Monadnock County

A bill to constitute Monadnock County nearly created the state’s 11th county in 1868.

The state of New Hampshire is divided into 10 counties for administrative and judicial purposes. The state was first divided into counties, five at that time, in 1769. The remaining five counties were formed between 1803 and 1840. During the late 1860s an 11th county was almost formed.

During the June 1868 session of the New Hampshire Legislature, an “act to constitute the county of Monadnock” was introduced in the House of Representatives. If passed, this bill would have resulted in a new county, Monadnock, being formed. The new county was to be incorporated from 14 of the 31 towns that make up Hillsborough County. These towns were Mason, New Ipswich, Sharon, Temple, Peterborough, Hancock, Greenfield, Lyndeborough, Francestown, Bennington, Antrim, Windsor, Hillsborough and Deering. Peterborough was to serve as the county seat.

The bill made provisions for the organization of courts, the selection of judges and county commissioners, and all other arrangements necessary to begin a new county government. The new county was to be officially formed on Jan. 1, 1869.

The bill was presented at the initiative of a “citizens’ committee” made up of members from the towns that would constitute the new county. The public spokesman for the committee was Charles Wilder of Peterborough, owner of that town’s successful Wilder thermometer and barometer manufacturing company.

The justification for forming the new county was that the 14 towns listed above were suffering financially due to their association with Hillsborough County. The committee reported in the Peterborough Transcript that they were attempting to secure “more just equitable and convenient facilities for county business” for the towns in question. The two main arguments involved the disproportionate expense borne by the 14 towns as long as they remained in Hillsborough County and the distance they traveled to the county courts.

The citizens’ committee explained that Nashua and Manchester had grown much larger than the other towns in the county and that most of the region’s paupers and criminals were from those two towns. Consequently, the residents of the small towns were paying a disproportionate share for the care and maintenance of those paupers and criminals. Furthermore, residents of the towns on the western end of the county were traveling a great distance to attend the court sessions in Nashua and Manchester. Formation of the new county would save 3,828 miles of travel annually for jurors from those towns.

The committee reviewing the bill postponed action on it until more citizens could express their thoughts about the proposal. The bill was carried forward into 1869. At that time the citizen’s committee proposed adding five Cheshire County towns to the new county, Rindge, Jaffrey, Dublin, Nelson and Stoddard, all of which bordered on Hillsborough County.

A 20-page copy of the bill was printed for the N.H. House of Representatives. Wilder’s committee implored residents of the towns to hold public meetings and submit petitions showing their support. The final action taken on the bill is not known, but it is obvious that it did not pass the Legislature because the new county was never formed; Monadnock County is the county that never was.

Alan F. Rumrill is executive director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, which has been collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the region since 1927. It’s on Main Street. To learn more about its public programs and collections, visit hsccnh.org.