional and business people, many of whom work in Peterborough and Keene. Another category is that of self-employed persons working out of their homes. Some of these are artists and craftsmen. Others do their work by fax and modem, and their number will probably grow along with the information superhighway.

Thank you to John W. Harris and Nancy E. Campbell for this brief overview of the Town’s history.