When I tell people my hometown is in New Hampshire and especially when they see my photos from my trips back home, they tend to ask why I moved away. This used to strike me as odd since I grew up thinking only the lucky people got to move away from their hometown as I felt mine was too small and boring. It wasn’t until I grew up and moved away, I realized how lucky I was to grow up in a small town in New England.
Where I was raised
I was born and raised in Claremont, New Hampshire. Claremont sits on 43.2 square miles of land and is located on the western state border along the Connecticut River about 1/3 of the way up the state. It is approximately 32 miles from Dartmouth College, 106 miles from the Seacoast and 120 miles from Boston, Ma. Claremont is nestled in a lovely spot with views of Mt. Ascutney throughout the city. It is close to the Lake Sunapee Region as well as Lake Winnipesauki and the White Mountains. It is bordered by Vermont to the west and Maine to the east which are both gorgeous states with tons of natural beauty and outdoor activities. Population at the time of my birth was approximately 13,563. The population at the time of my high school graduation was approximately 14,557.
For years I worked for a local credit union and worked my way up from a teller to branch manager and loan officer. I thought I was doing well to have that job. I wasn’t aware that I could do anything I wanted if I put my mind to it. Everyone in town seemed content with the position life handed them. It wasn’t until my dad quit a good paying design engineering position at Joy Manufacturing which he had for years and opened his own business with a couple partners, that I began to think I could do better for myself as well.
A Little about my hometown of Claremont
Claremont grew up as a mill town with paper, woolen, leather and shoe mills employing most of the population. I believe it was my great grandparents who moved from Canada to Claremont to work in these mills. Luckily, my parents were advocates of education. Although I was from such a small town, I always had a yearning to see more, travel more, live other places, meet new people and explore. Claremont was small and, in my youthful opinion, people were too settled and content, and not willing to see other options, opinions, points of view or cultures. This bothered me a lot. By the early 1990’s the town government had changed and were changing policies that made it tough on businesses. The businesses and industries were closing up or leaving, people were out of work and the city seemed in decline. I had lived there all my life and I was bored and feeling trapped.
I first moved away from my hometown in 1992. At this time the population was approximately 13,947 and declining. I moved to the seacoast of Maine and loved exploring and meeting new people and even though I hadn’t moved very far away, the people seemed a bit more open minded. There was lots of work, restaurants, shops, activity and I felt I had finally grown up and was on my way to the adventures I craved. I lived in and explored Maine for 13 years. This is where I started my photography business and made great friends that are still friends to this day. I moved on to San Diego where I have now lived for 12 years and enjoy exploring a much more diverse culture and landscape.
During the last 25 years I would return to Claremont at least yearly, if not several times a year, to visit my family. It took a few years for me to start to appreciate my hometown with eyes that hadn’t grown up there. I would bring friends or boyfriends home and they helped me to see the beauty of the place where I was born and raised. Over the past decade I have started to really appreciate the small city I grew up in, the beauty of the old historic buildings, the beautiful natural landscapes, how close it is to so many great places.
The decline of my hometown
Over the last few years of visits to my hometown, I have taken a day to photograph the city and surroundings. I like to do photo scavenger hunts of all the things I loved growing up here. During this current visit I decided to park my car and walk through and around downtown to take photos. It was a Monday and most all the shops and stores were closed with the exception of Rite Aid. Most of the restaurants in the middle of town were closed. There was hardly any automobile traffic, no shoppers and no one else was walking. It brought me to tears to see this once bustling city now so quiet with a town center of run down, empty store fronts, second hand shops, a handful of restaurants and struggling small businesses that weren’t even open on a Monday. When I was growing up this town center would have been crowded with people going into nice clothing stores, the army/navy store, shoes stores, the Corner Book shop, small markets, the news stand, the office supply store, banks, the grocery store and Sears. All of these are long gone since the town fathers decided to bring in K-Mart (which is now also gone) onto Washington Street, a thoroughfare leading out of town. Now even Washington street with its minor congestion only has a handful of small shops and a large Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Subway, two grocery stores a few gas stations and the movie theaters. Walking through downtown broke my heart. Me, the girl who couldn’t wait to leave, the kid that was bored to death and wanted excitement, adventure and things to do arrived in a town that seems on its way to becoming a ghost town. All the mills have been closed for decades, the industry that was up and running when I was a kid is all gone, the beautiful old homes are unattended, deteriorating and falling apart and the residents look depressed, downtrodden and discouraged. There are more welfare recipients in the city of Claremont than any town should support. There is no work, but the property taxes are very high. There is no reason for the kids attending high school right now to stay there and raise a family so they will move along as well, leaving the town full of the elderly and welfare residents. The sense of community I knew as a kid seems long gone and I don’t see how or what will change all this.
I was actually surprised that my heart was so sad for this town I couldn’t wait to escape from. Of course, I began looking for the beauty in my hometown while on my photography walk-about. I was happy to be able to take beautiful photographs of the City Hall and Opera House which still stand tall and proud, the beautiful old churches which are majestic, the cute old fire station I loved as a kid, the historic Library which is still in the same beautiful old building as well as the bank buildings that have been revamped.
But then round a corner and there is the lovely old Moody building which was the gem of the town in her day that is now falling into disrepair, the beautiful historic building that houses the superintendent of schools offices which needs a good scrapping and paint job as well as lots of repairs, not to mention hundreds of old homes that are abandoned or the residents have become too old to keep up, have given up or don’t have the money to repair. Yet, round yet another corner and there is a multi-million dollar community center with a new indoor pool that the residents voted down when it came up for vote. The old Goodwin Community Center where I played and swam as a kid sits vacant and falling apart.
After I walked around town looking for beauty, I decided that I should record some of the things that made my heart ache as well. The gorgeous old mill buildings that would make a great shopping center, college or office space but stand empty and falling apart. The old homes that residents were once so proud of that are falling in and literally eye sores. The large industry buildings that are empty or only being used on a very limited basis. The once beautiful Moody Park which has now been clear cut of most of its gorgeous big old pine and maple trees and now looks like you are driving up into a landfill.
While on a drive with my dad I was lamenting about the feelings I was experiencing and it hit me that as a kid you think things will never change, people don’t grow old, buildings don’t deteriorate, decisions made today don’t affect the future, and cities don’t die. I don’t really know how a small city dies, but I have been watching the death of my hometown for the past decade.
The population of Claremont as of 2013 was 13,051. The estimated median HOUSEHOLD income is $41,790. The average home is valued at about $100,000. The school system has declined to the point that they became unaccredited. I am not sure if this has yet been rectified.
So when people ask me why I don’t want to move back to my hometown, I am now sad to say, that other than my family members who still live in the area, there is nothing there for me. Nothing. My friends have all long since moved away, my sister lives in Vermont and my niece in Maine and the town is a slight shadow of the bustling, beautiful little city I knew as a kid. I hope and pray that something will change, that the young people will stay, step up and help bring the city back, and the members of city government will change and start to bring in industries instead of more welfare recipients and find a way to help people stay in their homes. I especially pray they can bring back the pride the residents once had for this little city that once was great, even if this stupid kid didn’t realize it and how lucky she was to grown up there.