Our Top 10 neighborhoods where History and community combine.
“I think what makes New Hampshire special is that many of our villages are still intact, with the same architectural features they’ve had for 100 or 200 years,” says Nadine Peterson, preservation planner for the state’s Division of Historic Resources. “You really feel, ‘Wow, it has a sense of place.’ It’s like going back in time with someone from a 100 years ago.”
That history has been preserved in a variety of architectural forms that have become popular during the past two centuries and more, from Federal and Georgian to Greek and Gothic revival, Italianate and other forms and styles that dot the landscape of New Hampshire’s cities and towns. But as communities incorporate historic districts and strive to preserve a part of their past, restrictions on changes to the appearance of privately-owned buildings sometimes lead to conflicts between preservationists and property owners.
“Sometimes local communities are afraid to put in an [historic district] ordinance” because of concerns over loss of property rights, Peterson says. The division is developing a new program, called Neighborhood Heritage Districts, which will involve property owners and other citizens in decisions made on regulations of properties within a local Heritage District.
“What we’re trying to do is get homeowners more active in determining what features are most important to retain in their neighborhoods,” says Peterson. “Those areas can still be protected if neighbors come together and work with the committee or commission.” With a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the division will match up to $5,000 of expenditures by local communities to establish the districts, she says.
It is not a matter of choosing between unregulated alterations of historic properties or banning change altogether, says Elizabeth Hengen a historic preservation consultant in Concord. She points to the historic district in Concord as an example of adapting historic properties to meet contemporary needs.
“There isn’t a house in that neighborhood that hasn’t undergone some alteration,” Hengen says. Weatherizing a home by putting in modern storm windows is an example of the kind of alteration that can be made without destroying the historic character of the property, she says.
David Ruell, a historic preservationist in Ashland, believes interest in historic buildings and neighborhoods has grown in response to past indifference.
“Between building interstates and urban renewal, a lot of stuff was destroyed and without any process for looking at the buildings before you destroy them,” he says.
The area between Main Street and Greeley Park in Nashua’s Historic District is known for its large and impressive homes, many of them built in the 19th century by owners and supervisors of the city’s textile mills. Homes there are not often on the market, but when they are they command a steep price, says Rick Cardinal, who bought his own Concord Street home for $440,000 six years ago. “I think at one point during the peak [of the real estate market] it would have been about $650,000,” he says. Some houses in the district might be worth $1 million to $1.5 million, he says.
The district is conveniently close to both Nashua’s downtown and the Everett Turnpike. Greeley Park offers a number of walking trails and playing fields, as well as concerts, art shows and outdoor movies in the summer months.
“It’s very close-knit,” Cardinal says of the neighborhood. “Everybody looks after everybody. We watch each other’s houses.”
“When people think of historic neighborhoods, the South End most often comes to mind,” says Sandra Rux, museum and collections manager for the Portsmouth Historical Society. The oldest part of the city, where settlers landed in the 17th century, “really does resemble an old colonial town,” says Rux, “with everything squeezed in on all kinds of lot sizes.”
The neighborhood that abuts the Strawbery Banke museum, Prescott Park and the Piscataqua River is within easy walking distance of Market Square, downtown shopping and Portsmouth’s many fine restaurants. Houses in the district generally run in the $400,000 to $800,000 range, says Realtor Sandra Dika, though prices have been dampened somewhat by the recession. A home on Newcastle Avenue that sold for $499,000 five years ago was back on the market at an overly optimistic $629,000 last spring. It is now being offered at $450,000.
Not many homes are for sale in this district, but for those that are, “I think people would be very happy to see offers at this point,” says Dika.
The red brick buildings that Amoskeag Manufacturing built in the 19th century for textile workers and supervisors has become a trendy place to live, as a sports and entertainment arena, a minor league ballpark and a number of new restaurants and lounges in recent years have brought new life to New Hampshire’s largest city.
“I think it’s the idea of living in the center of the city, within 100 or 200 yards of Elm Street, where things are happening,” says Dave Beauchesne, an urban planner with the city. For those who work downtown, there is the added convenience of having work, home and after-hours entertainment all within easy walking distance. The buildings themselves reflect the industrial architecture of the period, says Beauchesne – plain, rather than ornate, but with interesting variations in rooflines and other details.
Residences in the district range in price anywhere from $150,000 to $400,000 for some of the larger units, says Justine Chamberlain of Kas-Bar Realty. “Prices downtown have generally held their own. There aren’t that many residential properties.”
While many of the old houses in the historic district around Colburn Park in downtown Lebanon have been converted to offices, there are some architectural gems in the area that are still lived in.
“Bank Street and School Street still have a lot of older homes that go back to at least the 1800s, some to the 1700s,” says Ann Hess, a local real estate broker. The homes, displaying Federal, Georgian and Greek Revival styles, are located in quiet neighborhoods, close to the center of community life. The average sale price for properties on those streets last year was $261,083, Hess says, with an average of 107 days on the market.
