Atkinson Celebrates 250: Border Dispute Helps Define Town Today

Atkinson, N.H., historian Steven Lewis, tells the little known stories of the town.

Atkinson, N.H., is celebrating its 250th anniversary with a variety of events between Thursday, Aug. 31 and Monday, Sept. 4. To help give meaning to the festivities, WHAV presents a special series of little known facts about the town, heard on-air at 97.9 WHAV FM, Monday through Thursday, at 7:45 and 11:45 a.m. and 5:45 p.m.

Atkinson Celebrates 250 is brought to you, in part, by RMON Networks.

Atkinson today rests on the New Hampshire side of the state border. While separated from Plaistow in 1767, the land was part of Haverhill’s 1642 deed negotiated with Native Americans.

Complicating the border question, under British colonial rule, the royal governor of Massachusetts served also as the governor of New Hampshire from 1699 to 1741. When the dispute reached its zenith, historian Steven Lewis explains, King George II stepped in.

“It was always unclear exactly where the northern boundary of Massachusetts and/or the southern boundary of New Hampshire because their claims were from the Atlantic in and the Merrimack River was assumed by New Hampshire to be a logical geographic border,” Lewis explains.

King George separated the governorships and also set the border at roughly where it exists today.

Atkinson Celebrates 250 is brought to you, in part, by Red's Shoe Barn of Dover and Plaistow, N.H.

“The end compromise that the boundary would be three miles from the center line of the Merrimack River. The problem with that, of course, is the Merrimack River doesn’t go straight and it makes loops and it depends on what part of the river you’re in where you put that stake in the middle. Therefore, the boundary is sort of a sawtooth along here because of that decree. That was in 1741,” he explains.

So ended Haverhill’s extended northern area, which extended up to where Chester, N.H. is today, Lewis said.

Practically speaking, however, the new boundary separated existing house lots and worse.

“When that line just ran, it didn’t matter what was here. It goes through the cemetery. So, quite honestly, there are bodies whose heads are in New Hampshire and feet are in Massachusetts,” Lewis notes.

A full calendar of activities appears at

Tomorrow: Atkinson Celebrates 250: Politics Leads to Birth of a Town