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Community enjoys opportunity to explore Old Hill Village

Local history enthusiast Paul Doucette of Franklin was at the annual opening of Old Hill Village to share his knowledge of the area last weekend, as residents and visitors enjoyed the opportunity to drive through the former village. He is shown here standing beside one of 14 new interpretive signs in place, thanks to Tyler Kulacz of Bridgewater's Boy Scout Troop 50, who created the signs for his Eagle Scout project. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
September 23, 2021
HILL – The original town of Hill, now known as Old Hill Village, is open to the public once a year, when residents and visitors can drive through the old town to reminisce, learn the history of the area and enjoy a day in the great outdoors.

Approximately 11 miles of narrow dirt road is all that remains of the former bustling Main Street in the village but on each side there is plenty of history of the community that moved uphill when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the Franklin Dam, making the town part of a flood zone.

Today, the land is still owned by USACE, but is licensed for management by the U.S. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources under the Division of Forests and Lands. James Airey is a State Forester who oversees that management, which includes timber sales that fund the Hill program.

"This is a unique program in that we work in cooperation with USACE, and it's all self-funded through the timber sales. There are no public tax dollars involved with the management of this reservoir," said Airey. "Opening the gates every year gives people a front row seat for what is going on down here."

Airey said his department opens the area up for vehicle traffic annually for other community-related reasons, too. One is to allow easy access for those who are handicapped or otherwise unable to hike through the area. The opening also gives today's "New Hill" residents the chance to come back to the former town where their families may have once lived and share memories of the Old Hill Village. History buffs also enjoy visiting the reservoir to learn more about how an entire town that was actually relocated in 1941, yet still thrives today on higher ground.

For many years, simple wooden posts marked the location of the town's schools, businesses, churches and even a hotel. Airey said that thanks to local Eagle Scout, Tyler Kulcaz of Bridgewater Troop 50, people can now stop at signs marking the site of a notable location, but learn a bit of the history there as well.

"Working with (Tyler and the Boy Scouts), we got some great interpretive signage down here, which was huge. It was something I've always wanted to do. He showed the initiative to do it and did a fantastic job," praised Airey.

Over the course of last weekend, approximately 200 cars made their way through the old village each day. Knowing that it was originally granted in 1753 as "New Chester," then renamed "Hill" in 1837 to honor of then governor Isaac Hill, one family from Wakefield, Concord and Northwood came to explore the old village with their dad last weekend.

"It's the first time we've been here but we're history enthusiasts. Dad was from Chester, and he's been interested in seeing 'New Chester,' so we decided to come up here today," the family explained.

Paul Doucette of Franklin was also among the visitors. An avid local history buff, he spent time at the Hill Historical Society's information and sales table by the entrance to discuss some of his knowledge with visitors. He pointed out areas on the map where ferries and bridges once crossed the Pemigewasset River, railroad cars headed to Bristol, and shared other local history he acquired over the years.

"I've been coming here ever since I was a young child. My parents would bring me here (over the old bridge from Sanbornton) to fish, pick berries and just enjoy time out here," said Doucette.

Another woman was there on Sunday to get a feel for some of her deceased husband's past. His grandmother sadly became a part of the history of Hill when she and her home were tragically swept away as a dam broke in the mid 1900's.

Other visitors were enjoying long walks, riding bikes, and even scouting the woods and fields for the upcoming small-game hunting season.

Patty Lovejoy of the historical society had a special interest in the old village. As a newer resident to Hill, it wasn't long before she discovered the house she bought was the former home of Jennie D. Blake, a popular schoolteacher born in the old village and for whom the elementary school is now named.

"I started doing research and when I found that out, I had to join the historical society," she said.

Lovejoy reported on Sunday that the weekend was a successful event. The Historical Society sold numerous copies of three books they offered, which told the history of Old Hill Village, beginning with its inception, the massive move of the town, and a guide to what the former town looks like today. They also handed out maps showing where businesses, community buildings and farms were located in the early years so people could get a clearer idea of what the former Hill Village once looked like.

For those who missed this year's drive through historic village, now a land encompassed by forest and fields, cascading brooks, old orchards and views along the Pemigewasset River, the reservoir is still available year-round for foot traffic or biking from entrances off Profile Falls, Back Road, Old Town Road or on the south end of the village, just over the Franklin town line.

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