From the start, churches played a major role in neighborhood life
When it became apparent toward the end of the 19th century that one of Nashua’s newest settlements was showing great promise as a solid, desirable neighborhood of the future, it was time for the movers and shakers to turn their thoughts toward establishing their own places of worship.
Travel was difficult; even getting to Main Street for these new Crown Hill residents was a formidable task, especially during the winter. For the sick, elderly and many children, it was tough all the time.
The Baptists appear to have been the first to set up their own chapel, building a mission chapel on the west side of Allds Street opposite Gillis Street in 1884. It was later given the name Crown Hill Chapel.
Meanwhile, up on Arlington Street, Samuel Gaskill and his son, Burton, began welcoming their many Protestant friends to use the second floor of their grocery store at Arlington and Gillis streets as a place of worship beginning in 1893.
A couple years prior, the Rev. C.W. Rowley, pastor at the Main Street United Methodist Church, had begun organizing Bible study groups in various Crown Hill homes. The Gaskills’ building provided a more central location.
As Crown Hill continued to prosper, large employers such as the Wonalancet cotton mill, Roby & Swart lumber manufacturers and Gregg & Son millworks, as well as the booming railroad industry centered at the end of Crown Street, attracted more workers – and their church-going families – to settle there.
With their congregation expanding, the Methodists bought land for a new, separate church building at the corner of Arlington and Haines streets in 1897. With everyone, including the pastor, chipping in with manual labor, the “little brown church on the hill” was completed and dedicated in 1899.
It survived all that Mother Nature has thrown its way in its 100-plus years, including the 1930 fire, the 1936 flood and the 1938 hurricane, and continues to serve as the hub of spiritual life for many Crown Hill families.
The Baptist chapel, however, wasn’t as fortunate. Directly in the path of the raging flames in 1930, it was destroyed and was never rebuilt. Its members joined the Nashua Baptist Church.
About a decade after the Methodists opened their new church’s doors, Nashua’s French-Canadian Catholics established the city’s third French parish: La Paroise du Saint Enfant Jesus, or Holy Infant Jesus Parish, on Crown Hill.
First came a small building that housed both its chapel and school, and then a convent wing for the teaching Sisters of the Holy Cross was added. Soon, the complex grew toward Harvard Street, where land had been set aside for future construction of a freestanding church.
Again, enter the big fire. One building was saved – the recently acquired rectory. The rest was destroyed.
Buoyed by their faith, the parishioners began to rebuild. Just 11 months later, on Easter Sunday in 1931, they held services in a new building on Crown Street.
In November 1954, the present-day look of the Infant Jesus compound began to take shape. The freestanding church dream had come true, and a few years later, a convent was added, which today serves as classrooms.
Thirty years ago, the school joined the Nashua Catholic Regional school system. A series of renovations to its buildings have been done over the years, including work after a fire damaged the sanctuary in 1981.
Most recently, a little more than a year ago, Infant Jesus parishioners welcomed members of the city’s Portuguese community to their congregation after three of Nashua’s Catholic churches closed last year.