One striking feature of this small town on the Connecticut River glows more brightly than ever: reverence for its heritage. Decades ago, Lyme was in the forefront of a new movement to conserve its natural heritage, and remains so to this day. Despite its small size, the town has taken a statewide leadership role in protecting its agricultural heritage with one of New Hampshire’s first farmland protection projects, and recently with an effort to preserve historic barns. In 2011 the Town voted to establish a Heritage Commission, a town committee whose mission is to spotlight and catalog Lyme’s historical assets and support private and public efforts to preserve them.This Commission will help expand the Town’s historical awareness.
Lyme’s Early History
For centuries, Lyme was home to the Abenaki. At the close of the French and Indian War, immigrants of English descent moved north into the upper Connecticut River valley, and Lyme was among many towns on both sides of the river that were granted charters in the year 1761. Most early settlers followed trails up the river from Connecticut and Massachusetts, and set up homesteads on the rich flood plain and also on benches of fertile soil among the heavily forested hills above the town. Lyme’s first citizens felt more kinship with their neighbors in Thetford, Vermont than with those on the other side of the New Hampshire. In the late 1770s, Lyme, along with a number of other New Hampshire towns along the Connecticut River, petitioned to join the independent republic of Vermont.
Lyme’s early economy centered around its timber resources and the products of family farms. Lyme’s agrarian fortunes developed and changed as Merino sheep arrived in the valley. The population grew along with the flocks reaching 1824 in 1820, the highest in
its history. Lumbering and farming pushed back the forest, leaving Lyme’s landscape 85% cleared. In 1806 a stagecoach route from Concord known as the Grafton Turnpike opened, further stimulating travel and trade.
Lyme’s population waned after the opening of the Erie Canal, as many of its farmers, tired of growing granite, left to seek their fortunes in the newly opened American midwest. Hill farms were abandoned and the remaining population began to concentrate in the valleys and along brooks, especially the villages of Lyme Center and Lyme Plain. By the post-Civil War period Lyme had turned to dairy farming, spurred on by the coming of the railroads to the eastern corridor of New Hampshire.
Learn more: Lyme, New Hampshire’s history
Lyme is also blessed with a rich inventory of historic architecture, and its citizens with the instinct to respect and care for it. The Lyme History Museum is now home to the extensive collection of Lyme-related artifacts preserved for future generations by the Lyme Historians.
Join us in continuing our commitment to preserving Lyme’s heritage.