“It’s right in the heart of the city,” says Lebanon Senior Planner David Brooks, noting the proximity to City Hall, the Lebanon Opera House, the Post Office, a small grocery store and several restaurants. The area is at the crossroads of Routes 4 and 120 and a short distance from I-89 with its four Lebanon exits. And it’s only a few miles away from a host of cultural and athletic events at Dartmouth College.
Lebanon also has the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and a wide array of recreational resources, including summer concerts in the park, a small ski area and a community center, close to the historic district, with tennis courts, baseball and soccer fields and both indoor and outdoor basketball courts.
“It’s just a real nice place,” says Hess.
“It’s the entrance to the city,” says Jeanne Farrar about the south end of Keene, which she hopes to have added to the city’s historic district. “Here, the settlement of the community began.” Buildings dating from 1762 to 1929 mark many of the important institutions and events in the life of the city, says Farrar, a member of the city’s Heritage Commission. The Wyman House was once Wyman’s Tavern, where the first meeting of Dartmouth trustees was held and where the local minutemen gathered before joining their fellow patriots in Massachusetts. The former Fiske Seminary for Young Ladies is now the official residence of the president of Keene State College. Some of the former residences have been converted to institutional use, but many of the Federal, Georgian and Italianate structures are still private homes.
“These big homes are very comfortable,” says Farrar. “You could live in these houses very comfortably and be very convenient to the downtown area. You can walk uptown, go to the Post Office, walk to the shopping areas, restaurants or church. It’s very convenient.” For longer trips, Route 101 is but a fraction of a mile away.
Homes in that end of town are generally in the $200,000 to $300,000 range, says Realtor Fred Blais of Blais and Associates, though a three-story 1830 colonial house was recently purchased for $585,000. But the market is generally soft and it takes longer to sell, he says.
“Something that may have sold in 30 days at $230,000, now you don’t know what it will sell for,” says Blais. “Maybe it will sell eventually for $210,000 of $205,000.”
Built in 1830, the Franklin Pierce Manse, at the end of North Main Street, is a comparative newcomer to Concord’s Historic District, having been moved there in 1971 from its location on Montgomery Street to prevent its destruction. The earliest settlement in the city, the district includes the home of its first minister, Rev. Timothy Walker, and the Judge Timothy Walker Jr. House, where the state’s Legislature met when it ratified the U.S. Constitution. With its wide, tree-lined streets and large 18th- and 19th-century houses set on 1 1/2 acre lots, the neighborhood “retains its character as a settlement in Concord that goes back to 1726,” says City Planner Doug Woodward.
“Older homes have character,” agrees Jean Dineen, president of the Greater Concord Board of Realtors, though that character is not always in high demand. “A lot of young people buying homes today don’t want the cost of heating and maintenance. They don’t want anything old.” But those who love “the nooks and crannies” and features like decorative moldings and built-in cabinets find they get “more house for the money” in the older properties, Dineen says.
In the middle of the 19th century, Dimon’s Corner in North Wolfeboro was “kind of at a crossroads between Wolfeboro and Ossipee and on to Conway,” says Ken Perry, a real estate broker who lives in what is now the North Wolfeboro Historic District. Then the state widened Route 28, diverting traffic away from the village. A few years later, the town fathers lost a battle to bring the railroad through town.
“The traffic went on either side of us,” says Perry, and so did commercial development. “It saved a lot of the original farms and stone walls.”
The historic district was established in 1977, after 35 of the homes were identified as predating the Civil War. It is about seven miles from today’s downtown Wolfeboro and three or four miles from retail shopping on Route 16. About half the homes still have gravel road frontage, Perry says. The downward trend in the real estate market is evident in the district. An 1830s cape that had been on the market for $385,000 is now priced at $309,000. “It still hasn’t moved,” says Perry.
“It’s very peaceful,” says Bruce Fichter, chairman of the Historic District Commission.
“There’s plenty of open area, a lot of wildlife, a beautiful forest. There’s a conservation area nearby that’s protected. It’s a good little spot.”
First settled in 1762 under a grant from Gov. Benning Wentworth, Colebrook still has a number of early 19th century homes within a short walk of the town center, where Indian trails became ox cart routes and the first wooden sidewalks were put down in 1876. In the compact downtown area, everything is still a short walk away, including the town’s elementary and high schools, Hicks Hardware, Hill’s Department Store and Howard’s and the Wilderness restaurants. The small northern New Hampshire town (population: 2,362) is a popular destination for snowmobilers and features a variety of community activities, including an annual Winter Carnival, an elaborate Fourth of July celebration and a Moose Festival every August.
