NAME: Roxbury
COUNTY: Cheshire
CLIMATE: Typical inland new england: 80-90f in summer (sometimes humid), -25 to +40f winters
BEST TIME TO VISIT: Fall, definitely. Spring, if you like blackflies.
COMMENTS: Consult USGS maps for directions (Keene quadrangle). Swimming & picnicing at Otter Brook SP. Shopping, dining, lodging in adjacent Keene. NOTE: N.H. Forest Society strongly recommends use of map & compass when exploring old Roxbury. I can personally attest that the interconnecting abandoned roads can be very confusing.
REMAINS: RR grades, quarries, roads, cellarholes, stonework
In his book “Ghost Towns of New England”, Fessenden Blanchard names four New Hampshire towns meeting the criteria of “ghostliness”: Lempster, Lyman, Roxbury, and Success. Lyman and Roxbury were mining towns; Success a logging town; and Lempster lay on the trade route between Keene and Newport. Only Success has actually vanished; all that’s left of it is a vacant tract adjacent the northern papermill town of Berlin (which might not be in the best of health either, according to Census Bureau statistics). Fessenden wrote in 1960 that Success had a population of 1 (!), but the census records I have seen do not even list it./The other three towns are still hanging on, though in greatly attenuated form./Of these I’m most familiar with Roxbury, just east of Keene, in the southwestern corner of the state. Keene is a little college town of about 24,000 – a city, actually, by virtue of the fact that it has a mayor and councilmen, rather than a board of selectmen. It’s primary claim to fame is its annual Pumpkin Festival, which has been named several times in the Guinness Book of Records for the most jack o’lanterns assembled in one place at the same time. The city fathers would be greatly put out with me if I did not include with this document!/Roxbury was incorporated in 1812 from bits of Keene, Marlboro, and Nelson (then known as Packersfield), and was home to the painter Joseph Ames. Whereas Keene occupies a prehistoric lake bed, and is flat and swampy, the terrain of Roxbury is hilly and rocky. Here in New Hampshire, “rocky” usually means granite. And back then, granite meant quarries. An industry mining that granite from the hills soon arose, with three major operations providing jobs and revenue for the town. All those stonecutters needed services, so the usual ancilliary industries began springing up: smithies, grocers, millers, tanners, etc. In 1849 a new church capable of seating 250 was built. At one time there were three schools. Two taverns and a hotel made good use of the stagecoach line running through town. In 1878 the Manchester-Keene Railroad connected the local Cheshire line with Boston, providing an additional conduit for getting the “gray gold” to market./Blanchard suggests that Roxbury’s demise was the result of the great Depression of the 1930s along with an ever-increasing preference for concrete over stone. These two forces no doubt contributed to the withering of the town, and to many other New England quarry towns as well, including my own (Fitzwilliam). However an examination of census records shows that Roxbury had been in decline from the very beginning of its incorporation. From a peak of 366 people in 1820, the first census following the town’s incorporation, Roxbury’s population dropped relentlessly even as the quarries thrived. Twenty-five years after the introduction of reinforced concrete (which occurred in 1849), Roxbury’s quarrying operation was still one of the largest in the state. But its population had dwindled to less than half of its 1820 level, to 174. By 1920, on the eve of the Depression, Roxbury boasted a grand total of 56 citizens./The same census data tell an entirely different story for Roxbury’s flashy neighbor to the west. The history of Keene is one of continual growth, from about 1900 people in 1820 to over 11,000 a hundred years later, almost a six-fold increase. Perhaps what really happened was that, with a bustling economy and an abundance of jobs less back-breaking than stonecutting, Keene’s proximity somehow prevented Roxbury from ever reaching “critical mass”. Despite the economic success of its quarries, perhaps Roxbury’s inability to compete culturally with Keene discouraged continued settlement there. Not even the arrival of the railroad was able to energize the town sufficiently to reverse the population drain./Whatever the cause for this continual decline, the coup de grace was delivered in 1912. Roxbury’s abundant water resources and upland situation made it an ideal choice, from Keene’s perspective, to serve as the city’s water supply. Keene purchased Cass Quarry and much of the surrounding land, shutting down the operation for good and annexing the land as its public water supply, thereby rendering any further development impossible. Roxbury’s run as an industrial center was over./In year 2000, Roxbury’s population was 237. Apart from a little cottage industry, I’m not aware of any commercial enterprise in the town, though for years there’s been talk of reviving a ski slope that operated briefly several decades ago. In 1958 the US Army Corp of Engineers constructed a huge flood-control dam here as well, but the accompanying recreational area is run by the state, not the town. There is nothing left of the mining and manufacturing that once thrived here. Only artifacts remain: an overgrown serpentine railroad grade twisting through dense forest; mountains of granite tailings in the middle of nowhere; cellarholes, stone bridges and retaining walls serving no one. It always impresses, and in some ways depresses, me when I hike through this area. Those bridges and roads were all built by hand, and it was too much work to do just for the hell of it. At one time those roads went someplace with purpose. Now they’re traveled primarily by deer, moose, and the occasional antiquarian. Today, Roxbury is little more than a water supply and picturesque bedroom community for Keene./Sources:1: “Ghost Towns of New England”, Fessenden Blanchard, Dodd, Mead & Co., 1960. 2: “Historical Notes with Keyed Map of Keene & Roxbury, Cheshire County, New Hampshire”, Samuel Wordsworth, Sentinel Publ. Co., 1932. 3: “Statistics & Gazetteer of New Hampshire”, Alonzo Fogg, D.L. Guernsey Publ., 1874. 4: “History of Cheshire & Sullivan Counties, New Hampshire”, D. Hamilton Hurd, 1886. 5: “Upper Ashuelot – A History of Keene, N.H.”, Keene Historical Commision, 1967. 6: NH Census Data can be found at and Submitted by: R.A. Sunter