Hollis Village Historic District Submission for Placement on
National Register of Historic Places


The Hollis Village Historic District is significant under Criterion C for its range of late 18th to mid 20th century resources which collectively present a unique blend of architecturally-significant properties. The buildings of the district are predominantly residential in nature but also include several architecturally-significant public buildings including a town hall, library, engine house and schools as well as several commercial buildings. Although architecturally the district is best known for a number of exceptional examples of the Georgian and Federal styles, additional structures in the district also display the influence of the Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Stick Style, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Classical Revival, Craftsman and Bungalow. Most of these buildings were the work of unknown builders although the district also includes designs by several well-known architects including William Butterfield of Manchester (Town Hall, #43) and Boston architects, Oscar Thayer (Congregational Church, #37) and Magee and Rowe (Hollis Social Library, #36).

The Hollis Village Historic District is also significant under Criterion A, Community Planning and Development, as a well-preserved example of the historical evolution of a vernacular village center over two hundred years. Beginning with the establishment of the town common in 1740, and insulated by agricultural development which has historically surrounded the village core, the area has served as the village center since its beginning, a role which it continues to serve today. The period of significance for the district is 1740 - 1950, reflecting the dates of the earliest settlement in the area and the fifty-year cutoff of the National Register. Despite incremental changes to individual resources and the addition of new buildings over the years, the nominated district possesses considerable integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association.

Hollis Village is a well-preserved example of vernacular community development, illustrating the evolution of the center of a small farming community over two hundred years. The nucleus of the village has always been the small common around which the public buildings were situated. This common, now triangular in shape and known as Monument Square (#39), was first laid out in 1740. Land for the common was given to the town by Abraham Taylor and included, in addition to Monument Square, the sites on which the church and burial ground are located. The first Congregational Church was constructed on the north side of Monument Square in 1743 and was replaced by new buildings, all built on the same site, in 1746, 1804 and 1925. The first minister, the Rev. Daniel Emerson, constructed a house on the east side of the common (what is now 2 Cleasby Lane, #41). In 1794 the Center School (#71) was built just to the south, near the site of the present Town Hall (#43), which was built in 1887. The Always Ready Engine House (#26) was constructed to the west of the common, but facing Main Street, in 1859. The High School (#12) was constructed across the street, on the west side of Main Street, in 1877. Completing the assemblage of public buildings grouped around the common is the Hollis Social Library (#36) which was constructed on the north side, west of the church, in 1910. The common itself was fenced in the 19th century and in 1873 was the site for the Soldiers’ Monument (#39A)

The layout of the major roads which serve the village center today also dates back to 18th century. These public roads, all three rods wide, which connected Hollis Village to Amherst and Pepperell, Nashua and Brookline survive today as Silver Lake Road/Main Street, Broad Street and Proctor Hill Road and there have been no significant alterations or additions to this layout. Historically, the village consisted of public and a few commercial buildings grouped around the town common with residential development extending beyond, surrounded by a buffer of agricultural fields which survive today and insulate the village core. In addition to Hollis’ strong tradition as a farming community, other factors which contributed to the preservation of the town center include the lack of industrial development in the village other than the small cooper and cobbler shops which blended in easily in the village streetscape. The closest local access to the railroad was Hollis Depot, actually located a few hundred feet over the Nashua line and the village center lacked any access to water power necessary for significant industry.

Historical Background

Hollis was one of sixteen present day communities in the Nashua region which was carved out of the township of Dunstable, Massachusetts, chartered in 1673. The town was split off as part of West Dunstable in 1739, a name which it retained until 1746 when it was renamed Holles by New Hampshire Governor Wentworth. The first recorded transfer of land to a permanent settler indicates that Peter Powers received a deed of 37 1/2 acres of land in the autumn of 1730. Powers erected a dwelling (no longer extant) not far from the present residence at 8 Silver Lake Road (#3). Two years later, a slow but steady immigration began and two garrison houses were eventually erected for protection (no longer extant).

Land for a town common was given to the town by Abraham Taylor in 1740 and included what is now the church site and burial ground as well as Monument Square. The Congregational Church of Hollis was organized in 1743. The Rev. Daniel Emerson was given forty acres of land when he was called to be the first pastor of the Hollis Church. Initially Rev. Emerson built a log cabin here but that building burnt just as it was completed, in April 1744. He later rebuilt on the site of what is now 2 Cleasby Lane (#41). In the 18th century, public roads, all three rods wide, led from Hollis Village to Amherst, Pepperell, Nashua, Merrimack and Brookline. Taverns were located at what is now 20 Depot Road (#50), 19 Main Street (#11), 27 Main Street (#13), 28 Main Street (#25)and the site of the present 22-24 Main Street (#27). In 1800 Hollis’ population reached its pre-20th century peak of 1,557 persons. The Center School was constructed in 1794 near the site of the present Town Hall. Two moves later, the building still stands at 55 Broad Street (#71). The first post office in town was established in 1818 and was operated by Ambrose Gould at what is now 28 Main Street (#25).

