© David J. Murray, ClearEyePhoto.com

welcome to vibrant villages new hampshire!

The purpose of Vibrant Villages New Hampshire is to inform and inspire citizens to embrace and implement ideas and practices that lead to lively, flourishing communities.

Vibrant Villages in New Hampshire is the vision Plan NH has for the Granite State. All of Plan NH’s work is done in support of these important characteristics we’re looking to foster...

  • Balance of tradition and development

  • Everyone participating in community life

  • Town centers with an array of services, spaces, and places to live

  • Protection for natural resources and undeveloped land

  • Collaboration among towns and regions in NH

  • Clean energy, heat, and agile response to weather events

  • Focus on social, economic, and environmental bottom lines

  • Local resources are offered to support local economies

about vibrant villages new hampshire

Vibrant Villages in New Hampshire is a vision many have for the Granite State. This site focuses on realizing this vision through the lens of the built environment:

  • How our towns and neighborhoods are designed
  • How we get about
  • Where we live
  • How we treat our historic assets

We want to talk about how each of these can contribute to healthy, vibrant towns and neighborhoods – and the people who live there. At the same time, we want to de-mystify related concepts that can be confusing or challenging.

We want it to be fun, and also a good resource for information on timely topics.

The site is Plan New Hampshire‘s, with deeply appreciated support from the NH Housing Finance Authority. Click on the link below to learn more about Plan New Hampshire.



There is a huge shift going on across the country and right here in New Hampshire: people want to have a sense of community again. They’re finding that by revitalizing their town centers and significant neighborhoods.

At the same time, there is an increasing desire by young professionals, retiring empty-nesters and others to live in an active neighborhood where they can walk to work, walk to basic stores and services, and essentially be part of a community of diverse interests and ages and backgrounds. A lot of the “Sense of place” that people are looking for is organic – it grows out of who is there and what is going on. To paraphrase Christopher Alexander: What will bring real life to the conditions of YOUR town?

Here are a couple of articles that talk about revitalizing downtowns (thanks to Project for Public Spaces):
– Using ‘Placemaking’ to turn downtowns into destinations.
– Walkability, quality public spaces cam be created in communities of any size.

Each year, Plan NH recognizes projects that exemplify how excellence in planning, design, and/or development can have a positive impact on a community. Click here for the 2015 Merit Awards, announced and recognized on April 2 at The Derryfield in Manchester

Compact Design

As New Hampshire continues to grow, the concept of density, or compact design is becoming more important. This type of development helps protect greenways and other open space, has less expensive (and more resilient) infrastructure, and fosters walkability, social connections, and more.

Economically, density makes sense – per acre calculations show that a traditional, denser neighborhood, or dense development, often brings in more taxes than a chain store or strip mall.

To help inform and inspire towns, developers and others as they grapple with this idea, New Hampshire Housing and Plan NH are working together to gather good examples of residential and mixed-use density from throughout New Hampshire.

These submitted examples are being compiled into a database for use by planners, developers and others who are looking to see what density looks like in rural, small town, large town or other settings here in the Granite State.

This database is still in development but will be available here, soon.

75 Bank Street, Lebanon

This 41,000-sf former school building now has 43 residential units on three floors, a private fitness center, and an adult day care facility. (5.8 units per acre).The jury liked not only that historical features (such as blackboards, windows and lockers) were kept, but that this is within easy walking distance to downtown and its amenities, and is served by two bus routes.

Woodbury Mills, Dover

Woodbury Mills is a workforce housing project located just a block and a half from Central Ave in Dover. Most recently an auto parts warehouse, the building was originally designed and constructed as a shoe factory. It sits on a .98-acre parcel in a neighborhood of smaller and multi-family homes, some light industry and just blocks from the hospital in one direction and the downtown business district in the other – both accessible via foot, bike or public transportation.

Families in Transition Lowell Street Addition and Historic Renovation, Manchester

The Gothic Revival-style cottage, built in 1846, was transformed and a three-story, 7700-sf addition put on the back to create a center for homeless women and their children to live and take advantage of services to help them transition to community life. The center has 17 living units, administrative office space and a community kitchen and dining area. The jury liked the notion of adaptive re-use through historic renovation, and were particularly pleased that this is so close to public transportation and other services.

