April 9, 1833: A new tax is passed in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Because of taxpayer participation, the Peterborough Town Library is the oldest free library in the US. Unitarian minister Abiel Abbot was the founder and the original collection of books numbered 100. The library was located inside Smith and Thomson’s General Store along with the post office. The library was later moved to the town hall and in 1893 was given its own building. George Shattuck Morison was the designer of the new building. Today, the library has over 50,000 volumes.
Peterborough was first granted by Massachusetts in 1737 and was first permanently settled in 1749. The town was under attack several times during the French and Indian War. By 1759 there were fifty families living there and it was incorporated in 1760 by Governor Benning Wentworth. The town was named after Peter Prescott of Concord, Massachusetts, a land speculator of the times. There are two waterways, Contoocook River and Nubanusit Brook, and both offered sites for watermills making it possible for Peterborough to become a prosperous mill town. The first cotton factory was opened in 1810 and by 1859 there were four additional factories added which supported the 2,222 people living there. Other industries were added over time and today the 38 square mile town is home to about 6,300 people.
The town is also home to one of the oldest basket manufacturers in the country. Peterboro Basket Company opened in 1854 and has been making baskets ever since. It is also the headquarters of Eastern Mountain Sports and the first Brookstone store opened there in 1973. Even with all this manufacturing, about 7.6% of the families and 11.1% of the population lives below the poverty line. The MacDowell art colony is in a rural part of Peterborough and was established in 1907. The first Friday of each month is celebrated in “First Friday” events and has been awarded “Best Community Tradition”. In May of each year, “Children and the Arts Day” festival is another cause for celebration.
The town was also part of the Underground Railroad and the Moses Cheney house was once visited by Frederick Douglas. Oren Chaney, son of Moses, founded Bates College and Person Cheney, grandson of Moses, was a US Senator. Several other politicians hail from the small town. Four governors of New Hampshire (the 9th, 19th, 53rd, and 72nd) as well as several congressmen including three generations of the Wilson family. Also from there are an author, journalist, illustrator, musician, and actor as well a distinguished US historian and professor emeritus at MIT. Thorton Wilder was in residence at the MacDowell colony and used the locale as a model for his play, Our Town.
All of us grow up in particular realities – a home, family, a clan, a small town, a neighborhood. Depending upon how we’re brought up, we are either deeply aware of the particular reading of reality into which we are born, or we are peripherally aware of it. – Chaim Potok
I read about eight newspapers in a day. When I’m in a town with only one newspaper, I read it eight times. – Will Rogers
I was from a small town, and nobody really expects you to leave, especially before you graduate. That doesn’t happen. – Taylor Swift
My dad was the town drunk. Most of the time that’s not so bad; but New York City? – Henny Youngman
Also on this day: Water, Water Everywhere – In 1829, the dike in Gdansk fails.
Windsor Wedding – In 2005, Prince Charles married Camilla.
States United – In 1865, the US Civil War came to an end.
World Class Singer – In 1939, Marian Anderson gave a concert from the Lincoln Memorial.