Like many rural towns in the region, in the mid to late 19th century Hollis’s population experienced a slow decline coinciding with a massive exodus of farmers from the smaller towns. This outmigration was driven in part by the opening of rich lands in the midwest, the inability of New Hampshire farms to compete and the increasing availability of jobs in urban mill centers. In Hollis as in other towns in the region, long-time residents left in search of new opportunities.

A number of civic structures were erected in the center of town in the mid to late 19th century, affirming the importance of the area. The Always Ready Engine House (#26) was constructed in 1859. The Soldiers’ Monument (#39A) on the common was dedicated May 30, 1873. The original high school (#12) was built in 1877, made possible by a bequest by Mary Farley. The Hollis Town Hall (#43) dates to 1887 and was designed by prominent Manchester architect William Butterfield.

In the late 1800s Hollis was still predominantly a farming community. The town center included a shoemaker, a couple of stores and a post office. There were many small cooper shops scattered on local farms, giving farmers work during the winter months making oak and chestnut barrels and casks for the Boston market The Hardy homestead included a shop which employed a few workers. The Worcester Brothers had a large cooper shop in the center of town behind what is now 28 Main Street. The shop employed from ten to twelve men who made barrels used for apples, fish kits, flour, sugar, vinegar, molasses, etc. One surviving cooper shop is found at 11 Main Street (#8A). A printing business was established by James Hildreth in 1869 in a room of his home but a few years later he purchased the Center Schoolhouse (#71) to house his business. The Hollis Times was established by Hildreth in 1886.

Beginning in the late 1870s Hollis experienced some popularity as a summer home destination. In some cases the summer residents were children of the first families of Hollis who had established themselves in cities in Massachusetts and New York. For example William and James Pool frequently brought their six children to Hollis in the summer months. James daughters’, Isabel, Susan, Caroline and Marion all lived elsewhere the bulk of the year but shared, with their families, the house at 19 Main Street (#11) during the summer until Marion and Charles Nichols purchased Buttonwood Farm at 45 Main Street (#17) in 1917. The farm was later owned and operated for many years by their nephew, Jeff Smith, son of Susan Pool Smith. Other summer residents included William Canavan of Somerville, Massachusetts who built a house at 39 Main Street (#17) in 1885. In 1909 Franklin Worcester built an inn and store named the Cranford Inn on the site of what is now 22-24 Main Street (the building burned in 1912 and was replaced by the present structure - #27).

The last quarter of the 19th century witnessed the peak of individual, small self-sufficient farms in Hollis which including dairying, poultry and orcharding as well as growing strawberries. Dairying began to develop to a large degree in the first quarter of the 20th century. By the mid 1920s poultry raising was no longer a minor part of the town’s agriculture. Dairy barns were converted to hen houses and multi-story hen houses were built on many farms. From about one thousand fowl in the 1890s, Hollis boasted over 40,000 layers by 1944 and hit a peak of more than 150,000 in 1968 before virtually all of the small local poultry farms went out of business. Apple orcharding has always been a part of nearly every Hollis farm. In the early days, trees were planted along the edges of fields and stonewalls, leaving the center field open for crops. Aided by excellent soil and elevational conditions, by the 1880s local orchard production had reached a level such that even smaller farms would harvest two or three hundred barrels. Hollis pioneered the commercial use of dwarf and semi-dwarf trees and much of the land near the town center was planted in orchards. More recently, roadside stand selling and pick-your-own opportunities have developed into profitable sidelines for local farms. Brookdale Farms has been in the Hardy family since the middle of the 19th century and produces a major portion of the fruit grown in Hollis.

The twentieth century brought its share of changes to the village. In 1901 it was proposed to run an electric railway through the center of town but nothing came of the idea. Locke’s Ice Cream parlor opened on Broad Street in 1901 (no longer extant). The Hollis Social Library (#36) was constructed in 1910 according to plans by Boston architects Magee and Rowe. In 1914 “The Block” (#37) was completed at 22-24 Main Street, replacing the Cranford Inn which burned in 1912. The present Congregational Church (#37), the fourth to be erected on the site, was constructed to replace a 1804 structure which burned in 1923. An addition was constructed to the high school in 1922. In 1950 the fire station vacated the Always Ready Engine House which continued to be used by various organizations and later by the police station. A new fire station was constructed in 1950 adjacent to the town hall. A new elementary school was built a mile north of the town center in 1951. The bell tower on the high school was removed in 1958 after it was struck by lightning. A new high school was constructed in 1962. In 1971 Hollis created a local historic district including over one hundred buildings in the center of town. Many buildings have been rehabilitated in recent years for new uses. A large shopping area, the Village Marketplace, was constructed off the north side of Ash Street in 1985.