A town of ‘excessive blessings’

Francestown: A look back on the occasion of Village Store’s 200th anniversary

“What was home, really, but the place where a space just your shape and size waited for you.”

-Elin Hilderbrand

Historically, Francestown, like many other communities in the Monadnock region, experienced a sharp decline in population during the early 19th century with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Many young people flocked to the industrial cities along the Merrimack River, seeking employment when family farms could no longer sustain them. In John Schott’s 1972 edition of Francestown’s history, research suggested that the declining population created by the lack of economic opportunity was further exacerbated by the “…combination of social mobility and ease of transportation.” It was Schott’s belief that these variables “…fragmented both family and community by providing a wider geographical arena within which the townspeople could cultivate friendships, find employment, and obtain an education.” As a result, Schott believed Francestown was, “… becoming de-organized and thus the good conversation and social entertainment which had required organization and careful planning, not just a switch of a television dial in one’s living room, was lost.”

Schott also feared that it was quite possible that the ever increasing number of summer residents, as well as those who traveled to and through town for recreation, and those who ultimately decided to settle here and call Francestown “home,” would compromise “Francestown’s excessive blessings.” This phenomenon would purportedly “…lead to Francestown’s ruination by encouraging the intrusion of others whose very numbers might contravene the style of life which they had come here to find; and which present residents consider themselves and their forbears so privileged to have led in this lovely, quiet spot.”

Like many who currently call Francestown “home,” my family was one of those which traveled to this town for recreation so that our children could ski at the old Crotched Mountain Ski Area. Ultimately when my husband and I decided to build our retirement home, we chose a piece of property in this “lovely, quiet spot” for just those reasons — and I can honestly say that we were never made to feel unwelcome nor like “disruptive invaders.” For us, it is much more than the quiet beauty of Francestown or the recreational opportunities which keep us here — more importantly it is the sense of community provided by those people we have come to know as well as others we continue to meet. As both my husband and I have discovered since becoming residents here, this spirit of community is constantly evolving and much more inclusive of all who make Francestown home.

Francestown is your quintessential and rural New England town. The economic opportunities are still few and far between and are seldom the reason one moves to or stays here. It is much more a lifestyle choice due to the culture and geography of our region which brings people here initially as visitors and then as residents. The intimacy inherent in rural life is the major draw for those who choose to live here and at times is much like a family — sometimes the “Hallmark” version and other times the “Shoebox” edition! All one has to do is attend a meeting here in town to experience this study in contrast — but despite this sometimes volatile and divisive exchange of opinions, when crisis hits and bad things happen to members of our Francestown “family,” Francestonians pull together to help.

And contrary to our city cousins’ popular opinion, life in rural Francestown is seldom dull! Being able to walk into our village library, choose a great book to read, while having an animated and/or amusing conversation about the books one has read is a treat. Conversations at the library are always interesting; and if one has the time or inclination to engage in these lively discussions, one might learn something beyond the scope of the books selected. And in my case, it is also an opportunity to socialize our dogs, while striving to achieve and maintain their therapy dog certification. It is this openness to new and unique programs which keeps our public library a vital part of our community for all to enjoy.

The jingle from the sitcom “Cheers” comes to mind each and every time I walk into the Village Store, Winslow’s Tavern or Crotched Mountain Ski & Ride. As at the library, there is always an opportunity for stimulating conversation and many laughs. The intimacy provided by these establishments in our rural community truly exemplify the word “inclusion”— friends, neighbors and acquaintances, as well as those strangers just passing through town, all have the opportunity to chime in if they so desire.

The variety of events sponsored and organized by the residents of our community, and which take place in a variety of different venues, provide multiple cultural and recreational options from which each of us might choose depending on our interests. Each event and/or venue becomes an occasion as well as an opportunity to become part of our community. And in many cases, new technology has not only not replaced the art of conversation, but instead has enhanced the “conversation” by extending this opportunity to a wider and much more inclusive audience to enjoy. Throughout our history, volunteers made up of “transplants” from geographic locations near and far meld well with those whose roots run deep. It is this blend of people whose efforts enhance the quality of life and which creates and defines the unique character of our town because it provides each of us with a sense of community that enriches our lives.

Recently we celebrated the 200-year anniversary of the Francestown Village Store. This community event honored and recognized one of Francestown’s historic landmarks, while being sponsored and organized by its new proprietors, Rob and Christina Wohle, who have made this iconic landmark a focal point and shining example of community spirit and energy for all to enjoy throughout the year. The work involved to pull together this celebration, especially after Francestown’s winter of discontent, is but one among many events which suggest that there is a tremendous amount of “organization and careful planning” going on in our town to provide a variety of social, recreational and educational forums all year long.

I think John Schott would have been pleasantly surprised and very pleased to know that those of us who presently call Francestown home, continue to work diligently to ensure that there is a place in this community for each of us to give as well as receive its “excessive blessings” should we choose to do so without diminishing “the style of life we have come here to find or whose forebears were so privileged to have led in this lovely quiet spot.” And it is this diligence which makes Francestown a place we call home because it does indeed accommodate and provide for each of us “…a space just your shape and size.”

Deb McGrath lives in Francestown.

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