Find out more about your community and how it fits into state and national history with this project. Then put together a fun presentation to share your findings.
New Hampshire’s towns have a rich cultural history. As you discover clues about your town’s past, you are deepening your knowledge of both local, state, and even national history.
This project is designed to help you look for clues to history in your own town. You will look for places and things in your town that point to the past. You can also create a presentation or display of what you have learned so you can share it with others.
Make sure you check with a parent before starting your project and let them know your plans. They might be able to help!
Start with a basic brainstorming session by asking yourself, “what do I already know about the history of my town?” Nothing is too small! Do you know our town’s name? Yes? Write it down! You might know more about the history of your town than you realize, particularly if you look for clues in the physical landscape, such as:
- Are there street names or other place names that provide hints about your town’s history (Mill Street, Depot Street, Mast Road, Stagecoach Road, Factory Square, etc.).
- Is there a rail trail in your town? If so, then there must have been railroad tracks at some point.
- Are there one or more large brick buildings on the river or another body of water? That could have been a mill or factory.
- Are there museums or designated historic places in your town, like the birthplace of a well-known person?
- Are there statues, monuments, or plaques commemorating the history of your town?
Create a list of questions you want to answer while working on this project, such as:
- Where did the town get its name?
- When was the town settled?
- What groups of people have lived here?
- Is the town known for anything in particular?
- Why did people give these streets these names?
- What does the street name tell you about what as on or near these streets?
- Where did the railroad go? Where were the stops?
- When did it operate in your town?
- Why would people build a railroad in your town? What types of things were transported on the railroad?
Be sure to write down any additional questions you have about the history of your town.
Create a Draft Chronology
To better understand the evolution of your town create a simple chronology that shows the major periods of your town’s history. Be sure to include deductions about your town’s history based on the clues you discovered during your brainstorming session.
Write or draw the chronology on butcher paper. This visual display will help you understand the different periods of your town’s history and its narrative arc, which is another way of saying the town’s story. Your chronology might change as you do your research, so at this point, simply write or sketch it out because it’s only a draft.
Make Connections to State History
Once your town’s history has been laid out on the chronology, add information that shows how the town’s history mirrors the state’s history. Along either the top or the bottom of the chronology, note important milestones or periods of New Hampshire’s past that relate to your town’s history.
For example, if your town has a statue to honor its soldiers from a particular war, note on the chronology when that war was fought. If there were factories in your town, note on the chronology when industrialization come to New Hampshire. If your town was a popular spot for tourists, add to the chronology when tourism flourished in your part of New Hampshire.
Decide on the Scope of the Project
Most towns in New Hampshire are hundreds of years old. Once you have a sense of the various periods of your town’s history, decide on the scope of your project.
- Will you try to cover all of your town’s history?
- Or will you concentrate on a specific episode or period of your town’s history?
The scope for this project can be as wide as you have time for or narrowed down to one specific topic, like indigenous life, colonial history, early settlement, industrialization, wars, agriculture, or anything else that catches your interest.
Explore the units on the “Moose on the Loose” that seem most relevant to your town’s past, particularly if your project focuses on a specific event or era. There’s lots of ways to learn about New Hampshire’s history in these units, including the explainer videos, the activities and games, the handouts, and reading or listening to the text.
Learning about state history will help you understand better how your town fits into the bigger picture of what was happening in New Hampshire or even the United States.
Research Your Town History
Each community saves its history in its own way, so you’ll need to find out what resources your town has that tell you about its past.
Here are some places to start looking for more about your town’s history:
- Local historical societies or museums: Nearly every town has a historical society, and many have small museums or visitor centers. These can be excellent resources for information. Enlist the help of staff members, as they almost always know more about the town’s history than what is on display!
- Town library: Librarians usually know a lot about local history, and they can help you find books, websites, and people where you can learn more. They might also be able to help you find resources that aren’t on the shelves, such as fragile manuscripts or documents not normally available for public viewing.
- Published town histories: Almost every town in the state has a published town history, and some have more than one. Some of these books are easy to read and have lots of pictures to look at. The town library should have any published town histories, but sometimes you can find them on the internet too.
- Internet search: Your town’s website is usually a good place to look for a brief history of your community, and these websites might direct you to other sites that discuss the town’s history.
- Guided or self-guided tour: Many communities have walking or driving tours available that include historical information about the town. If your community has an Old Home Day, tours are often available at that time.
- Interview the residents: Talking to older residents of your town can turn up interesting nuggets of information. If your family has lived in town for a long time, you could speak to family members about their knowledge of the town’s history. Or a community member with a special interest in the town’s history could provide you with lots of information, but always check with a parent beforehand.
- Primary resources: Old maps, deeds, legal documents, family records, town records, and other primary sources often provide a wealth of information, although many of these types of materials—which are called primary sources—may be difficult to understand. You might want to start learning about primary sources in the Analyze It section of the Moose. Once you know a bit more about working with primary sources, look for material related to your town at places like the town hall, the local historical society, the New Hampshire State Library, and the New Hampshire Historical Society, where the catalog of the Society’s holdings are available to search online.
Once you’ve found some sources of information, use the Hometown History Resource Sheet to keep track of the information you find. Complete one resource sheet per source.
My Historical Research
Keep track of what sources you look at and write down the information you learned from each source on this sheet.
Tell Your Story
Decide how you want to present what you've discovered about your town's history. There are all sorts of ways you can share with others what you’ve learned about your town’s history. Here are some suggestions:
- A hand-drawn map with pictures of your town, noting historical sites, objects, and stories. (These kinds of maps have a long history in New Hampshire. Check out the primary source set on Franklin Leavitt’s maps of the White Mountains for a great example of historical events depicted on a map with pictures!)
- A virtual exhibit organized either chronologically or by topic. You can create a virtual exhibition using programs like Powerpoint or Google Slides.
- An illustrated chronology that builds on the simple chronology created at the beginning of the project. Recreate a final version of your chronology, using either writing or pictures or both, and add decorations (either handmade drawings or photographs [current or historic]) to create a compelling visual history of the town.
- A play that tells the story of an interesting or notable event that happened in town.
- A song that uses a tune you already know, but you write new words and stanzas for it that show your town’s history.
- Oral and visual presentation to your family, friends, or classmates.
- Story booklet or story board, organized by topic or time period.
- Town history fair for your neighborhood. Your friends or neighbors could create their own presentations about the town’s history.
- Foster civic awareness by working with your town government to put up a plaque that recognizes a part of your town history or creates an official day of remembrance for your town.