December 17, 2016


Defining the Upper Valley: Dartmouth Geography Researcher Seeks the Public's Input (Alex Hanson, 12/16/16, Valley News)

Garrett Dash Nelson, a post-doctoral fellow in geography at Dartmouth College,] has adapted an idea from a project that mapped out Boston's neighborhoods -- another place where lines of demarcation aren't always clear -- and chose to ask people who live here what the Upper Valley looks like. He set up a website on which anyone can draw their conceptions of the Upper Valley and comment about the boundaries as they sees them.

As with every descriptor that lives only in the popular imagination, Nelson said in a recent interview in Dartmouth's Baker Library, "there's no consensus on where it ends."

The site,, went up in November, and so far, the lines people have drawn have been, well, kind of all over the map.

"I've been struck by how almost every map is centered on that ... four-town area," Nelson said. "But then the diversity of responses stretches out pretty considerably."

Based on the maps people have drawn, some view the Upper Valley as a narrow strip, or even just the four core towns of Hanover, Norwich, Lebanon and Hartford. But some people drew maps that extend as far south as Walpole, N.H., and Westminster, Vt., and as far north as Littleton, N.H., and Waterford, Vt. At least one person drew the western boundary out to Rochester, Vt., which is about a 50-minute drive from White River Junction. Rochester might seem far from the core Upper Valley towns, but it isn't quite in the orbit of Rutland, Waitsfield or Middlebury, either.

Many of the people who drew their versions of the Upper Valley on Nelson's map didn't comment, but some did, and what they had to say gets at both the solidity of the Upper Valley's boundaries and their vaporousness.

"I've always thought of the 'Upper Valley' as more of a feeling than a science; therefore my choices of UV towns are as difficult to explain as melancholy or joy," wrote one respondent who drew a big, generous Upper Valley. "It's an explanation so lame that it's bound to make you cringe, but it's what I've got right now. This project is excellent, by the way."

"We lived west of Woodstock, Vermont for over 40 years," wrote another person, who conceived of the UV as a narrow band of towns on either side of the river. "We referred to the river-bordering towns as the Upper Valley. We didn't consider ourselves part of it, although we knew we shopped and worked there. Now, we live in Lebanon, so we're in the thick of it."

The only person who signed a statement was none other than former longtime Valley News reporter and editor Susan Boutwell, who now works at Dartmouth College. She noted the newspaper's coverage map, and that it incorporates school supervisory unions in both states. She was among a handful of people who drew maps and said that the Upper Valley is essentially the Valley News' coverage area.

While the idea of a region centered on the Connecticut River dates to Colonial times, the geographic term is more recent, and more prosaic.

"It's a marketing ploy," said Steve Taylor, a Meriden native, a former editor of the Valley News and former New Hampshire Agriculture commissioner. The paper's founders coined the term "Upper Valley," assigning the term to a vague region carved out of the northern half of the Claremont Eagle's territory, Taylor said in a telephone intervew this week.

The first issue of the Valley News, published June 9, 1952, calls the paper, in all capital letters on the front page banner, "A daily newspaper, published at West Lebanon, for Lebanon, White River Junction, Hanover and the Upper Valley area." And the editorial in that first day's paper says, "... the Tri-Towns and the Upper Valley wanted a daily paper of their own." Nowhere is the term explained, nor are the boundaries set out.

The paper's sense of its territory grew over the years, Taylor said. It didn't include Claremont or New London or Grantham, which seemed far afield in 1952. The interstates came through in the late 1960s and early 1970s and helped carry the paper farther out, to Randolph, Haverhill and New London.

The legitimacy of "Upper Valley" as a regional description is questionable. For starters, there's something that sounds a bit sniffy about it, as in "upper crust," or "upper middle class."

"It's still kind of a sore point with older folks in Claremont," Taylor said, a resentment of the implied elitism of the Hanover-Lebanon axis.

Taylor, who was 13 when the newspaper first appeared, pulled no punches about the name it bestowed on his region: "It's a preposterous term."

That seems indisputable. What exactly is "upper" about the Upper Valley if it ends at Haverhill? What would you call the Connecticut River Valley farther north? The Upper Upper Valley?

Even so, the name has stuck and now has a momentum of its own, independent of its origin.

"That connection between a sort of branding device and a geographical descriptor is not uncommon," Nelson said. (New England itself was "a creation of anxious marketing boards in the early 20th century" who felt a need to establish a regional identity for the six northeastern-most states, Nelson said.)

The Census Bureau already did this and we are, ironically, America's largest Micropolis:

By the Numbers: The Upper Valley (Lee Michaelides, November 7, 2015  The Observer 

We refer to our region as the Upper Valley -- hence the moniker But the U.S. Census bureau has another name for the place: the Claremont-Lebanon NH-VT Micro Area.

To the census takers we're what's called a Micropolitan Statistical Area. They define such a place as a  "Core Based Statistical Area associated with at least one urban cluster that has a population of at least 10,000, but less  than 50,000. The Micropolitan Statistical Area comprises the central  county or counties containing the core, plus adjacent outlying counties having a high degree of social and economic integration with the central county or counties as measured through commuting."

Posted by at December 17, 2016 9:37 AM