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Concord, New Hampshire The Solid Center of the Granite State

A poster representing New England could well feature Concord, New Hampshire as its pictorial theme. Rich in history and culture, Concord is a small city of approximately 42,000 people surrounded by the rugged beauty of unspoiled New England. Located in south central New Hampshire on the banks of the Merrimack River, Concord was originally called “Penacook” from the Indian Pannukog – meaning bend in the river. Inhabited first by the Abenaki Indians, the area around the Merrimack River provided excellent soil for farming. The fertile land enticed Captain Ebenezer Eastman and a disgruntled group from Haverhill, Massachusetts to settle the city in 1725, and New Englanders have been drawn to this successful city with a rock solid reputation ever since.

A Small City with a Consistently Strong Economy

Due to its central location,Concord was the logical choice for the location of the state capital at the beginning of the 19th century. The business of government proved steady and Concord prospered over the years, adding furniture making, carriage manufacturing and granite quarrying to its successful industries.

One of the best known and largest granite quarries in New Hampshire is just outside of Concord in Rattlesnake Hill. First opened in the 19th century, this quarry supplied the granite for the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and for Quincy Market in Boston. The quarry remains a major supplier of granite, producing over 25,000 tons annually. At the geographic and political center of a state with the motto “Live Free or Die,” Concord is more old-school industrious Yankee than new-age Birkenstocks and tie-dyes.

Along with state government and the associated industries of accounting and law, health care, light manufacturing and retail commerce drive Concord’s modern economy. Approximately 90 minutes from Boston and from Portland, Maine, Concord is connected to the rest of New England, while remaining a bit apart. Near the junction of I-93 and I-89, and on State Route 9, Concord does not suffer the traffic congestion of its neighbors to the south and east. Employees from surrounding communities and towns come to Concord to work. The Concord Business Development Division states that there are over 5,000people employed in the health care industry and more than 9,000 people by the state of New Hampshire.

But work is not the only reason that people are drawn to Concord. According to Tim Sink, president of the Concord Chamber of Commerce, Concord has had an explosion of retail business over the past decade. The city has become a shopping destination on all levels, from big box stores to boutique shopping, and draws shoppers from all over the Granite State. In 1990, the city of Concord was a partner in the development of the Steeplegate Regional Mall — one million square feet of retail space that helped make the city a retail destination and employs over a thousand people.

With a well-educated work force, little poverty, and low unemployment, Concord consistently ranks well in comparisons with other small cities. The Policom Corporation, an “independent economic research firm,” ranked Concord number one for economic strength among 500 cities with populations between 10,000 and 50,000 in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. The city's ranking dropped to third in 2008.

Moreover, for five years in a row, CQ Press, a division of Congressional Quarterly Inc., named the state of New Hampshire “the most livable state in the union.” It gained this title by excelling in a number of quality-of-life measures, including low crime, low poverty and high income and educational levels. Governor John Lynch responded to the award with typical New Hampshire simplicity, “New Hampshire is a great place to live and work.”

Small Town Scale and Affability

Concord is a well-preserved city that invites walking. The State House, easily identified by its golden dome, anchors the downtown. The citizens of Concord are quick to point out that the 190-year-old State House is the oldest continuously-used state capitol in the country. Within a few blocks’ radius of the State House, you can find a wide range of architecture and styles. Some of the better known landmarks include: the 150-year-old Eagle Hotel, where Presidents Grant, Hayes, Harrison, Pierce, and Nixon have all dined; The Walker-Woodman House, the oldest standing house in Concord; The Phenix Hall, where Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech in 1860, and the Pierce Manse, where native son Franklin Pierce lived before and after serving as the 14th President of the United States. Branching out from downtown, the Concord Conser-vationCommission has 21 marked trails and bike paths in its well-maintained trail system. The commission states that all of the trails were “cut, cleared, and blazed by volunteers,” fitting for a town that prides itself on individual civic commitment as well as small-town friendliness.

If you seek a more strenuous hike than the streets of Concord afford, the White Mountains are nearby and offer stunning views, incredible hiking and ample skiing. According to the United States Forest Service, the White Mountain National Forest has almost 800,000 acres in New Hampshire and western Maine, and is one of the most popular parks in the country — with upwards of 6 million visitors annually.

