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The Heart of Nashua with Joan Stylianos: Water's influence on Nashua, then and now

April 17. 2017 8:29PM

To old mill towns like Nashua, the power of water and harnessing it for energy played a significant role in the production of textiles, paper and other manufactured goods. We can thank the Nashua River and Salmon Brook for helping define the city’s impressive industrial heritage.

Times have certainly changed, and now the Nashua River is on the minds of city leaders in a new aesthetic way, in developing a master plan for the downtown riverfront. The improvements would target the Nashua River along the Millyard area, including a proposed “pedestrian connection over the power canal (1826) into Mine Falls Park.” The city is also looking at more development opportunities along the water for economic purposes, and public input is welcome here.

In my last column, I mentioned the former International Paper Box Machine Company that once dominated the landscape along lower Main Street. Before that, The Vale Mills (textile) were located on the property from 1868 through 1901.

What many of us seem to forget as we travel daily through the area by vehicle or foot is famous Salmon Brook, the humble waterway that has quietly served the community for so many generations. The brook is more than 17 miles long and begins its flow in Groton, Mass., at Martins Pond. Salmon Brook is said to run “roughly parallel to the Nashua River.”

I spent wonderful days as a child dog-paddling in the brook at Field’s Grove, marveling at experienced swimmers jumping off the high dive, hanging out with my brother Andy as he fished along the pleasant banks, nibbling on nearby rhubarb stalks, watching bullfrogs leap about and being warned by other kids about the occasional snapping turtle basking in the summer glow.

Those were great times, and I wish our youngest residents could experience the same fascination and fun today that we had using the brook. By the way, “Watanuck” is the Indian name for Salmon Brook.

What intrigues me about Salmon Brook is its strong, yet undetectable presence at Main Street (between Lake and Allds Streets) and its curious underground pathway as it makes its journey to the Merrimack River. The Vale Dam plays prominently into the picture as Salmon Brook flows over it and then disappears beneath Main Street Market Place across the street.

While walking daily to James B. Crowley elementary school on the west side of Main Street years ago, my friends and I would often pause by the loud rushing water and watch it cascade over the falls. Right along that sidewalk was a narrow area with an iron railing running parallel to the street. If you looked over, you could see the waterfall (Vale Dam). I and others would spit over the railing to watch our saliva tumble into the falls.

I guess I was a pint-sized thug in those days, but we were just curious kids. I’m surprised no one ever fell in, got hurt or sucked under the rushing water. The former railing and open viewing area offered little security and to me, was always an accident waiting to happen.

My friend Bonnie (Menard) Allen, formerly of Nashua, recalls the powerful waterfall on her way to school. “I would walk right past it with my companions, usually Linda Arnold, Sue Raysor, Diane Clark. We would stop there and draw in deep breaths of the cold, moist spray from the dam and check out any debris that might be floating or on the banks. In winter, it was fun to see the ice and snow buildup, but always, the dam was flowing swiftly.”

Bonnie’s friend Eli Whitney also remembers the torrent. “I walked home every night from Elm Street after basketball. I always paused on the bridge and watched (with fascination) the water rushing over the dam and away to somewhere under Simoneau Plaza toward the backside of Hunt (Home).

Ms. Stylianos is a Nashua native. Her column is published weekly. She can be reached at

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