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Nashua, New Hampshire: 'America's Best City'

Written by Courtney Ronan on Wednesday, 14 October 1998 7:00 pm

The name Nashua actually means "land between two rivers." Its history is unique: This region actually used to be part of Massachusetts -- a town called Dunstable, the earliest settlement in what would one day become Nashua, as well as the additional New Hamphire towns of Hollis, Merrimack, Hudson, Pelham, Litchfield, Milford, and Brookline, plus the Massachusetts towns of Tyngsboro, Dunstable, Groton, Pepperell, and Townsend. Dunstable was incorporated by New Hampshire in 1746. The state retained the region's name of Dunstable until 1836, when the name was changed to Nashua.

Then, in 1842, the fires of controversy were stoked when residents from both the north and south sides of the Nashua River couldn't reach an agreement about where town hall should be constructed. The south side won the battle, and in response, the northerners ceased all contact with their southern counterparts. In June of that year, the New Hampshire Legislature agreed to separate the northern and southern communities, making them autonomous entities. The north side, believe it or not, named itself Nashville (long before the famous Nashville, Tennessee, grew and thrived as the country's center of country music and culture).

In 1843, the town hall was completed on the south side of the Nashua River. At that time, Nashville was reunited with Nashua. On June 18, 1853, the region was granted a city charter. And the rest, as they say, is history. Today, Nashua finds itself one of New England's fastest-growing cities and a frequent contender among Money magazine's "Best Cities in America" in which to live. In fact, Nashua was crowned the country's best place to live in 1997, ranking number one out of 300 cities considered in the annual survey. And although this city continues to flourish, many residents find it a refreshing change of pace from comparatively faster Boston, which is a short drive away (approximately 34 miles). For some, however, Beantown seems like a world away, and that's the beauty of Nashua.

More corporations are finding Nashua, the second-largest city in New Hampshire behind Manchester, an attractive (and cheaper) alternative to Boston. And residents still enjoy easy access to Boston's Logan Airport. Among the largest employers in Nashua are Digital Equipment Corporation, Locheed Sanders, South New Hampshire Regional Medical Center, Teradyne Connection Systems, Inc., St. Joseph Hospital, Fleet Bank, and the Nashua Corporation, a manufacturer of paper and computer products. The city is moving toward a more high-tech driven base and has effectively recovered from a 1989-1993 recession.

The median price for a four-bedroom home in Nashua, according to 1997 data, was $174,700; the national average was $169,400. Indicating the city's steady growth, the change in average home value has increased here approximately 5.2 percent since 1996, more than the national average of 4.7 percent (again, using 1997 data as a barometer). Housing permits have increased in Nashua 9.4 percent since 1996, in marked contrast to the national decline of 3.8 percent. Job growth has increased 1.3 percent since 1996 and is expected to increase 3 percent more before the next millennium.

Crime rates are remarkably low when compared to national standards. Property crimes number 2,511 per 100,000 people each year, while the national average stands at 4,832 per 100,000. Violent crimes number 106 per 100,000, while the national average is 614 per 100,000 people -- meaning the number of violent crimes in Nashua ranks 84 percent below the national average. This leads, of course, to a higher quality of life. Nashua enjoys a strong health-care base (not to mention nearby Boston's outstanding medical facilities) and several quality educational institutions. Average commute time here (22 minutes) is surprisingly higher than the national average of 19.5 minutes. Approximately 25 percent of Nashua's workforce treks to nearby Massachusetts each day.

New England winters are known not only for their severity, but also their duration (an average of five months). The average annual temperature in Nashua is just 46.4 degrees. That drops to an average of 21.4 degrees in January, and rises to a pleasant average temperature of 70.2 degrees in July, when most of us are sweltering. The average annual precipitation is approximately 43 inches, but of course, that figure all depends upon Mother Nature's fickle tendencies. This region of New England may be clobbered by frequent snowstorms one year and then find itself lightly dusted the next. The average annual snowfall in Nashua stands at 75 inches, compared to a national average of just 23.1 inches. So it's clear: If you're going to live in Nashua, you've gotta like -- or at least be able to tolerate -- the white stuff. And plenty of it. Look at it this way: You'll never be just dreaming of a white Christmas.

All of these perks don't touch upon what is sure to be Nashua's biggest selling point: Its wealth of natural resources and easy proximity to a vast array of breathtaking New England scenery. The White Mountains are just 90 miles north, providing opportunities for skiing and hiking. Lake Winnipesaukee is 50 miles to the north, as well, catering to the water sport enthusiast. Maine and Vermont are short drives away, as well. All in all, this stunning region of New England provides not only beauty, but also the best (and freshest) seafood in the United States. It doesn't get any better than eating just-caught lobster with a view of the rocky coastline. Nashua is proving to be one of the United States' best-kept secrets -- although word is spreading fast about this city that combines urban progress with New England charm.

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