DERRY — The area's first settlers — 16 Scottish-Irish families that left Northern Ireland for these shores — set down roots and named their new home "Nutfield."
And when they reached this area, arriving at "Horse Hill" now known as East Derry Road on April 11, 1719, they formed that first homestead from what is today parts of Derry, Londonderry and Windham. Led by the Rev. James MacGregor, the first sermon was given on April 12, 1719 on the shores of Beaver Lake.
Now, as Derry, Londonderry and Windham are poised to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Nutfield settlement in 2019, members of the Derry Heritage Commission are beginning to form a schedule to plan special events and activities to highlight the community and its rich history.
At a recent meeting, Commission members gave updates on some tentative plans for the big 300th celebration and how volunteers and other supporters can get involved to help.
Commission member Paul Lindemann led a discussion of how plans are being put in place and how and what will be celebrated. April 12, 2019 will be a key day.
"That's what we mark as the founding of the area," he said.
Lindemann, also a member of First Parish Church in East Derry and its rehabilitation committee, said that church will play an integral role in the 300th and be a focal point to honor Nutfield.
The church is steeped in history.
Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, the current church was built in 1769 to replace an earlier structure. It also served as the settlement’s meetinghouse. A tower was added in 1824.
Matthew Thornton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, once rang its bells and served on its building committee.
Lindemann said there is a lot to do at the church before the anniversary comes.
The church project is one of the largest preservation projects in the state, winning three major LCHIP grants to support the work. So far, work has cost about $1 million to do the steeple work, new foundation and connector building, but another million is needed to finish the tower base, restore the steeple and complete the elevator, interiors and roof — with the hope of being completed and ready by the 300th anniversary.
Other plans for the anniversary will then continue on from April and be held at various times through the summer, ending with a culmination event during Derryfest in Sept. 2019.
Lindemann said groups, organizations, town boards, schools, churches and businesses are all invited to get involved and plan activities or programs to tie in with the community celebration.
Londonderry and Windham are also planning events including Londonderry expanding its annual Old Home Day celebration and Windham also putting special anniversary events in place during the summer of 2019.
"We are starting the process to brainstorm all the ideas now," Lindemann said.
He said First Parish Church would host a Heritage Day with history talks, cemetery and village tours, and special musical productions. A special church service will be held on Founders Sunday, April 14, 2019.
Other events planned include a "Living Treasures" luncheon and ceremony to honor the town's elder volunteers, a parade, time capsule opening, library events, ancestral gatherings, and a possible Civil War encampment.
A special 300th "Nutfield After Dark" may honor the area's craft breweries and native son Alan B. Shepard, the first American in space, may also have a special tribute.
Lindemann said the Nutfield 300th could also include a special commemorative children's book produced by Derry Public Library, a multimedia site tour of historic spots around town and 300th souvenirs including coins, shirts, and mugs.
It's not just honoring the 300th, but also putting Derry in the spotlight.
"It's a great opportunity for us to place Derry as a place to go," said Heritage Commission Chairman Karen Blandford-Anderson. "It's all things Derry, rally the downtown, the schools, businesses, to make it an event to put Derry on the map."
She said all ideas for planning and events are welcome and anyone — a business, school, group, church, or individual — can contribute input.