Counting Down to 250
Town of Unity, Born of a Neighborly Resolution, Ready to Mark Anniversary
Unity supported Benjamin Harrison and his vice presidential running mate, Whitelaw Reid, in the 1892 presidential election. Harrison, the incumbent, who had dropped his vice president, Levi Morton, lost to Democrat Grover Cleveland. Unity Town Hall is to the right. Photograph courtesy of the Unity Historical Society
Unitoga Springs was a popular spa and hotel for travelers coming to Unity in the 1800s. It burned in 1892. Photograph courtesy of the Unity Historical Society
Favor's Mill in Unity sold bridge planks to the town in 1918 and 1919. Photograph courtesy of Loraine Light.
Ralph E. Lufkin, of West Unity, 1867-1928, was a former town tax collector and a state senator who held several political offices in Unity. Photograph courtesy of the Unity Historical Society
The Reed Family of Unity, seen here during haying season. Photograph courtesy of the Unity Historical Society
Unity — Named for an amicably resolved dispute between two parties over territory they both claimed, Unity will a mark its 250th anniversary at a three-day celebration July 11, 12 and 13 on the common with games, food, music and generous portions of town history.
Mary Gere DeMasse, one of the event’s organizers, is looking for the Unity to live up to its name.
“What I am hoping for is that all Unity residents will come. It is a family-friendly event and I hope we can come together as a community to celebrate the town’s 250th,” said DeMasse.
The festivities kick off Friday at 5:30 p.m. when townspeople can take turns ringing the Revere bell in Town Hall. Built as a Baptist meeting house in 1831, the building was bought by the town in 1877 for $25,000 and restored as the Town Hall meeting house. Beginning in 1991, another restoration was begun and finished 10 years later with the completion of the bell tower in 2001.
Unity was first chartered as Buckingham in 1753, but 11 years later, on July 13, 1764, Timothy Goodwin and others received a grant that was the result of a settlement between parties claiming a grant from Massachusetts for the territory and one from New Hampshire.
“The controversy had created considerable bitterness but was amiably settled by means of this grant, and the town was named in commemoration of the happy termination of this dispute,” according to a thumbnail sketch of town history published in the 200th anniversary program and reprinted for this anniversary.
Six years ago, the two leading Democratic candidates for president chose Unity, presumably because of its name, as a place to put aside their differences. After a bitter campaign that saw Barack Obama wrest the party’s nomination from Hillary Clinton, the two met in Unity on June 27, 2008, in their first public appearance together after Clinton withdrew from the race. Each candidate had received 107 votes in Unity’s primary balloting that winter.
Unity grew rapidly in its early years because it was on the 2nd New Hampshire Turnpike, the main road to the Connecticut River Valley from points south. “This was the main drive to
get products to bigger cities,” DeMasse said.
Its population went from 106 residents in 1773 to 538 in 1790 and 1,277 by 1820. Early industries included saw and grist mills, a brick maker, blacksmith shop, wool and sheep farms and more.
But when the railroads arrived in the mid to late 19th century, travel on the turnpike slowed. Unity saw a rapid change and the population began to plummet. “It was crazy how fast it changed. By 1900, there was almost no one here,” said DeMasse.
By 1960, the population was down to 680. It has since population recovered to about 1,700, and the town now serves as place from where many who like the rural setting can commute to jobs in Claremont and the Upper Valley or toward the southern parts of the state.
After the bell ringing is over on Friday, there will be a community potluck supper beginning at 6 followed by contra and square dancing in Town Hall from 7:30 to 9. All visitors are encouraged to sign the guestbook.
“We would like to know how many people come,” said DeMasse.
Saturday’s festivities begin at 10 a.m. with old-fashioned games such as sack races. A barbecue runs from noon to 4, with dancing with JJ’s music. Judy Tatem will have her newly published book, Old Homes and Places of Interest in Unity, 250 Years and Counting, available.
The event’s program offers some tidbits about Unity’s past, including its geography. In the 1800s, portions of the town were annexed to Goshen, Charlestown and Claremont, leaving the town with 37 square miles. Unity was also known in the 1800s for producing the best flax in the state.
Restoration of the former Chase Tavern to house the town offices was completed in 2003. Soon after, the idea of a gazebo on the common was proposed by historical society member and resident Roberta Callum. Though it was delayed longer than she had hoped, the gazebo, constructed with volunteer labor and donations of money and materials, was begun a couple of years ago. Callum’s son, John, has organized the effort and the expectation is it will be finished by for the 250th.
For those eager to learn more about Unity’s past, Jere Daniell, professor emeritus of history at Dartmouth College and an authority on Colonial New England, will give a talk on the town’s origins at 2 p.m. in the Town Hall.
Other events Sunday, the official birthday, include a pancake breakfast beginning at 8 a.m., demonstrations of Colonial skills such as butter making, quilting and wool spinning from 10 to 2, music from the 1700s and a large birthday cake to wrap up the celebration at 3:30.
All events are free except for the pancake breakfast, which is a fundraiser for the eighth-grade class, and there is a charge for hot dogs and hamburgers at the barbecue. T-shirts and other memorabilia marking the event will be on sale.
Patrick O’Grady can be reached at email@example.com.