Myths of the North Country – Life Does Exist North of the Notches

Littleton is a town that sits “North of the Notches”. The Notches refers to Franconia Notch, Crawford Notch and Pinkham Notch, the mountain passes that contain the main thoroughfares between the North Country and the rest of New Hampshire. There are a lot of misperceptions about life North of the Notches and to hear many New Hampshirites talk about it, you wouldn’t think anyone would ever choose to live this far north.

There is this kind of myth in New Hampshire that northern New Hampshire is this frozen wasteland with bad schools and no money or jobs, that is completely cut off from civilization.  There is a belief that everyone who does live here is a longtime native whose family goes back generations and is now stuck here.

None of those things are inherently true about the North Country.  Sure, there are places that are much more isolated than others.  The area’s economy has struggled historically, particularly in towns hit hard by the closure of the mills.  Some school systems struggle more than others, and there are families who have been in the area for hundreds of years.  However, there are areas that don’t feel isolated at all.  There are towns like Littleton, which are thriving economically, and right now there are jobs everywhere.  There are school systems that are doing a great job educating area youth and have even been ranked in the top ten lists for New Hampshire by US News and World Report.  There are people moving here all the time, not just from other parts of New Hampshire and New England, but from all over the country and the world.

It is tiring hearing these myths about the area repeated over and over.  These myths are spread not by locals (if a local shares their experiences, that is their experience not a myth), but by people who have never lived here and don’t even view it as a livable place.  For many, unless they come up here to hike or ski, it seems they forget this section of the state exists at all.  For those who do remember that this area exists, it is talked about with pity and condescension, usually while talking about a belief that the government needs to step in and “do something” for the poor North Country and those backwards people who are stuck there.

For a while, Cal and I fell for some of those myths and even though we adored Littleton, we did not view it as a viable place to move.  We feared that it would be isolated, with poor schools and no jobs.  After all, that is what we were told constantly in regard to northern New Hampshire.  Instead we spent three years renting in an area that was not as good a fit for us.  I am so grateful that we were able to realize those myths were just that and find our home in the North Country, before we purchased a house elsewhere in the state.

After the millionth time, seeing people spread these myths about the North Country and telling others who were interested in the area that it was not a viable place to live, I knew that I wanted to refocus my blog to my local area.  I am not interested in convincing everyone to suddenly move to the North Country.  I firmly believe that each area of New Hampshire has its own feel and different areas are a better fit for different people.  However, I do want to combat the spread of misinformation about this area.  For some, like my family, this area has an almost magnetic pull.  I want those who are drawn to the area to know that it is not only a viable option, but also an amazing place to live.

Northern New Hampshire is a stunningly beautiful area with a lot to offer. It is also an incredibly varied area despite North Country myths that treat it as one monolithic entity. Since the area can vary greatly, it is important that I clarify that my writing will focus on the Littleton area on the Western edge of the White Mountains. I can write about Littleton and the surrounding area because that is the area I am most familiar with. I could attempt to address the entire region, but if I did so, I would be relying (at least partly) on my perceptions from a distance and I do not want to accidentally contribute to the misinformation already circulating about the area. I will say that I know people living all over Northern New Hampshire who have chosen to move there and raise families and are extremely happy with where they live. Even in Berlin (which seems to have far more negative perceptions than any other part of the North Country) many people choose to live there and are happily living and raising families there.

There is so much more that I want to say in terms of dispelling those myths, far too much for me to fit into one blog post.  So instead, this post will mark the start of a series dispelling the Myths of the North Country. To read more, keep an eye out for posts labeled Myths of the North Country on Wednesdays.