Hyder Court, Portsmouth

On two lots totaling just over an acre are two buildings, each with three units. The contemporary look and feel provides a good transition from the traditional neighborhood that surrounds it on two sides to the harder, more urban-feel of the by-pass, hotels, traffic circle and I-95, all within 100 yards or so of the remaining two sides. The jury thought this was a great design and use of this site.


282 Square Miles


.83 Square Miles


Whether it is for work, school or play, how we as individuals and as a society travel has impacts that go far beyond the seemingly simple and routine act of going from one place to another.

(from Promoting Active Transportation: An Opportunity for Public Health by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership)

Active transportation is a way of getting about by walking, biking, skateboarding, in a wheelchair, etc. Across the nation, groups are coming together to look at ways to increase the amount of walking and biking we do and reduce the numbers of cars on the road. Fewer cars means improved air quality, improved safety, saved money, and an improvement to the health and sustainability of our communities both collectively and as individuals. Take our Active Transportation Quiz to see if your community embodies this quality of a Vibrant Village.

Active Transportation Quiz

Your Quiz Results



The higher your score percentage, the more your community is in need of an update to enable active transportation.

Is it time to look at where you live, work, or play and think about different ways to get places?

For a more thorough assessment of your community, and to find out what YOU can do to make something happen, go here to see how HEAL NH’s Active Transportation team can help.

On any random day in New Hampshire, 3% of the population over age 16 cannot drive because of vision impairment. 6% cannot drive because they have had their licenses suspended or revoked. How do they all get about – to work, to school, to shop, to family, to services? Who in your town does not drive?


Give us room for tumult and quiet, for solitude and passing the time with friends. Give us room for ordinary pleasures, for a day well lived.

Howard Mansfield, from Dwelling in Possibility: Searching for the Soul of Shelter. Peterborough: Bauhan Publishing, 2013. Page 18

As New Hampshire’s demographics change, so do the types of places where people want to live. The NH Center for Public Policy Studies has published three studies that reveal that we must shift how we think about this aspect of our communities:

To view “Home,” a short documentary by Matt Frost that focuses on three different people here in New Hampshire and the importance of home in their lives, go here.

Many people want to stay in their own home as they get older.

According to the NH Center for Policy Studies, in its Housing in NH report, the senior population is expected to double in the next few years, and by 2025, one in three households will be lived in by person(s) over 65.


Newmarket Mills

Mill rehabilitation and conversion to [homes] is attractive because it offers one-floor living, smaller and, arguably, more efficient [living spaces] and desirable in-town living.” From Big Houses, Small Households, part One of Housing in NH report by the Center for Policy Studies.


Millennials and Boomers alike are looking for smaller, efficient homes.

For many reasons, smaller and efficient homes are becoming very desirable. Here is a concept drawing of a neighborhood of small cottages – cottages which were actually designed to replace mobile homes lost in the floods of Irene but could be appealing to a broader audience.


FIT Home (front), Manchester

In this restored gothic-style cottage, with an addition on the back, Families in Transition provides temporary but safe shelter for homeless women and their children.


Home is where you feel you belong

Home extends beyond the walls where you eat and sleep. This (Center Sandwich) village center has been home to many for centuries and is a good example of the power of place in feeling “at home.”


2.5 kids per household is now .4 kids per household in NH.

Almost half the heads of households in NH are over age 55.

Only 20% of NH homes have a mom, dad, and kid under 18.

¼ of NH households are single people.

Half of NH households have fewer than 2 people.


Each town, and sometimes each neighborhood, has a story to tell. These stories help define the uniqueness of that sense of place, and the structures that are preserved are the visual representations of those stories.

Whether the original town hall or a fence or a whole neighborhood, each town needs to honor those assets through preservation and TLC. Often they can provide economic benefits for the community, but most often their roles cannot be measured.

We are lucky to have two strong organizations that provide resources for information, assessments, technical assistance and more in identifying and preserving and using our historic buildings and other structures: The NH Preservation Alliance and the NH Division of Historical Resources.

