'Cradle of Nashua's industrial heritage' dedicated as park

NASHUA – If they weren’t aware when they first arrived for lunch under the big canopy Monday, it wouldn’t be long before nearly 100 city officials and Nashua Rotarians learned that they were standing on one of the city’s most historically sacred parcels of land.

They dined and chatted on the site of Nashua’s first bridge (then Dunstable, N.H.); the spot where Elias Howe invented the sewing machine, the property where a prominent family opened the city’s first post office and the place where water-powered industry flourished long before the address changed from Dunstable to Nashua.

Now, thanks to a unique public-civic partnership and years of background work, the two-acre parcel that urban planning expert Alan S. Manoian calls “the cradle of Nashua’s industrial heritage” has been reborn with a new purpose – to provide the public with an attractive, comfortable green space in which to seek respite from the bustle of everyday life.

Rotary Common, so-named to recognize the contributions and deep involvement of Nashua Rotary Club in making the park a reality, was dedicated in part with Monday’s ceremonies. The park is at 315 Main St., most recently occupied by the former International Paper Box Machine Co. across from the Main Street Marketplace.

Since IPBM relocated in the early 1970s after operating for 70 years, the parcel sat abandoned and gradually became an eyesore. But in the mid-1990s, when the state Department of Transportation began the massive F.E. Everett Turnpike widening project, city officials took the first step in reinventing the land by convincing the state to buy the land as mitigation property.

Soon after, the Rotary Club, under then-President Bill Barry and Centennial Chairman Tom Tessier, began considering a community-service project in celebration of Rotary International’s centennial in 2005.

They took it to the membership, and under the direction of Rotarian Jack Tulley, a partnership was formed with the city, and efforts got under way to redevelop the property for a public park.

The club contributed $100,000 to the $600,000 project, while former congressman Charlie Bass successfully lobbied for $250,000 in federal funds, with the state Transportation Department paying the balance.

Ground was broken in 2005.

Manoian, a certified “new urbanist” planner who served as the city’s former downtown development specialist and assistant director of economic development from 1994-2003, told the gathering that author Henry David Thoreau referenced the area in his acclaimed “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.”

“He was here . . . and he wrote lovingly about this spot,” Manoian said. “When you get a chance, check out the book.”

“This is also where Nashua’s first dam was built, that goes back to the 1680s . . . Salmon Brook flowed past here and under Main Street into Harbor Pond,” he added, gesturing toward the plaza across the street.

Currently, a wood fence lines the southern bank of Salmon Brook, but as funds become available and Phase II of the project gets under way, officials hope to incorporate the brook into the park and rework the dam and bridge where the industrial buildings once straddled the waterway.

Current Rotary President G. Frank Teas said the club’s worldwide theme for 2008 is most appropriate for celebrating the completion of Phase I.

“As Rotary International’s theme for 2008 is ‘Make Dreams Real,’ it is only fitting that, after more than 10 long years of fundraising, planning and anticipation, Rotary Common has gone from concept to reality,” Teas said.