The Nubanusit River and its Mill History

The Historical Society in Peterborough, known as
the Monadnock Center for History and Culture, hosts some great programs and
events.  Last night, we went to an
informal, but highly informative talk titled “The Nubanusit: Spoonwood to
Peterborough” given by John “Chick” Colony. 

The Nubanusit behind the B&B 

From our perspective, the
Nubanusit is an integral part of our lives, running right behind the
B&B.  We see it every day and enjoy
its ever-changing colors, sounds, and wildlife. Colony also has a lot of personal
connection to the Nubanusit. Since the mid-1800s, his family has owned the
water flow rights on the upper Nubanusit in order to manage water for their
Cheshire Mills textile mills located in Harrisville.  Following the closing of the Cheshire Mills
in 1970, Colony was integral in the formation of Historic Harrisville, a
nonprofit dedicated to the preservation, renovation, and adaptation of the mill
and related buildings for modern reuse. 
He also founded Harrisville Designs in 1971, making wool yarns for
knitting and weaving, as well as carded fleece and weaving looms, in order to
keep Harrisville’s textile tradition alive. 

Harrisville Designs – Mill #1
Historic Harrisville’s Mill Building

 Colony explained that much of his
talk came out of a project he did with students at the Well School about 15
years ago.  He thought that if he worked
with the students to help them understand the characteristics of the river and
the history of the communities and industries along the river, they would make
the connection between the natural resources and economic opportunities… and
they did… and so did we. 

Here is some of what we learned: 

  • The Nubanusit
    originates at Spoonwood Pond in Nelson and flows through Nubanusit Lake,
    Harrisville Pond, Lake Skatutakee, and Edward MacDowell Lake before joining the
    Contoocook River in downtown Peterborough and eventually flowing into the Merrimack
    River and to the Atlantic.  

    Kayaking at the Spoonwood Dam
  • It falls 700
    feet over 15 miles and was once a highly productive river providing power for
    numerous woodworking and textile mills. The bigger the drop in water, the
    better the potential for power at that location. 

    Harrisville Pond
  • For industry on a larger scale, mills needed
    to be able to control the river’s waterflow to make sure there would be
    sufficient water flowing during work hours. 
    To accomplish this, mill owners negotiated with landowners to buy water
    flow rights for their properties. (These rights are still in existence today,
    along with the responsibility for any maintenance and upkeep needed on the

    Macdowell Dam from the water
  • Historic Harrisville is looking
    to bring hydroelectric power back to Harrisville using existing equipment and
    hopes to significantly reduce energy costs at the Cheshire Mills by replacing
    purchased electricity with hydro-generated electricity. 

It was an interesting
talk on a topic we only knew just a little bit about.  We now have even greater respect for the
river, its mill history, and what it means to the region.

Nubanusit River with steam

Nubanusit River in Downtown Peterborough