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Derry starts preparations for Nutfield's 300th anniversary

Union Leader Correspondent

January 31. 2018 10:55PM
Paul Lindemann of the Derry Heritage Commission reviews the history of Nutfield on Wednesday night as the commission prepares for the settlement's 300th anniversary celebration next year. (CHRIS GAROFOLO/UNION LEADER Correspondent)

Organizers of the Nutfield 300th anniversary expect to strike a collectible coin, similar to the one for the settlement’s 250th anniversary in 1969. (CHRIS GAROFOLO/UNION LEADER Correspondent)

DERRY — The Derry Heritage Commission is planning a season-long celebration in 2019 for the 300th anniversary of the founding of Nutfield, the original inland settlement in the Merrimack Valley.

Organizations in Derry, Londonderry and Windham are involved under a unified 300th anniversary brand that will chronicle the region’s rich backstory with lectures, ancestry outreach and reenactments that will offer an intriguing cultural pit stop for tourists next year.

“This is a great opportunity for us to place Derry as a place to go, a destination,” said Karen Blandford-Anderson, chairman of the heritage commission who met Wednesday night to begin preparations and assign members to task groups.

“What we want to do really is rally the downtown businesses, we want to rally the schools, we want to rally the library to really make it an event that puts Derry on the map,” she said.

Nutfield started as a 12-square-mile tract of land granted from the Massachusetts governor to a group of Scots-Irish settlers led by the Rev. James MacGregor, who fled religious wars in Northern Ireland in 1718 to Boston. The land, with a plentiful supply of nut and fruit trees, includes today’s towns of Derry, Londonderry, Windham and a portion of Manchester.

MacGregor and 16 Presbyterian families arrived on Horse Hill (now East Derry Road) on April 11, 1719, the first sermon taking place the following day on the shore of Beaver Lake.

All of Nutfield was first chartered as Londonderry in 1722. The town of Windham split and was chartered in 1742, one year after New Hampshire became a separate colony. Derry split and chartered in 1827.

Celebrations have previously been held for other Nutfield anniversaries, including the 150th, 200th, 250th and 275th. For the 300th, organizers expect to incorporate all three centuries of the Nutfield communities, from historic events to the current economic story of the region.

“It’s not strictly a history event, it’s really a lifelong event — 300 years of all the towns and everything that’s happened in that time,” said Paul Lindemann, a heritage commission member and curator of Nutfield’s history.

A steering committee will coordinate all aspects of the activities, with the expectation to anchor an event each month and a celebration in each partnering community.

Windham will likely integrate events during the Strawberry Festival in July and Londonderry is looking to expand its Old Home Day in August.

In Derry, a Founders Weekend at the First Parish Church will serve as the anniversary kickoff on April 12, 2019.

“That will literally be to the date when things were founded,” Lindemann said. “We’re envisioning on Friday evening a welcoming dinner. We hope to have invited folks from Northern Ireland — some of the ancestral families.”

A Heritage Day is planned for April 13 at the church, with history talks, artisan demonstrations and a founding musical performance expected. A special church service on Sunday will conclude the weekend activities.

The First Parish Church, a centerpiece for the anniversary, is in the middle of a multi-million dollar renovation. Lindemann said he hopes it will be ready in time for April 2019, but money has been an issue and organizers have stepped up fundraising efforts.

For the July 4 festivities, they hope to include a parade, along with speeches and the possible opening of a time capsule before a themed fireworks display.

The wrap-up would revolve around Derryfest, which takes place in September.

Other events throughout the summer are planned, from genealogy workshops and a discussion series at Derry Public Library to an Alan Shepard commemorative event, but organizers are also looking for ideas from the community and volunteers interested in coordinating activities.

Lindemann said they have an allocation in the Derry town budget and are seeking donations, additional involvement from existing nonprofits and more business sponsorships.

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