~ Gordon Peery

When my kids were young, I remember thinking that if for some reason they suddenly found themselves all alone in the village, they would be alright. Marc and Nancy Stretch in the former May Sarton house, Dutch Gerbis out tending his lawn, Donna Kidd being mindful of her own children, Patty Packard looking out from the (now old) library, Dottie Warner in her school bus. Many watchful and caring eyes. (Memories circa 1990).

These days the village is even busier, with the new library having more hours (excluding the current Covid hiatus), the town office being staffed more. Still, the Village is usually a quiet place: unlike most small towns we have no store or post office, no in-the-village fire or police department. It’s interesting to look back and see how things have evolved since the settlement of the town, in 1750s.

The village was originally established up the hill from its current location, where the Nelson Cemetery is now. It included a small meetinghouse, a tavern and store, and a cobbler’s shop. We can speculate that there was a lot of activity with people seeing each other on a daily basis (perhaps even to the point of social exhaustion).  The first “through” road went from Roxbury, coming onto what is now Lead Mine Road, through the current village, and out the Old Stoddard Road where it cut over to Stoddard. That last segment was discontinued in 1839, and the Roxbury link to Lead Mine Road was given up in the 1890’s.

Old Packersfield Village, c. 1810

Sketch by Roberta Wingerson

The town was originally known as Monadnock Number 6, per the charter from the Crown. It was then changed to Packersfield, after one of the original shareholders, but when it became apparent that he was reneging on various promises of support, the town sought a new name (see article above).

Not much is known about what motivated the townspeople to relocate the village down the hill to its present location, though such moves are not without precedent with other New England towns. For the second half of the 19th century the new Village must indeed have been a very busy place. The church and “state” separated with the construction of a new town hall and a considerably larger meeting house. There was a school, and a store which also served as a hotel. There was quite a lot of interaction. The town hall (which was higher then) had a basement which was used for storage by the store. On any given day there must have been quite a hustle and bustle, with Sundays no doubt given over to the arrival of the horses and buggies of church-goers.

In 1894 the store / hotel, which was located on the current common, burned. By then the population of the town had been dwindling for half a century, and there was probably not sufficient momentum to keep things going. Thankfully the rest of the village remains, and while it functions in a different way, it still represents the heart of our community.

The very first meeting house, which was subsequently sold and moved to the south of the cemetery, where it served as a tavern, store, and eventually a cobbler’s shop. Later it moved down to the present village, where it remained, eventually as a private home, until the 1990s.

The construction of Nelson Church began in 1841. This picture is probably from 1891.

At the time that the building burned in 1894, it was owned by Homer Farnum Priest, who operated a store on the first floor, a hotel called Nelson House on the second floor, and a home for his family on the third floor. Photographs show that the building faced the road opposite the church.