Rochester is a city in Strafford County, New Hampshire, United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 29,752. The city includes the villages of East Rochester and Gonic. Rochester is home to Skyhaven Airport and the annual Rochester Fair.
Rochester was once inhabited by Abenaki Indians of the Pennacook tribe. They fished, hunted and farmed, moving locations when their agriculture exhausted the soil for growing pumpkins, squash, beans and maize. Gonic was called Squanamagonic, meaning "the water of the clay place hill."
The town was one of four granted by Colonial Governor Samuel Shute of Massachusetts during his brief term. Incorporated in 1722, it was named for his close friend, Laurence Hyde, Earl of Rochester and brother-in-law to King James II. As was customary, tall white pine trees were reserved for use as masts by the Royal Navy. But hostility with the Indians delayed settlement until 1728, although attacks would continue until 1748. Early dwellings clustered together for protection, beginning near Haven Hill. Due to warfare or disease, after 1749 the Indians were gone. The community at that time included Farmington, which would be incorporated in 1798, and Milton, in 1802.
In 1737, the Reverend Amos Main became the first settled pastor of the Congregational Church, located on Rochester Hill. The building would be moved to Rochester Common, which then encompassed and was called Norway Plain Mille Common after its abundant Norway pines. At the time, the Common extended into what is now downtown Rochester. By 1738, the farming community contained 60 families. A statue of Parson Main, sculpted by Giuseppe Moretti, today presides over the town square.
By 1780 the area surrounding the Common was the most thickly settled part of town, so a meeting house/church was erected on the east end of the Common with the entrance facing what is now South Main Street. A cemetery was also established near the new meeting house, but the ground was found to be too wet, and the bodies were removed to the Old Rochester Cemetery. In 1842 the Meeting House/church was moved to the present-day location at the corner of Liberty and South Main streets. As the years went by the size of the Common would shrink as more of it was sold off for development.
During the Revolutionary War the Common was used as the meeting place for soldiers before going off to war. The common is also the location of the city's Civil War monument which bears the names of the 54 men who died then. The monument was dedicated in the 1870s, and in the 1880s the statue was added to the monument. Four Civil War cannons also decorated the monument, but during World War II the cannon were melted down for use in the war. They were replaced by World War II guns.
The bandstand was built in 1914 by Miles Dustin; before then band concerts were held on the square. The flag pole was donated by J. Frank Place in 1917. He was the former publisher of the Rochester Courier.
In the early days if a town had more than 50 families, it was required to establish a public school to teach writing and reading. Up to 1750 Rochester was able to ignore this law because of Indian hostilities. In 1750 the Indian attacks were not a threat anymore so Rochester voted at a town meeting to start schooling the children.
In 1751 the first public schooling started in Rochester. The school lasted for 16 weeks and the first teacher (school master) was named John Forst. Forst was paid a salary of 15 pounds and boarded with a different family each month (this family received 30 cents a week from the city). The early school had a fireplace in the front of the classroom. The children in the front of the class got really hot while the children at the back of the classroom were really cold. Discipline of the school children was enforced by the teacher flogging the students. One of the earlier teachers was named Mr. Tanner, and he was known as the best 'flogger' in the area even though he had only one arm.
Growth through the 19th century
When Rochester was first settled there was no mail service at all. In 1768 this changed when a post rider traveled from Portsmouth through Berwick, Dover and Rochester bringing gazettes. In 1792 this improved when Joseph Paine would deliver and pick up mail once a week. When he arrived in town a horn would blow to inform the town of his presence. A regular post office was established on March 26, 1812, in the Barke Tavern. The first postmaster in Rochester was William Barker.
In 1854, the E.G. & E. Wallace Shoe Company was established, eventually becoming the city's biggest employer, with over 700 workers in 1901. Its name changed to the Rochester Shoe Corporation in the 1920s. The Kessel Fire Brick Company was established in 1889, and at one time bricks for new buildings at Harvard University were made in Gonic. Carrying the freight were four railroads which once passed through Rochester, a major junction between Haverhill, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine. Agriculture continued to be important, and in 1875 the Rochester Fair was established. In 1891, Rochester was incorporated as a city.
The first telephone was installed in 1885 in the K.C. Sanborn Drug Store, the phone was connected to the Dover Telephone Exchange. By the early 1900s there were 1200 local calls and 400 toll calls a day made from Rochester.
During the Great Depression, however, several industries left for cheaper operating conditions in the South or went bankrupt. But the affluent mill era left behind some fine architecture, including the Rochester Public Library, designed by the Concord architects Randlett & Griffin.
The Rochester Public Library was started in 1893 and was one of the three earliest public libraries in the state. Back then the library was located on the corner of Portland and Main streets. A little bit later it moved to City Hall.
In the early 1900s, Rochester Postmaster Osman Warren contacted Andrew Carnegie to secure his help in providing financial help in building a new library. The Carnegie Institute responded with a check for $20,000. The brand new library was built on the site of what was the Main Street School. The library was built in the new Georgian revival style using brick and granite, and the inside was finished with golden oak and cypress. The library opened on October 2, 1905, and 150 people registered the first day. Miss Lillian Parshley was the first librarian, serving until her death in 1945. Velma Foss, Miss Parshley's assistant, was the second librarian of the Rochester Library.
City Hall and Opera House
Another notable structure is the 1908 Rochester City Hall and Opera House by George Gilman Adams. Adams designed other city hall/opera house dual-purpose buildings around New England, including for Bellows Falls, Vermont (1887); Amesbury, Massachusetts (1887); Dover, New Hampshire (1891); and Derry, New Hampshire (1901). Only four of his city hall/opera houses survive today (in Waterville, Montpelier, Derry, and Rochester), as many of his buildings were destroyed by fire.
George Adams' opera houses were unique because of their floors, which were movable and could function in an inclined position or level position. With the floor in the inclined position, the opera house would show plays, concerts, etc. When the floor was level, the building could be used for dances or public meetings. The Rochester Opera House opened on Memorial Day in 1908. Almost all of Adams' buildings contained the movable floor, though the buildings in Waterville and Montpelier did not. Because of the destruction of the other opera houses the Rochester Opera House is the only known theatre in the United States to use this type of movable floor.
Today one can still take in a show at the Rochester Opera House. The Opera House looks like it did over ninety years ago when it opened up.
Rochester passed out of the silent movie era on May 20, 1929 with the arrival of the first talking motion picture in the city, titled The Wild Party, starring Clara Bow. The movie was shown at the Scenic Theater. The evening admission price was 35 cents for adults and 15 cents for children.
A Rochester Courier article from October 1930 described a new indoor golf course:
INDOOR GOLF COURSE TO BE OPENED ON SATURDAY
The summer of 1947 was dry. In late October of that year only 1/8 inch of rain had fallen since mid-September, and the temperatures were high. Small ponds and streams were dried up, and local farmers were using water from the Salmon Falls River and Cocheco River to provide water for their livestock. Fire risk was high. On October 21, sparks from a passing train car in Farmington ignited the dry grass on both sides of the track, starting the biggest fire to strike Rochester.
At first firefighters seemed to have the fire in control, but two days later winds up to drove the 'small' fire out of control. The wind-driven fire moved to the south and east into Rochester. The fire would engulf an area over long and over wide with walls of flame high. Before the fire was under control over 30 homes in Rochester would be lost.
Hurricane Carol struck New Hampshire on September 2, 1954. The winds of the hurricane were in excess of . The property damage in New Hampshire was estimated to be 3 million dollars and four inches of rain fell during the storm.