What really IS the Upper Valley? PART TWO: The Early Years

Submitted 11 days ago
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Bob Totz

In 1906 author Edwin Bacon was using the term "Upper Valley".

     In July/August 2014 "Yankee" magazine reported that Walter Paine, former publisher of the "Valley News" had coined the term "Upper Valley", and used it to define the coverage of his newspaper.  While Mr. Paine used the term, I'm quite sure he didn't originate the term.  However, he most likely redefined and popularized the term.

"Lonely Pond", Sharon, VT

     "Yankee" magazine called the Upper Valley "a distinctive region...a roughly forty mile stretch of the Connecticut River from Windsor VT and Cornish NH, in the south, to Bradford VT and Piermont NH  in the north".  "Yankee" magazine based this on the coverage area of the "Valley News".  To be fair though, the VN publishes it's coverage area online, and today it extends further north to Haverhill NH and Newbury VT, and the southern end extends past Cornish and Claremont to Charlestown NH and Weathersfield VT.  Western boundaries include Randolph and Chelsea VT, and eastern boundaries include Dorchester, Grafton, and New London NH.  The boundaries of the VN coverage area are the borders of the outlying townships.

Pomfret VT Town Hall

      A little history:  Back in the early and mid-1700's, the Connecticut River Valley above Northampton Massachussetts was very sparsely settled.  Britain and France were fighting for control of the Champlain valley, and the inland wilderness between the Hudson and Merrimack River valleys, with help from Indians.  Smack in the middle of this wilderness was the promising Connecticut River valley. 

     In 1906 Edwin Bacon wrote the book, "The Connecticut River and the Valley of the Connecticut".  In chapter 15, "Upper River Settlement", the author refers to the "Upper Valley" several times, using capital letters. Bacon writes:

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     "With the close of the war Fort Dummer became a truck-house for trading with the again peaceful Indians coming down from Canada and soon a slender settlement, mostly of traders grew up about it.  This was the pioneer settlement of the Upper Valley. " (note: italics added)  "It was the nucleus of Brattleborough, chartered and named some years later, the first English township in what is now Vermont.  It remained the only Upper Valley settlement till or about 1740."

     So it appears this early use of the term, Upper Valley, referred to a quite large area. It began in the south with Fort Dummer in the township of Brattleborough, and extended north, up the river valley to points yet explored in the early 1700's.  With the French and Indian war, military expeditions were undertaken into the Upper Valley country.  Indian trails were used and pathways were trodden, up to the confluences with the Wells and Ammonoosuc rivers, in what is today, Wells River VT and Woodsville NH

Sunrise January 7, 2019

     Exploration and settlement was slow until about the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, when land grants were being given by Governor Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire for towns on both sides of the river.  There was no Vermont at this point, as both New York and New Hampshire claimed the land from the Connecticut River to the Champlain valley.  The towns on both sides of the Connecticut River were founded about the same time, and developed together, and so had a common identity and history.

Adorable Housing in Norwich, Vermont, recalling days gone by

Which brings us again, to the question, "What really IS the Upper Vallley".  I guess that can remain a question, but for me personally, I'd like it to be an inclusive definition.  Here's mine:  The Upper Valley is the area of Vermont and New Hampshire, from their southern border with Massachusetts, to the source of the Connecticut River, the Connecticut Lakes in Pittsburg NH.  I would generally say that the western boundary is the Green Mountains, and the eastern boundary is the White Mountains.  This is more of a physical approach to the boundaries, rather than a cultural approach, but no matter how you look at it, or define it, the Upper Valley is a remarkably beautiful and rich area, a large community made up of smaller communities, from both states.

1927 U.S. Geological Survey 7.5 minute Topographic Quadrangle, showing a portion of the Upper Valley.  This map is as much art, as it is science!

I'm Bob Totz, retired Postmaster, former choir director, graduate of University of Connecticut Geography Department, and a composer and performer of folk songs.  I'm also the auther of "Old Roads, Rivers and Rails" on dailyuv.com.  If you like what you see, feel free to subscribe to this blog by clicking here. Thanks for reading!

Suggested reading: Edwin Bacon's 1906 Book  



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