KEENE, as a city, was brought into existence by an act of the legislature, approved July 3, 1873, incorporating the same, subject to the acceptance, by a majority of votes, of the city charter so enacted. In March, 1874, the act was accepted by a vote of 783 to 589. The new government was duly organized May 5, 1874, Hon. Horatio Colony being elected mayor. As previously stated, the entire township was included within the city limits, and is divided into five wards. The city proper, how ever, is the old village of Keene, which President Dwight pronounced ” one of the prettiest in New England.”
This then the city of Keene, lies in the charming valley of the Ashuelot, hid among its shade trees, with cliff-crowned hills round about. From the monument on Beech hill, looking west and north, one gets a fine view of the whole valley. The broad meadows and natural parks of scattered elms stretch three miles away, across the river to West hill, which has an altitude of 850 feet. Below are the older and later channels of the riotous Branch, and its four arched bridge. The Catholic cemetery, the race-course, and the Island pond, are on the left. In front are the distant meadows, the amphitheatre of hills, and in the background, the peaks of the Green mountains. On the right are the seven church spires of the shady city, and the turrets of the high school building, court-house, city hall, and more distant jail. Obtruded upon ones notice, also, are the tall chimneys of shops and millsFaulkners, Colonys, Woodburys Mechanics railroad, Beaver, and new shoeshop, while a solitary chimney marks the site of Governor Hales furniture shop. Still more to the right, under the hill, are the dark pines which shade Woodland cemetery. Since 1856 this grove has became whitened with sculptured marble, with storied monument and “animated bust.” Across the brook which runs between, lies Woodlawn, a newer cemetery.
But the valley itself is the most interesting feature of the scene. Once the bed of an ancient lake, the tributary streams poured in their annual layers of sand, which now form the delta terraces, often a theme for the high school graduate. On one of these are slate gravestones of the first settlers. The three clay-beds and brick-yards indicate the still-water era of this lake period.
A tree society once flourished here, and Main street, with its fine old elms is a theme for the poet. It is eight rods wide and nearly a mile long. Of this street Thoreau said: “You can see a chicken run across, half a mile off, It ends in the square, widening to thirty rods. Here front the stores, the Cheshire House, banks, and the public buildings; here stood the church and horse-sheds of the fathers, now replaced by a little park of Elm trees; here also, is the “soldier in bronze,” and John Humphreys “Iron water-bowl; here pulses the heart of the city; here was held the great war meeting; here the review of the 6th New Hampshire, afterwards so famous, and here were held the meetings of the scarred veterans; here roared the guns for General Jackson; here marched the Keene Light Infantry; and here now parades the “guard.”
The hills which environ the city, furnish beautiful drives. The artist would choose Grays bill, from which to paint his picture of the valley. There are specimens of graphite and soapstone on West hill, and amethysts on Hurricane hill. Visitors find a delightful drive to vessel rock, to the boulder of the signal station at Mine hill, to Pinacle hill and Batchelders stairs, to great iron bridge, to the granite quarries, the Summit cut, to ponds and lakes, the beautiful Surry mountain, to Mt. Caesar and Marlboro glenn. The young and ardent stroll to Beaver brook falls, Glen Ellen, to the Pot-hole and Glacier water-fall; to the reservoir, and Ascutney bowlder near by; the monument, the high bridge, the mineral spring, Huggins and Crisson hills, not forgetting Goose pond,–the citys water supply, three miles away,-while all delight to picnic in Tildens grove, and on the famous old fair grounds. The energetic time themselves round the six-mile square.
Keene is also a well-planned city. Its grand avenue, Main street, extends nearly due north through the middle of the valley, perfectly straight, and at a width of eight rods for almost a mile; to Central square. Here it branches, making two avenues, somewhat less in width, but still ample. One of these diverges slightly to the east of north. and leads to the towns of Sullivan and Stoddard. The other deflects at a similar slight angle to the west, and is the road to Surry and Walpole. Other streets are generally laid out at rightangles or parallel with Main street, so that the street system is symmetrical without being precisely of the checker-board pattern.
