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Serching the Past

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Lebanon will soon celebrate its 250th anniversary. The original charter was signed by the Royal Governor of New Hampshire, Benning Wentworth on July 4, 1761. On the same day, Governor Wentworth signed a total 13 charters for towns along both sides of the Connecticut River, towns that today make up what is called the Upper Valley.

By the mid 1760’s settlers, mostly from Connecticut, were fast turning the wilderness into a settled community. The home of Lebanon’s first resident physician, Dr. Ziba Hall, still stands and is the oldest known surviving structure in the city. Built in 1766, the house is now called the Dana House and has been moved from its original location to Seminary Hill where it is being meticulously restored.

From the beginning, the Connecticut and Mascoma Rivers provided transportation routes and waterpower for mills producing products such as textiles, leather goods and excelsior. With the evolution of the railroads along the waterways and their direct route to Boston, the mills flourished, becoming Lebanon’s greatest source for employment, along with the rail industry itself as a close second, for nearly 150 years.

The tannery and textile mills continued as Lebanon’s primary employers until the late 1950s. By that time foreign imports were taking their toll and the local economy had to diversify and modernize, embracing cleaner and more advanced technologies. As a result, Lebanon is now home to many high-tech enterprises, building products and providing services in the areas of computer software, biotechnology, aerospace ball bearings, plasma cutting, geographic data and much more. The city is also home to Northern New England’s largest medical facility, the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and the nationally acclaimed Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

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Looking beyond business and commerce, the city’s history is rich and varied. In 1778 Lebanon seceded from New Hampshire to become part of Vermont due to a bitter dispute with the New Hampshire legislature. The quarrel was settled four years later in 1782, and Lebanon returned to its New Hampshire roots. Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church, resided in West Lebanon as a young boy between the years of 1811 and 1813. And the year 1862 saw the beginning of a heavy migration of French Canadians who came to work in the mills and enjoy the prosperity of the United States; their influence is a rich part of Lebanon’s cultural history.

As a town, Lebanon survived a catastrophic fire in 1887 and the flood of 1936, known as the most devastating tributary flood in the history of the Connecticut River. As a city, Lebanon survived another disastrous fire in 1964 that left the center of the business community in ruins and led to the current downtown revitalization.

The Lebanon Historical Society has been active in collecting, maintaining and recording the city’s heritage. The most recent history (covering 1761-1994), written by Lebanon resident Roger Carroll, is available at the chamber office.

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