To learn more about important historical assets in New Hampshire, and preserving them, take a look at some award winning examples from the NH Preservation Alliance here: 2015 Seven to Save  and the 2015 Preservation Achievement Awards.

The village of Grafton still has some significant old buildings that tell the Grafton story

Thanks to resident Andrew Cushing (currently earning a Masters in Historic Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania) for the photos and descriptions. 

1905 Panoramic view 1905 Panoramic view

Carding Mill Carding Mill

Tramp House Tramp House

Grafton Library Grafton Library

Pines Schoolhouse Pines Schoolhouse

Grafton Town Hall Grafton Town Hall

East Grafton Church East Grafton Church

More Award Winners

The village of East Grafton has not changed much since this photo was taken in 1905. The village center runs for about a mile down the Grafton Turnpike. At one time a mill village, and then (concurrently) a railroad town, it has always also been a farming community, with small farms part of the “downtown.”

Built in 1823 in what was then a bustling mill village known as “Bungtown,” this carding mill is now one of only three extant industrial structures in East Grafton. Its significance earned it a spot on the NH Register of Historic Places in 2011.

After a stint as a printing press in the 1920s, the mill was partially converted into a residence. In 1994 the historical society received the mill as a donation, but only recently did restoration work begin. In the past five years, funded by an annual Race to Save the Mill, the mill has received extensive site work, documentation, roof repairs, timber replacement, and interpretive signage.

While reuse planning is still in flux, the society hopes to use the mill as a cider mill, artist studios, or office space.

Grafton’s tramp house (or Hobo house), used to house railroad hobos, was constructed in 1909 and is one of only three left in New Hampshire. Paid for by the town (to appease homeowners who were otherwise bothered by constant requests for housing by those who rode the rails), the interior surfaces were lined with sheet metal in an attempt to make the building fireproof. Two earlier tramp houses had burned due to careless tramps.

Recently, the Grafton Historical Society has embarked on the tramp house’s restoration, including permanently siting the structure at the society’s museum grounds, residing and painting the exterior, and installing a new (old) window and door. Upcoming restoration will rebuild the rear chimney and repair the interior to serve as exhibit space for this interesting – and forgotten – remnant of railroad history.


Grafton Hobo House restored

Not much has changed since Grafton’s public library was built in 1921, with tin ceilings, oak bookcases, and a hardwood floor. “The library is almost always the nicest building in town,” said Mr. Cushing, and he believes that here is no exception.

The Pines Schoolhouse was built in 1854 for the newly created District 13. Railroad development in Grafton Village provided the need for the new schoolhouse, and it served as such until 1958, when the town sold it. (The building has since been donated back to the town.) The schoolhouse retains much of its integrity, including an exterior wall of pupils’ names carved into the clapboards.

The Grafton Historical Society is responsible for maintaining the building, though its small lot and location pose challenges for reuse. To date, the windows have been reglazed and the exterior has received new paint. The Pines Schoolhouse was added to the NH Register of Historic Places in 2010.

The Grafton Town Hall was built in 1900 as a schoolhouse for East Grafton, and was closed as a school when the town regionalized with Canaan. Today it serves as the Town Hall.

Originally built as Grafton’s North Meetinghouse in 1785, the building was moved to the industrial village of East Grafton in c.1840. In 1896 the church was renovated with Victorian details, transforming the former austere meetinghouse into a more sumptuous sanctuary.

Plagued by poor attendance, despite a union denomination, the church trustees donated the building to the town of Grafton and the historical society in 2012. In order to open the building back to the public, the society is in the midst of an $84,000 restoration campaign that will replace rotted joists and solve moisture problems in the basement. Funding, in part, came from LCHIP and the Moose Plate grant.

The East Grafton Union Church was listed to the NH Register of Historic Places in 2010.

Get in Touch

For more information about Plan NH’s Vibrant Villages NH Program, or to submit a photo, description of a project in your community, or comments about our site, please contact us. Note that all fields are required.

Plan NH

21 Daniel Street, 2nd floor c/o GPI
Portsmouth, NH 03801


[email protected]

Please note we have moved locations! Our new office is on 21 Daniel Street.
Please send mail to: PO Box 1105 Portsmouth NH 03802