Historic Harrisville

P.O. Box 79
Harrisville, NH 03450
603-827-3722

Erin Hammerstedt
Executive Director
ehammerstedt@historicharrisville.org

 


 

Office Hours

Monday-Friday
8:00 AM to 4:00 PM

 

 
Meetings & Events

Incorporators Meeting
Saturday, April 27, 2019
10:00 a.m.

 


 

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On Harrisville

By William H. Pierson, Jr.
Professor of Art, Williams College

Written in 1971 at the forming of Historic Harrisville
(Photos reprinted with permission of William H. Pierson, Jr. with all rights reserved)

Granite Mill built 1846 by Asa Greenwood, Cyrus Harris and Henry Melville

Harrisville, New Hampshire is important because it is the only nineteenth century industrial community in New England which survives in anything like its original form. It is situated in the Monadnock highlands in the southern part of the state, and because of its isolation and limited water power, this remarkable town did not fall victim to the desolations of exploitation and expansion which so drastically altered the other industrial communities of New England. Moreover, the mills and their related buildings have been owned by the same family for over a century and a quarter. All the major components of the town are still intact and it appears today almost exactly as it did in the nineteenth century.

Although not a planned community in the modern sense of the word, Harrisville’s industrial, domestic and civil buildings form a coherent and enchanting whole. The prevailing material of the earliest buildings is a warm red brick, simply trimmed with white painted wood; the principal mill is a handsome granite building with a clerestory monitor roof and front stair tower. Throughout, the community proportions, scale, and detailing are those of the New-classical styles which dominated American architecture during the first half of the nineteenth century.

Harris houses and Harris Storehouse overlooking power canal

Conforming sympathetically to the rise and fall of the land, the various buildings are loosely grouped according to function either along the banks of the mill pond and canal, or on the irregular sides of the steep gorge which forms both head and tailrace for the sequence of descending mills which sit astride the stream.

In every way Harrisville is of consummate historical importance. At one level it is a community of unmatched architectural interest and picturesque charm. Drawing its inspiration from the Boston of Charles Bulfinch, its buildings display in a provincial form the same qualities of grace and elegance as those built on Beacon Hill during the first decades of the century, and the town is laid out with an obvious concern for the character of the natural setting. At another level, Harrisville’s purposeful plan relates it at once to that tradition of New England town planning which had its roots in the towns of the colonial period and culminated, during the first half of the nineteenth century, in the great industrial communities of the Merrimack Valley, Lowell, Lawrence and Manchester. Although more modest in size than these early giants, Harrisville was nevertheless inspired by the same concerns and molded by the same technological and social necessities. Based in part on the example of Lowell, but in part also on the smaller industrial communities of Rhode Island, the town remains as an eloquent and priceless document of the major creative thrusts in American society during the first half of the nineteenth century, and its importance cannot be overemphasized. It has, in fact, been called by some the Williamsburg of the North; but in truth it is far more than that. From the cultural point of view Williamsburg was, in its day, the most thoroughly British segment of the entire Atlantic seaboard, and far from forming the basis of nineteenth century industrial America it represents instead the last provincial flowering of eighteenth century England. It was in part because of this that it was abandoned immediately after the Revolution in favor of Jefferson’s new capital in Richmond, and was subsequently left to fall into ruin. In order to restore it, therefore, vast sums were required to rebuild virtually the entire community.

Harris Mill, 1832 and Harris Boilerhouse, ca. 1860 before restoration

Harrisville on the other hand is a living segment of the early struggle in this country for social and economic independence, and to the degree that it marks the beginning of American industry it is of far greater importance than anything built during the eighteenth century. Moreover, Williamsburg, because it is largely restoration, is to a certain degree contrived; Harrisville is an authentic factory town which is all there so that there is no need to rebuild anything. Equally important, it is still a living community capable of the same productive activity as that which brought it into existence a century and a half ago. That it should not be preserved and sustained, therefore, as a living document of American culture, is unthinkable.  (8 1/2″ x 11″ prints of these photos are available at the office of Historic Harrisville.)