Littleton, NH: 30 years of Economic Revitalization by Brian Ward

The People of Littleton

Part 1: Littleton Main Street and River District

Since 1992, The people of Littleton with vision, wisdom, historical appreciation, perseverance, patience, frugality, sacrifice, generosity, and year to year tenacity reinvented and revitalized Littleton's Historic Main Street and River District. They developed, modified, expanded, and executed a comprehensive multi decade plan which ultimately resulted in the investment of over $50 million in their Main Street & River District.

The town $17 million in investments included the $3.7 million-dollar Main Street Project, $1.7 million Historic Town Building Restoration, $1.5 Million River Walk with Covered Bridge (2 phases) and Rail Trail, $6 Million River District Project and over $2.5 million in Senior Center, Riverfront Commons Land acquisition, infrastructure upgrades, parking expansions, sidewalks and acquisitions of and razing of distressed buildings and many other improvements.

Littleton main Street

$2.1 million will be invested next year with new sidewalks, decorative lights, paving and new drainage on Mill & Cottage Street. $1.4 million also will be expended on Riverfront Commons parking, lights, and River Walk improvements behind the Senior Center next year. These community investments have leveraged over $33 million dollars in private and public sector (Post Office, etc.) investments. Every commercial, community and federal building on Main Street from the

Historic Town Building to the Beal House has received substantial upgrades.

The people of Littleton have succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams in transforming its fragile 1880's horse and buggy era Main Street and River District into a historic, safe, clean, energetic, vibrant and Pollyanna welcoming oasis. Any Town in America would be proud to have Littleton's Historic Main Street and River District in their community.

In 1992, if a 1990's Rip Van Winkle fell asleep in Littleton on the shore of the Ammonoosuc River and awoke on a September, Sunday morning this year he would have been flabbergasted.

Rip would ask, what happened to the over 40 distressed and obsolete buildings that were a blight on Littleton and were on Ammonoosuc, Main, Mill, Porter, River and Saranac Streets? Who filled the nearly 20 storefronts that were vacant in 1992 on Main Street? He would also ask, who built the Riverwalk with its covered bridge and adjoining Rail Trail?

Rip being a senior citizen would be elated that Littleton Seniors are treated with respect, dignity, and support at the Littleton Senior Center, Riverglen House and Lane House with its combined 100 units of senior housing on the Ammonoosuc River. Also, Rip would be happy to learn that Littleton also built, replaced, or rehabbed over 125 housing units on Main Street and downtown areas.

Rip would be pleased that the 1920's Porfido's Market still looks great with their pumpkins but be puzzled as to how the 1780's A.N. Farr building, 1850's Train Station and 1920's Downing Ford Garage became restaurants and a German Brewery. Rip's biggest question? How the heck did the welcoming statue of Pollyanna end up on the lawn of the 1906 Carnegie Littleton Public Library?

Rip would also be pleased that Littleton's Historic Buildings and churches have been restored, modernized, and continue to enhance Main Street. These 24 historic gems were built in Littleton from the 1832 First Congregational Church to the 1950 Jax Jr. Theater. They are the backbone of Littleton's Historic Main Street and are as functional today as the day they were built.

Finally, Rip would be amazed to see all the people enjoying the Farmer's Market, Main Street, Riverwalk and Rail Trail, but wonder where did they all come from? He would ask who created this North County treasure. Everyone would respond, that's easy to answer, the people of Littleton did, with the help of many others.

Littleton's Main Street and River District is an authentic and genuine 30-year overnight success. The people of Littleton quietly take pride in their success but allow the results to speak for itself.

Part 2: 1992

In 1992, the Town of Littleton was circling the drain. The scope of the challenges the Town was facing were initially overwhelming and it appeared near certain that Littleton would become another economically hallowed out and rapidly declining community in the North Country.

Littleton in 1992 was not viewed as a Tourism Town and did not give many reasons why the people of the North Country and Northeast Kingdom should shop in Littleton. The Main Street of Littleton was a mess with nearly 20 storefront vacancies and the riverfront area was unattractive with scores of distressed and functionally obsolete buildings that were a blight on the Community.

