Best Lecture by a Dam Site

by on May 31, 2009 in History, Life in Nelson with 3 Comments

On Thursday evening, May 28th, there must have been 80 people gathered in the Chapel by the Lake in Munsonville to hear a talk by Alan Rumrill, who is the director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County. The event was sponsored by the Munsonville Ladies Group. His talk was entitled The Power of Water: Munsonville from 1850 to 1950. He has kindly shared a summary which we are pleased to published here, as well as some pictures.


The Power of Water:

Munsonville From 1850 to 1950
By Alan F. Rumrill

The history of the small village of Munsonville is a familiar N.H. story as it has all the elements of the history of similar villages throughout southwestern NH during the 100 years from the 1850s to the 1950s. The same factors – natural, technological and economic – played leading roles in the growth, decline, survival and rebirth of Munsonville as they did in towns throughout our region.

Essential elements that played a major role in the history of the village included the decline of agriculture, the growth and decline of industry, and the growth of tourism and recreation. Furthermore, the impact – both negative and positive – of transportation and technological advances, and the overwhelming influence of water were essential to the development of the village. Those three things alone — technology, transportation and water, especially water — can be used to paint the picture of Munsonville’s past.

From 1850 to 1950 the people of Munsonville followed the same path taken by the residents of many New Hampshire mill villages during those years. They followed the flow of agriculture, industry, tourism, transportation and recreation. Agriculture was already declining by the beginning of the 1850s, but the 1000 acres of farmland in and around the village then supported livestock and turned out many tons of produce annually. The village itself, however, was born because of water. The numerous mills were located where they were to take advantage of the power of the water flowing from the lake and tumbling down to the flats below the village.

Both the farms and the mills fell victim to modern technology, transportation and the competition of regional, national, and eventually global markets. The farms needed better soil and transportation, and the manufacturers needed better power, more capital and cheaper transportation.

If water gave Munsonville its birth, it also allowed it to survive; not because of the power of the roaring brook, but because of the placid, relaxing surface of the lake itself. Improvements in transportation allowed urban dwellers to easily escape the summer heat, noise and dirt of the city to travel to the cool, peaceful and placid lakes of New Hampshire to relax. Finally, the modern transportation that allowed these people to visit Munsonville also allowed local residents to commute to distant jobs while enjoying residential life in a small town. Anyone familiar with Munsonville and Granite Lake today knows that is exactly what happened here.

Editors note: Following the lecture, there was a lot of informal discussion with various people remembering all sorts of snippets of history. Do you have stories to share? Click here to add your comments to this article.

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  1. Rick Church says:

    The mill at Munsonville was the largest one to use water power in Nelson. Many others are earlier and stopped being used earlier. Can readers of this site help identify their locations and uses?

  2. Candyce Fulford says:

    I’m glad the turnout was so good, and I wish that I had been able to attend. Thank you for posting the article … and the photos! I love looking at old photos of our town and trying to imagine life as it was ‘back then’.

    Thank you for posting the article on this website.

  3. Mr Corey Munson says:

    Thank you for the article. I’d love to read more and/or make contact with anyone related to those who first settled Munsonville. I am extremely curious to find out if I have any relatives who might have been first namesakes in the area. My family is from Oregon and I have now migrated to Australia, however my daughter is beginning her freshman year this fall at Southern New Hampshire University (Manmchester NH) and I happened to notice Munsonville on the map and was curious. Any contact with my email is appreciated….just curious. Regards Corey Munson.

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