The first meeting of the legal voters of Keene for the choice of city and ward officers was held on the second Tuesday in April, 1874, when the following officers were elected, and on the 5th day of May, following, were duly clothed with administrative powers: Mayor, Horatio Colony. Aldermen, ward one, Horatio Kimball; ward two, Edward Farrar; ward three, Don H. Woodward; ward four, Francis C. Faulkner; ward five, Reuben Stewart. Councilmen,-ward one. Alanson S. Whitcomb, Francis French, Franklin J. Ware; ward two, Henry H. Darling, Miles S. Buckminster, George W. Holbrook; ward three, Joseph R. Beal, James W. Dodge, Nathan G. Woodbury; ward four, Frederick H. Kingsbury, Leander W. Cummings, Charles N. Wilder; ward five, William Dinsmore, Oscar J. Howard, Horace Hamblett. Clerk, Henry S. Martin. President of council, Henry H. Darling.
As we have now looked upon the city of to-day, let us turn backward to the days of little things. At a meeting of the proprietors held October 26, 1737, it was voted to lay out one hundred acres of upland to each house-lot, the lots to be drawn by chance. No. I fell to a Mr. Morse, who made his pitch in what is now the heart of the city. Nathan Blake had a house on what is now Main street, near the General Wilson house, the first erected in the township, and the frame of the original Congregational meetinG.house was just completed, while just north, on Beaver brook, was anew saw-mill Such was the city of Keene in 1737. Ten years later there had been forty dwellings erected in the township, though how many of these were in the city proper it is impossible to say. But during that year they were all abandoned on account of Indian depredations, and later were burned by the savages. Of the buildings known to have been in the city, however, were five dwellings, a meetinG.house, and a fort. The latter, built in 1738, occupied nearly the present site of the house of Hon. Edward Gustine. The church stood just north of Nathan Blakes house, having been moved from the south end of Main street in 7741. Just south of Blakes was Mrs. Clarks house, and south of that the McKenny house. On the corner where Baker street turns off from Main was the dwelling of . Dorman, while on the north side of Baker street, near the brook, stood another dwelling. In a well belonging to the latter a man hid for two days, during the Indian attack of 1746, and escaped unharmed. In 1750 or 51 the inhabitants began to come back to their possessions here, and in 1752 eight or ten dwellings had been erected.
In 1800 the village had grown to considerable importance. Aside from its fifty-two dwellings and usual complement of shops, etc., there were four stores, three school-houses, three taverns, a jeweler, a distillery, tannery, saw-mill, grist-mill, pot and peal-ash works, fullinG.mill, blacksmith shop, printing office and New Hampshire Sentinel, masonic-hall, meetinG.house, and jail. The old Dr. Adams house occupied the site of the fort and in it was kept the postoffice.
Of what the villages business facilities were in 1819, an idea may be obtained from the following extract from an address delivered by Samuel A. Gerould, in 1868, descriptive of his first visit here, in the former year:-
I entered the village at the south end of Main street. As I neared the common at the northern terminus of the street, in the center of which was a large church whose broad front looked down the whole length of Main street, I was perfectly delighted with the beauty of the village, and felt if I could only get into business here I would be made for this world. At that time there were but six stores in Keene, the names of the firms and individual traders being as follows: A. & T. Hall, the oldest, dry goods, groceries, drugs and medicines; Appleton & Elliott, groceries, dry goods, hardware, and manufacturers of window glass; William Lamson, a very popular trader, dry and fancy goods, groceries and crockery; Justus Perry, dry goods, groceries, crockery, and manufacturer of glass hollow ware; Dr. Hough, dry goods, groceries, drugs and medicines; and Lynds Wheelock, a successful trader in dry goods, groceries, crockery and glass.ware. Another store, the seventh, was then closed by the sheriff, which I desired to re-open by purchasing the goods. This I did, and here I have been since-forty-nine years, in the business of dry goods, groceries, crockery, glass and silverware, watches jewelry and carpets.perfectly satisfied with my location, business and success.”
We would also add, Mr. Gerould is still one of the honored citizens of the place he has so long made his home.