Littleton's 1910 hospital had outgrown its original site and was in danger of failing. All of Littleton's 1928 bridges (3) needed to be replaced and a new bridge to the industrial park had to be built. Littleton Schools, which had been built in the early 1950's was outdated and in need of substantial renovation.

Littleton's banks were failing with one closed, a second one on the FDIC the watch list and the third one, Fleet Bank, had announced it would be leaving the North Country. Littleton's communication infrastructure was all predigital, Verizon, the telecommunications provider made it clear that they weren't going to invest in the North Country and wanted to leave.

Littleton had gone from a property rich community in 1958 when Moore Dam began operating and paying over 60% of the town property taxes to a property poor town in 1992. The NH Supreme Court in 1976, had ruled that Moore Dam was a depreciating asset, the assessed Dam value was reduced from $41 million in 1958 to $21 million.

The people of Littleton knew their community was in sharp economic decline and it was accelerating. What did the people of Littleton do? After a brief period of feeling sorry for themselves, the People of Littleton took stock and realized that in spite its challenges Littleton had many sustainable assets.

Covered Bridge

Littleton had a world class industrial park that needed an access bridge but was poised for further success. The Town also owned the Littleton Water and Light Dept. which sold electricity to their customers at the lowest rates in New England.

Littleton had five exits on I-93 and a bypass was already built if the Town ever needed it. Littleton's Main Street was intact and the type of Main Street that tourists expected to see in the White Mountains. Littleton's sewage treatment plant was funded in 1963 and began operating in 1965. It was built to save Saranac Glove which unfortunately closed in 1966. In 1988, a secondary treatment facility was added. The Meadow had water, sewer and electrical power infrastructure in place, I-93 access and was the perfect spot for a big box retailer K-Mart or Walmart to be built and give the shoppers of the North Country and Northeast Kingdom a reason to come to Littleton.

What did the people of Littleton do? They rolled up their sleeves and went to work. The people of Littleton realized that no white knight was going to rescue Littleton. They had to do it themselves. The rest is history. The people of Littleton reinvented and revitalized the entire town.

Part 3 will showcase the over $500 million investments in Littleton that have occurred since 1992.

Part 3: The Public Good

The people of Littleton have had one agenda for the past 30 years, advancing the public good. The pursuit of Littleton's public good agenda created an investment magnet which has attracted over $600 million in investments in Littleton for healthcare, education, commercial, financial, housing, professional, restaurants, and retail facilities along with community infrastructure. The people of Littleton used the $600 million in investments to reinvent and revitalize the entire town. Littleton is the most economically successful small rural town in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Littleton has had a stable population of 6,000 people for over 30 years. Littleton is not located on large residential lake nor the Atlantic Ocean. It does not have a major ski area, state or national park, large tourism attraction, Grand Hotel, private or state college or university or even a golf course. Littleton is located in the North Country which has a hardscrabble economy. It is a great place to live, but a hard place to make a living.

The people of Littleton are resilient. They weathered the 2008-2015 great recession with the largest number of foreclosures in Grafton County. The closing of the largest employer in the town's history, Hitchiner Manufacturing with its two plants and 850 employees. Montgomery Wire and Norton Pike manufacturing plants also closed. Littleton also lost its beloved restaurant, The Clam Shell. Three supermarkets, Butson's, P & C and Ruggles closed.

However, Littleton did become the Hudson River Trading Post of the North Country and Northeast Kingdom with over 60 retail and Commercial buildings and 35 national brands from Applebee's, Home Depot, Lowe's to Walmart etc. in the Meadow Shopping area.

None of the three Banks in Littleton in 1992 are in existence today. The people of Littleton subsequently recruited five Banks and a Credit Union to replace them-Bank of NH, Mascoma Bank, Northern Lights Credit Union, Passumpsic Savings Bank, Union Bank and Woodsville Guaranty Savings Bank. They have a combined $5 billion in assets.

The people of Littleton have attracted investments in the following economic areas since 1992:

The people of Littleton and all the many others who have contributed to Littleton's economic success have quiet pride but enjoy letting the over $600 million in investments speak for themselves. The people of Littleton have served the Public Good.

