Roxbury Church, circa 1920

The Roxbury Church, shown here in 1920, was taken down in 1959, the last of the core buildings of Roxbury Center. The village center still exists, on maps, but not as it once was.

The town of Roxbury, near the center of Cheshire County, is one of the smallest in size and has been among the smallest in population in the region.

This section of the county is hilly and isolated from the town centers of the surrounding communities. As a result of that isolation, the residents of the area applied for incorporation as a separate town in the late 1700s, so that it might be more convenient for them to attend church and town meetings and easier for their children to get to school. The petition was denied by the state, but the local residents built a meetinghouse to be used for church and other meetings.

Another petition was soon submitted, and the town of Roxbury was formed from parts of the towns of Keene, Nelson and Marlborough in 1812. A village grew up around the meetinghouse, which was replaced by a new church building in 1849. Roxbury Center village became the home of a tavern, store, blacksmith shop and center school. Several homes, a parsonage and the Roxbury post office were also located in the neighborhood.

Many of the residents were farmers, but there was a saw mill down the hill and a granite quarry just down the road from the village. By 1820, the population had grown to 366 people.

By the middle of the 19th century, however, the town had begun to decline. The population dropped to 260 by 1850 and 126 by 1880. The younger generations found that the rocky land was not well suited for farming, and many young men moved west to find richer soil. Because of the isolation that had brought the village into being, large-scale industry was not practical. The former tavern was moved to Marlborough in the 1890s, homes were removed or disappeared, and the school was no longer used. The population of the small town dropped to just 53 residents by 1930.

The little church in the heart of the village survived the longest. It finally stood alone in a small clearing where the village had previously been. By the late 1950s, the largely unused church was in a state of disrepair. At the 1959 town meeting, the townspeople voted to remove the deteriorating building. The church itself was dismantled 110 years after its construction, and Roxbury Center village disappeared, but not from the memories of those who had known it. The town continues to exist nonetheless, with a population of 221 as of 2018.

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.