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Orford Town

Grafton County, New Hampshire

Orford Town Hall is located at 2529 Route 25A, Orford, NH 03777.
Phone: 603‑353‑4404.

Beginnings [1]

Orford's first colonial settlers arrived in 1765 and took shelter in a log hut. During the 65 years that followed, all except the most rugged hills were settled for farming. Roads pushed into all the valleys in town. An important turnpike was linked to an early bridge across the Connecticut River and provided access to urban markets to the southeast. This transportation route stimulated commerce in Orford. By 1830, Orford hit its peak population of 1829 residents.

Orford in 1830 was a thriving town with viable farms, numerous water-powered mills, and village centers with shops and roadside inns. During the period of 1775 to 1840, fine homes were constructed in various parts of the town, which now have significant stature in the history of architecture. Notable among these is the group of seven Federal-style homes on the "Ridge" located on Orford's Main Street. An important village center existed in Orfordville that included the Dame Hill neighborhood and the Orford town hall.

However, many farms never developed beyond the self-sufficiency stage, and some of these were occupied for no more than 30 to 40 years. Agricultural production hit its peak from 1835 to 1845.

After 1840, some Orford residents began moving west and to jobs in the larger cities. This loss of population was similar in other rural New England communities and was in response to the industrial revolution and the impact of the Civil War. Farms were abandoned beginning with those that were the most remote and marginal in terms of soils and elevation (climate). Other farms were consolidated in an effort to increase productivity.

During the last decades of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century, efforts were made by the State of New Hampshire to promote new agricultural techniques and to encourage tourism. A number of Orford families took in guests from the city. A local Grange organization was established to support farm families. Children's summer camps began to be set up on the town's scenic mountain ponds. Nevertheless, Orford's year-round population continued its steady decline. In 1890 it was 916; in 1930, it reached its low point of 636 inhabitants.

Although most of Orford's land had been cleared for farming by about 1830, as farms were abandoned, the land began to revert to forests. By the late 1800's, these new forests became an economic resource, and a logging industry developed.

By the late 1930's, some Orford roads had been abandoned. Residents who lived on remote farms experienced isolation, inadequate markets, and, as living standards began to improve in the region after the Depression, a difficult time participating in those improved standards.

Since the 1950's the development of major highways and the ease of automobile travel have had a profound influence on the Upper Valley and Orford. People in Boston and New York found the Upper Valley to be both desirable and accessible for vacations and second homes. They helped create a tourist and recreation industry and stimulated the real estate market. They also brought an expectation about what country and small town living "should be."

  1. Orford Master Plan, August, 2001, Historical Overview of Community and Population Development, www.orfordnh.us, accessed June, 2011.

Nearby Towns: Lyme Town •

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