A New Hampshire ghost town

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Old Hill Village Meeting House, courtesy touringnh.com.

Recently, while researching a case, I stumbled across Hill, a small town in Merrimack County, New Hampshire. Hill was originally formed as New Chester in 1754, and was incorporated in 1778. The town was renamed Hill in honor of New Hampshire Governor Isaac Hill in 1837. Hill was part of Grafton County until 1868, when it became part of Merrimack County.

In 1941, the entire town of Hill was relocated.[1] I discovered this while looking for the grave of a man who had died in Hill in the late 1870s. Old Hill Village, which lies near the Pemigewasset River, is in a floodplain. In 1937, the federal government seized the area, and it became part of the Franklin Falls Dam flood control reservoir project.[2] By 1941, Hill had been entirely relocated, although “The original ‘Center’ of town is marked by a 1799 church and 1847 meeting house located up the hill west of the Village.”[3]

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Remains of a building in Old Hill Village, courtesy touringnh.com.

Discovering this information brought several questions to mind, the most important being, “What happened to the people buried in Old Hill Village cemeteries?” I spent an hour or so trying to find an answer to my question. I located a book in our collection, Relocation of cemeteries – Hill, N.H. file no. 1305,[4] but could not find the individual I was looking for in it. I then contacted the Hill Historical Society, and was informed that they do have a list of all of the bodies which were relocated due to the flood reservoir project. I sent them the name and death date of the person I am looking for, and am currently awaiting their reply.

In the meantime, I have learned a lot about Old Hill Village. In 1875, 1916, 1936, 1938, and 1941, the town suffered devastating floods. “A flood in October 1875 drowned cattle and damaged lowlands, when the town clerk said the water was about thirty feet above the bed of the river.”[5] It is possible that the gravestone or marker I am looking for was washed away by a flood, or damaged by the rushing water until it became illegible.

Old Hill Village is still accessible by dogsledding, skiing, or snowmobiling in the winter, and by biking, horseback riding, canoeing, or walking in the spring, summer, and fall. The village is also open to vehicular traffic the first weekend after Labor Day; however, it is a true ghost town.[6] No living citizens reside within its borders, although it is possible that some of the dead, whose gravestones were destroyed by floodwaters, remain.

Notes

[1] “A Bit of History: From the beginning!,” Hill Historical Society, www.hillhistoricalsociety.com.

[2]  “Hill Village, N.H.: Relocating An Entire Town,” New Hampshire Tour Guide, http://www.nhtourguide.com/history/hill_village.htm.

[3] “A Bit of History: From the beginning!”

[4] John A. Retter, Relocation of cemeteries – Hill, N.H. file no. 1305 (self-published, 1945).

[5] Hill Historical Society, Hill village on the Pemigewasset: Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the relocation of the village of Hill, New Hampshire (Hill, N.H.: Hill Historical Society, 1991).

[6] “A Bit of History: From the beginning!”

About Julie Wilmot

Julie, a native of Errol, New Hampshire, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology with a concentration in Native American Studies from the University of Maine, Orono, and a Master of Arts degree in History and Culture from Union Institute and University. She has worked at the Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History in Orono, Maine, and was a presenter at the New England Historical Association Spring 2014 Conference in Springfield, Massachusetts. Her research interests include French-Canadian migration to Northern New England, and international cases.

5 thoughts on “A New Hampshire ghost town

  1. It is fascinating to come across these former towns. I lived in Lisbon, Grafton County on the site of a sawmill, which collapsed under snow so we rebuilt it as a barn. We left the cement foundations for the mill in the front paddock as a clue to future historians how the mill was situated over the waterfall (known as the only place in the state that a fault line was visible), where the turbine still exists in part. I discovered, over the 20 years there, that the spring overflow was the site of a famous stage coach stop, that the house was an “emergency” inn, a port in the storm so to speak on the east west trail which intersected a north south main road at a junction still far from a town. The most curious thing was that a “gas pump” presumably for the mill operations, existed on the property and was a local “gas station” in the 1930s. But all signs of that had passed by 1980. The house contained its original surveys and deed maps back to the early 19th century. We donated those and all the antique tools that were still in the mill and garage to the nearest historical society. It was through them we learned how “famous” Conrad’s Mill had been! The locals still use its name as a place name. I believe strongly, based on the property’s location, topography, and situation next to a meeting of two rivers (hence the intersecting roads) above the flood plain this created, that this was a very, very major site for Native American activity.

  2. This is so interesting! Thank you for also providing the links. I’ll have to try to find Old Hill Village next summer.

  3. Hello, I have been trying to locate the grave sites of great, great grandparents John and Mahala Pettengill. Mahala died in 1897 and burial is supposedly Sanborn Cemetery in Franklin, but there are no records to confirm that nor head stone. John died in 1863 and no details about his burial have been found. The sexton in Franklin did indicate that part of Sanborn Cemetery had been relocated which might be part of the Hill project. I wondered if you have contact info for Hill Historical Society.
    Thank you,
    Bonnye Feiock
    dfeiock124@yahoo.com

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