Part 4: Littleton's Economic Development Guiding Principles

The People of Littleton over the past 30 years developed and executed Six Economic Development Guiding Principles - Everyone's welcome, no political or personal agendas, light regulatory approach, Town investment, Selectmen leadership and celebrate success. These Guiding Principles are the glue that holds the Town's agenda of advancing the Public Good together.


The People of Littleton from the get-go in 1992 realized that for Littleton to reinvent and revitalize the entire Town, everyone had to be welcome. The people of Littleton did not support economic favoritism nor protectionism. No existing or future business was entitled to success. You had to achieve economic success the old-fashioned way, you had to earn it.

PollyannaThe people of Littleton didn't and doesn't care what religious, gender, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation or educational background you have. They do care that identity politics should not be used as a weapon to bully. The welcoming Pollyanna statue on the Littleton Public Library lawn speaks for all of the people of Littleton-WELCOME TO LITTLETON


The people of Littleton asked everyone who wanted to invest in Littleton to leave their political and personal agendas at home. In small towns you can have a positive unifying agenda or a divisive selfish agenda, but you can't have both. The people of Littleton chose a positive unifying 30-year agenda of advancing the public good. It was a wise choice!


The people of Littleton in the 1980's tried to regulate the town into prosperity. It failed miserably! They then decided to try a novel approach! They trusted the business and building owners who wanted to invest in Littleton to decide the appearances of their businesses and properties.

Littleton's $50 million Historic Main Street and River District is not Williamsburg. The 24 Historic buildings are an eclectic, potpourri of different architectural styles from many different eras, from the 1780's to the 1950's. The Light Regulatory approach created Littleton's $600 million investment magnet. It worked!


The people of Littleton realized 30 years ago that you can't expect others to invest in Littleton if the town doesn't invest in itself. The number one economic development priority for the people of Littleton in 1992 was building the Industrial Park Bridge and access road. Today, for a $4 million investment, the Town has a World Class Industrial Park with 1,200 jobs. The Industrial Park was the foundation of Littleton's future $600 million economic development success.

The people of Littleton have invested over $85 million in community infrastructure (schools, roads, etc.) since 1992.


The one indispensable guiding principle for Littleton is selectmen leadership. The selectmen for the past thirty years have acted as a clearing house evaluating and prioritizing community initiatives to improve the town and its infrastructure. They played a role no one else could do. Their combined record of success at advancing Littleton's Public Good agenda is unmatched in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Recently, at a meeting a supporter of the Arts community called the Littleton Board of Selectmen trash. The Arts community and many people from out of town cheered and applauded his "trash" comment enthusiastically. That was unfortunate. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every Selectmen in the past 30 years has worked tirelessly year in and year out to improve Littleton. All of Littleton's Selectmen have served their community with distinction and none of them were trash.


The people of Littleton work 364 days a year to improve their community. On one day, the Monday before Thanksgiving, they celebrate their success at the Littleton Economic Development Celebration. This year will be its 30th celebration. In those 30 years over 1,000 presentations have been made by individuals who tell their story, in their own words, as to why they want to invest in Littleton. They showcase where the town was, is and most important, where it is going economically. The people of Littleton learned a long time ago that if you don't celebrate your own success, nobody else is going to do it for you.

The people of Littleton incorporated their Economic Development guiding principles into their agenda of advancing the Public Good. Littleton has had over $600 million invested in their community. It has a world class Industrial Park, the lowest electricity rates in New England, created the Meadow, the Hudson River Trading Post of the North Country and Northeast Kingdom, the $50 million Historic Main Street and River District, $155 million in new healthcare facilities and $85 million in community infrastructure. Littleton's Public Good agenda made Littleton the most economically successful small rural town in New Hampshire and Vermont.

ParadeThe people of Littleton have a lot to be thankful for! Happy Thanksgiving to all and let's enjoy Dennis Hartwell's annual Christmas Parade for children of all ages! Thanks Dennis!

Brien Ward founded the Littleton Economic Development Task Force in 1992 and was President of Littleton Main Street from 1998-2003.

Kilburn Crags Pollyanna Littleton River District Commission Littleton Regional Healthcare Postcards from the Days of Yore The Old Man of the Mountain Socrates

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