In 1969 the citizens of Jaffrey voted to establish the Jaffrey Historic District Commission, and the following year approved the establishment of the Jaffrey Center Historic District.
The district's purpose, as stated in the town ordinance, is to safeguard the heritage of Jaffrey Center by
- Preserving a district which reflects elements of its cultural, social, economic, political and architectural history
- Conserving property values in such district
- Fostering civic beauty
- Promoting the use of an historic district for the education, pleasure and welfare of the citizens.
Under the terms of the ordinance, the Commission is authorized to regulate the construction, alteration, painting, moving, demolition or use of structures and places within the Historic District. It does this by requiring property owners to apply for approval when they wish to make an exterior change to existing buildings, land and uses within the boundaries of the district.
The intent of the Historic District is not to freeze Jaffrey Center into any one period or to prevent future change. Much of its charm and character is derived from its evolution over more than two centuries and what the various buildings convey about changing life styles, owners and uses. Its purpose is, however, to ensure that the changes that occur in the district are compatible with the surrounding historic environment - the buildings, sites, and overall setting of Jaffrey Center.
Benefits of the Jaffrey Center Historic District include a public recognition of the importance of Jaffrey's heritage, one that is shared not just by those residing in the district, but by the entire community; a stabilizing effect on property values; and the economic benefit of drawing visitors to the area.
Come & Visit the Jaffrey Center Historic District
Jaffrey Center is the town's earliest settled area and its original town center. In 1775 the residents raised the MEETING HOUSE, which was used for town meetings and church services. Behind the Meeting House settlers laid out a large burying ground; across the street they erected a house for the minister. (The Manse is still owned by descendants of the first minister's family.) A system of roads radiated out from the village.
In 1802 the Third New Hampshire Turnpike (Route 124) opened, and Jaffrey Center became an important stagecoach stop for travelers headed between Boston and Walpole. The village's two taverns, three stores and several shops prospered from the traffic, as well as from the merchants, wealthy farmers, and professionals who resided there. Turnpike travel was not limited to people. Vast herds of cattle were a common sight in the fall and spring. Sometimes referred to as Jaffrey's first summer visitors, the animals arrived from towns in the Boston area, where land was too valuable to devote to pasture, to graze on the foothills of Mount Monadnock, returning each fall for eventual sale in the Boston markets.
The Center's residents were active in civic and educational affairs; several backed the establishment of MELVILLE ACADEMY in 1832 which at its height, drew 174 students from throughout New England, many of whom boarded in homes in the Center. At the east end of the district was its largest industry, Cutter's tannery and currier shop, which operated throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. Though most of the commercial activity has disappeared, the spacious, architecturally sophisticated houses and institutional buildings that still stand attest to the historical stature of the town center in the early nineteenth century.
By the 1830's, East Jaffrey, also located on the Turnpike, had begun to eclipse Jaffrey Center in importance. Its proximity to water power and, in later years, the railroad spurred its growth. As commerce started to shift away from the Center, east Jaffrey emerged as the heart of town affairs. It was not until 1914, however, that the town meeting at the Meeting House was abandoned for a location within east Jaffrey.
Jaffrey was one of the first mountain resort communities in New England, and the Center played a critical role in its development. As early as the 1820's, people came to climb Mount Monadnock, and spots offering food and shelter opened near its slopes. In the post Civil War era, many summer visitors stayed in Jaffrey Center's Inns, and more than a few opened their homes to summer boarders. Word of Jaffrey's beauty and cultural life spread among academic and professional circles, drawing clusters of New England's college graduates to the town during the summer months. Jaffrey Center became an enclave for professionals and academics, a large number of whom had been classmates at Amherst College. They purchased abandoned farms, historic houses, and painstakingly preserved the vistas toward Mount Monadnock.
After one of the major hotels in the Center burned, a group of public spirited citizens formed the Jaffrey Center Village Improvement Society in 1906. Over the years, the group has played a critical role in restoring key properties and improving the open space and vistas within the district. In 1909 it created Cutter Park on the site of the Inn. In the following years it undertook the restoration of the Meeting House, the symbolic heart of the village, and Melville Academy. In the early 1960's, the Jaffrey Historical Society moved the LITTLE RED SCHOOLHOUSE into the district. As the schoolhouse underwent restoration, a town appointed committee undertook the repair of the nearby HORSE SHEDS.
Recognition of Jaffrey Center's significance continued when, in 1970, the town established the Jaffrey Center Historic District. Five years later, the district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Because of this public interest, Jaffrey Center has remained one of New England's premier historic villages. Its buildings, structures and open land collectively convey the evolution of a hilltop village over more than 225 years.