The older homes don’t come on the market often, but when they do, they generally sell in the $150,000 to $250,000 range, says Coralie Stepanian with Raymond E. Davis Real Estate in Colebrook. Stepanian says she has not seen prices in the area affected significantly by the recession.
“We didn’t go crazy [during the peak] the way other areas did, so we’re not seeing that much difference,” she says.
Littleton is known for its award-winning Main Street program, its breathtaking view of the mountains, its famous Littleton Diner and its easy access to Interstate 91. But the town was once an important stop on the Underground Railroad for fugitive slaves on their way to freedom and safety in Canada. The refuge was at the home of Edmund Carleton, a home still standing on, appropriately enough, Carleton Street in the Apthorp section of town. The area, one of the first settlements in Littleton, was named for London merchant George Apthorp, who was issued a charter by Gov. John Winthrop for a 400-acre tract in 1770.
Today Apthorp is “a pretty modest area,” with homes priced in the mid-$100,000 range, says Littleton Realtor Kris Covey. “Its appeal, I think, is to people with modest budgets and people with families. It’s within walking distance to the elementary school and a park with playing fields. It’s traditionally workforce housing. The homes are well kept.”
The town offers a varied economic base with employment in medical and light manufacturing jobs as well as tourism, and a setting that combines natural beauty with an abundance of four-season recreational opportunities.
“We have some great boutique stores, restaurants and delis,” says Chad Stearns, member services coordinator for the Littleton Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a safe community, a friendly community. You know your neighbors and everybody gets along.”
“The North Country economy has been continually downsizing for the last 50 years,” says John Gallus, a New Hampshire state senator and realtor at Gallus and Green in Berlin. So home prices never soared as they did in other parts of the state. A little over a year ago his agency sold the Barton House, a “giant old colonial” on Prospect Street built in 1891.
“People from outside the area say, ‘Wow! That should be half a million,'” says Gallus, a Berlin native. But the 11-room house with four bedrooms, four baths, two fireplaces and great mountain views was sold in December 2007 for $251,500. The Berlin Heights area, home to the city’s most prominent citizens in the late 19th and early 20th century “seemed to retain much of its ambience,” says Linda Upham-Bornstein, who lived in the Barton House with her husband Peter Bornstein for 26 years. “You could still feel and touch the history of the people who walked those streets.” And the close-knit nature of the neighborhood made it an appealing place to raise a family.
“I think our kids liked being the only kids with ‘grandparents’ in every other house,” she says. NH
A Short History Lesson on Architectural Styles
On that street you drive down on the way to the grocery store, there’s a house with a “1772” wooden plate posted with black-and-white lettering. That’s not its street number – that’s its birth year. Taking a second glance you may say to yourself “Yeah, hmmm, is that a Colonial?” (Because every historic house is a Colonial .) Then you turn right onto that next street and don’t think about it until you need to buy eggs again.
Living in the historic state of New Hampshire, knowing about the types of historical buildings is as important as knowing the state flag or the state motto. It doesn’t have to be difficult – here we have an easy list of the popular styles and periods of the historical houses in the Granite State:
An early period of architecture, the Colonial period, is from the 1600s to the early 1800s. Within it is a huge number of styles. Homes in this period usually have symmetrical, square architecture, paired chimneys, ornate and decorative front entrance trim and narrow windows right next to the front door.
The Georgian Colonial style was (surprise, surprise) named after Kings George I-III of England. This style was popular from about 1710 to 1840. You can recognize it because of its classical Renaissance-inspired symmetry. It also has bay windows, eave dentil molding and a gambrel roof.
The Federal Colonial became popular from the mid 1780s to the 1830s. Federals are unique because of their flat or low-pitched roof, smooth brick finish, shutters, circular windows and semi-circular fanlight window on the front door. The Barrett Mansion in New Ipswich has the Federal-style detailing with a fanlight over the front door.
Some other, less popular styles from this period also include First Period English, French Colonial and Dutch Colonial.
New Hampshire doesn’t only contain historical houses from the Colonial Period. Greek Revival style became popular from the 1820s to the 1860s. This style includes one-story square or round columns, sidelights surrounding the front door and trim, called a cornice, lining the roof. The Otis-Gorham House in Exeter is an example of this style, with side one-story columns and front-door sidelights.
During the mid to late 1800s, the Victorian Period really took off. These houses are detailed and ornate with a Gothic feel. The popular styles in this period include Italianate and Queen Anne.
The Italianate styles from about 1840 to 1885 have heavily molded double doors, a cupola, tall, narrow double-paned windows and wide, overhanging eaves. The Joshua P. Marshall House in Bradford is Italianate in style with a centered cupola on the roof and the long, tall windows.
The Queen Anne-style houses of the 1880s and ’90s are decorative, lacy and flamboyant in detail. Some defining features are “gingerbread” detailing, turrets, stained glass windows and corner-rounding porches.