New Hampshire Towns Coping with Growth

Iconic Communities, On the Road
on September 24, 2000

Farmers and newcomers in Lyme, N.H., work to keep the town they love.

Its not the largest town on the Connecticut River. Historically, its not even the most important. But youd be hard pressed to find a prettier spot than Lyme, N.H. (pop. 1,700), the kind of place for which the words pastoral and picturesque seem to have been coined.

As with many towns on the Connecticut, Lyme is grappling with how to retain the essential character and community of a New England village while absorbing a steady influx of urban transplants. A typical evening at the historic Lyme Inn, a handsome white clapboard building with casually sophisticated ambience smack in the middle of town, brings a stream of well-dressed diners who wouldnt be out of place in suburban Washington, D.C., or Westchester County, N.Y.

Its only a five-mile drive from the inn to Berway Farm, the dairy farm owned by Wayne and Shirley Tullar, but the contrast tells much about how many once staunchly rural, insular communities such as Lyme are changing.

Berway Farm has a magnificent view of the placid Connecticut. Along the river behind the farmhouse are acres of rolling fields for growing corn and grazing his herd of registered Holsteins. Wayne Tullar grew up there and took over the farm from his father. It is one of four working farms left in Lyme. In summer and fall, tourists routinely stop to gawk at the Tullars cows or take pictures of the soaring white church steeple directly across the river on the Vermont side. (The Connecticut divides New Hampshire and Vermont.)

The irony is that just 30 years ago the Connecticut was so polluted that swimming, fishing, and even boating were considered hazardous, says Jeanie McIntyre, a Lyme native and director of the Upper Valley Land Trust. Thanks to state and federal anti-pollution laws, the Connecticut has made a remarkable recovery and last year was designated one of 14 important, restored waterways under the federal governments 1997 American Heritage River Initiative. Today, the river teems once again with swimmers, fish, wildlife, anglers, and boaters.

Just as the river came back, the entire region experienced a growth spurt. Lyme, once somewhat isolated, became a bedroom community for nearby Hanover, N.H., home of Dartmouth College. The town now is home to a thriving mix of college professors, lawyers, doctors, retireesand the natives whose families have lived there for generations. Real estate prices have soared.

Most of us who grew up there would find it difficult to buy property now, says McIntyre. Its also easy to forget that the rustic landscape prized by so many is a legacy of the towns agricultural roots and cultivated farmlands. Wayne Tullar laughs, remembering a neighbor who once demanded he not spread manure on weekends when she was home, or when she had her windows open.

Such tensions aside, Lymes distinction lies in the way its residents work together to preserve what attracted them to the town originally, McIntyre says. Local, state, and federal efforts also have contributed. In fact, the town would seem to be a hotbed of conservation and preservation efforts.

The Upper (Connecticut) Valley Land Trust alone has kept 2,300 acres safe from development, including parcels along the Connecticut River. Local efforts have been led by the Lyme Foundation, the Lyme Conservation Commission, and the Joint Connecticut River Commission. The Appalachian Trail runs through Lyme, involving both the U. S. Forest Service and National Park Service. Other help has come from the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the New Hampshire Nature Conservancy, and the Connecticut River Watershed Council.

Both the Tullars and Jeanie McIntyre say that while the hybrid of natives and newcomers can sometimes lead to difficulties, an atmosphere of good will and a sense of common interests tend to prevail. There have been changes, Wayne Tullar says. But I dont think Lyme will change too drastically. After all, he points out, as much as newcomers influence the town, the opposite is also true.

The character of the town has influence over the people who move here.