Settlers first arrived in Northfield in the early 1700’s. Initially Northfield was incorporated as part of Canterbury, New Hampshire when that town was established in 1741. At the time it was a frontier town protected by a garrison fort erected on a hill close to Canterbury Center and commanded by Capt. Jeremiah Clough. Tradition has it that the first settlers of the ‘north fields’ of Canterbury came from the scouts from this fort who patrolled the area in the 1740s.
The north fields of Canterbury prospered. Farming was the principle industry. Additionally dams along the Winnipesaukee and Merrimack rivers and several brooks, powered early sawmills and gristmills. By the 1770’s there was a substantial population in the north fields of Canterbury.
By 1780 the residents of the north fields found it increasingly difficult to travel to the center of Canterbury to attend to town business. On March 30, 1780 they filed the following petition with the State of New Hampshire (spelling left as printed in 1780):
Canterbury, March 30, 1780
“The humble petition of ye Subscribers Inhabitants of ye North part of sd Canterbury to ye Honorable ye President and members of Council and house of Representatives of said State. We your Humble Petitioners Living at a great Distance from ye Center of the Towne Some of us nine or ten Miles and Consequently at a very great disadvantage in joining with them all Publick Town affairs, being encouraged Partly by our Living in that Part of ye Town that was Laid out for what was called ye upper Parish and Partly by ye Kind Reception our Request met with which we made to ye Town for a dismission but more particularly by our Confidence in your Honors desire to Promote ye Happiness of every Part of ye State Humbly Pray that Honors would take our Case into your Serious Consideration and grant that we together with all those Live in sd Upper Part may be Erected and Incorporated into a body Politick and Corporate to have Continuance in ye Name of Northfield with all such Powers and Authorities Privileges Immunities and Franchises with other Parishes or Towns in this State in General hold Enjoy with your Petitions as in duty bound Shall forever pray.”
The petition, was signed by 43 residents, was approved by the State Legislature and the Town of Northfield was born.
Northfield continued to prosper throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. For much of this period agriculture continued to be the backbone of the local economy and society. However, its access to hydro power allowed the town to industrialize. Dams were erected on the Winnipesaukee River and many factories flourished. Sawmills and gristmills gave way to larger paper mills, textile mills, printers, and manufacturers of hosiery, lead batteries and even optical lenses.
As was the case throughout New England, the mid to late 20th century saw a decline in Northfield’s industrial base.