Of course, you don’t have to stick to walking. For the grounded thrill-seeker, the New Hampshire International Speedway is a wildly successful racetrack 10 miles north of downtown. Hosting several important races each year, including Indy Car and NASCARdivisions, the track is the only super speedway in New England and has been nicknamed the “magic mile.” The first NASCAR Winston Cup Series event alone drew more than 88,000 visitors.

Cultural Center

While nature and commerce have always been strong along the Merrimack River, culture today is getting its due in Concord. Sink stresses that some of the most appealing aspects of life in Concord are the rich cultural choices. “I am most proud that Concord has become a cultural center for the state. The city has really promoted the growth of the arts.” A relatively new feather in Concord’s cultural cap is the Capitol Center for the Arts, a 1,310 seat non-profit theater that occupies the early 20th century Capitol Theatre, once a prime stop on the Vaudeville circuit. The restored and re-imagined theater was opened in November of 1995 thanks to the commitment of the city, community donations and thousands of volunteer hours. With programming ranging from ballet to rock, country and western to Broadway, visitors come from all over New England to attend performances there. Along with the Capitol Center, the Concord City Hall Auditorium, the Concord Community Music School, and the independent Red River Movie Theater all add to Concord's cultural and artistic heritage.

In addition to visual and musical arts, Concord is also home to one of the most technologically sophisticated planetariums in the country and near the decidedly non-technological Canterbury Shaker Village. More than Franklin Pierce, who often makes lists for “worst president of all time,” the people of Concord have wholeheartedly embraced and memorialized Christa McAuliffe, the social studies teacher from Concord who was chosen by NASA in 1984 to be the first civilian in space. When the Challenger Mission ended tragically in 1986, the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium was built to honor her role as “the first Teacher in Space.” Since its opening in 1990, morethan 30,000 school children and adults each year visit the planetarium. The Planetarium’s stated mission is to “educate, incite and entertain learners of all ages in the sciences and humanities by actively engaging them in the exploration of astronomy and space science.”

Conversely, for those seeking a simpler, slower time, the Canterbury Shaker Village is less than a half-hour from town and draws thousands of visitors to the nearly 700-acre site. Designated as a National Historic Landmark, this premier museum of Shaker life has 25 restored buildings that recreate the experience of the original Shaker Utopian Society, which flourished in the 19th century. Visitors can learn about the Shakers and their furniture, architecture and values through guided tours, craft demonstrations and meals.

Real Estate

The Concord Assessing Department currently lists 13,800 taxable propertiesin the community. Of these, 8,219 are single-family homes and 2,085 are residential condominiums. According to the department's Sally Jeglinski, the average price for a single-family home from May 2007 to May 2008 was $293,000, and the median price, $243,900. For condominiums during the same period, the average sales price was $244,000 and the median price was $149,900. The assessor’s office lists no co-ops in town.

When asked about the current real estate market, David Minton of Village House Real Estate notes frankly that volume in 2008 was much slower than the previous year. He adds, “like everywhere… things are sitting on the market a little longer.” For the first eight months of 2007, 152 condominiums sold. For the same eight months of 2008, only 69 condominium deals closed. Minton explains many of the new construction and the high-end units are not selling as quickly. Most condominiums in Concord are in larger complexes of about 30-78 units. There were approximately 108 condominiums on the market in the fall. When asked who is buying, Minton lists retirees and first-time buyers who got priced out when the prices were climbing. As odd as it might seem to retire to a city where the average high temperature in January is below freezing, people are doing just that. U.S. News and World Report featured Concord, New Hampshire as one of the best places to retire in its 2007 rankings. Among the city’s many strengths, the pedestrian-friendly historic downtown, the surrounding natural beauty and friendly residents were listed as the main draws for retirees.

Like the stone that defines the state, the city of Concord is sturdy, traditional and enduring. Hundreds of years ago, it was the river and the soil that drew people north to settle there. Today, it is a combination of low taxes, a strong and stable economy, and small town affability that continuesto draw people to Concord, New Hampshire.

Sarah Sanford is a freelance writer for New England Condominium magazine.

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