Widest Main Street

Courtesy of the Historical Society of Cheshire County

Workers from Portland Construction work on paving Main Street in downtown Keene — soon to be billed as the “Widest Paved Main Street in the World” — in 1921.

Many of us have seen postcards of Keene’s Main Street overprinted with the words “the widest paved Main Street in the World.” The development of this unique street can be traced to a single day in the autumn of 1736, just two years after the first settlers arrived in the town.

A meeting of the proprietors of the township was held on the first day of October, 1736, at the log home of Nathan Blake on the corner of what later became Winchester and Main streets. The settlers voted at that meeting to double the width of the town’s Main Street from four rods to eight rods because “the Town Street is judged too narrow conveniently to accommodate the Proprietors.” The land owners surrendered four rods of their property on the street and were given four rods on the rear of their lots as repayment.

The street was widened from 66 to 132 feet, thus establishing the character of the village, which local residents have enjoyed since that time. The settlers did not record why a 66-foot-wide street was not “conveniently” wide enough in a thick forest with only a few footpaths and one or two permanent homes.

In the 1920s, the chamber of commerce proclaimed that Keene was home to “the widest paved Main Street in the world.” This was immediately after the street was paved with concrete in 1921 and was probably a publicity move to attract people to the modern and attractive downtown. Other Main Streets in the world were wider, but Keene’s, measuring 172 feet from curb to curb at its widest point near Central Square, was now fully paved.

Whatever the motives of those early settlers might have been for doubling the width of Main Street in 1736, we owe them a debt of gratitude for their foresight in laying out the attractive Main Street that we still enjoy today.

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.