Valley News – Census data shows outward spread of Upper Valley population
Grantham and West Windsor, towns long considered to be on the outer shores of the Upper Valley, have each posted double-digit percentage increases over the past 10 years, outpacing the growth rate of major towns in the heart of the Upper Valley. valley, according to new data. of the 2020 US Census.
But the new census results came as little surprise to the people who live there.
“We kind of thought that,” said Peter Garland, chairman of Grantham Selectboard, when told of the sharp rise in the town’s population.
Grantham added 419 people, or 14%, to 3,404 in total. This followed an even faster growth rate of 37.7% between 2000 and 2010.
Garland said Grantham, which includes the 1,400-unit planned community of Eastman, has become a dormitory community for people traveling to Hanover and Lebanon for work.
“Housing costs have risen so much in the Upper Valley that people working at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Dartmouth College find it an attractive and more affordable place to live. I’ve seen this even before COVID.
Although central cities like Lebanon, Hartford and Hanover have also seen significant growth, census data reveals how residential communities in the Upper Valley are turning away from the traditional axis along the Connecticut River as a crisis of the housing prevents people from living closer to their work. Towns like Plainfield, Grafton and New London in New Hampshire and Barnard, Tunbridge, Sharon, Fairlee and Weathersfield in Vermont all saw population gains.
By percentage, West Windsor was the fastest growing city in the Upper Valley, adding 245 people, or 22.3%, to a total population of 1,344, according to the U.S. Census.
Glenn Seward, executive director of Ascutney Outdoors, credits the multi-year project to transform the once bankrupt Ascutney Mountain Resort into a year-round public recreation center with helping to evolve West Windsor from a destination of vacation at a dormitory community.
Alongside a “pretty serious effort” to bring high-speed internet to the city, allowing people to work remotely, Seward said: “We’ve seen people who had second homes turn from part-time residents into full-time residents,” a trend he says predates the coronavirus pandemic.
A sure sign of gentrification: the Brownsville Butcher & Pantry, which has transformed a tired, failing general store into an upscale market and cafe that serves ricotta pancakes and kale and grain salads.
And consistent with national trends, the data shows that the Upper Valley is more black, more Hispanic and Latino, more Asian and less white than a decade ago.
At the same time, people of color, despite large double-digit percentage increases, continue to represent only a fraction of the population of the Upper Valley, reflecting a historically low presence of non-whites in northern New England, which the US Census Bureau ranks at the bottom of diversity.
For example, in Sullivan County, the white population decreased by 7.1%, or 3,001 people, while the black or African American population increased by 9.7%, or 38 people. The Asian population increased by 49.4%, or 134 people, and the Hispanic or Latino population increased by 66.7%, or 329 people.
Significantly, the population gains do not include people who moved to the Upper Valley during the pandemic because the census was taken before pandemic migration was largely underway, according to Kenneth Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire.
“COVID is not (reflected) in the data because the census was completed in April 2020,” Johnson noted, largely before urban and suburban families began to migrate to less populated parts of the country.
Johnson pointed out that while New Hampshire’s population grew by 61,000, or 4.6%, to a total of 1.38 million, immigration – people from elsewhere in the Granite State – accounted for 86% of the population gain. In fact, Grafton County’s population growth was solely due to migration, as more people died there than were born there in the past 10 years.
That shouldn’t be surprising, Johnson noted, given that Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Dartmouth College attract employees, many of whom are young and from elsewhere. But these institutions also have ripple effects beyond their workforce.
“How things go at Dartmouth-Hitchcock is going to have a big effect on Grafton County. A large medical institution and a college make it quite an attractive place to live,” he said.
The new census data also shows a picture of starkly opposite demographic trends in the upper valley, with communities in education, technology and health services growing while former mill towns in the part south of the valley narrow.
(The “Upper Valley”, although not technically a place name on a map, is defined by the Valley News as comprising 24 towns on the Vermont side of the Connecticut River and 20 towns and two towns on the New Hampshire side, stretching from Charlestown in the south to Haverhill in the north and New London in the east and Bridgewater, Bethel and Randolph in the western part of the valley.)
Three of the four counties comprising the Upper Valley saw population increases – only Sullivan County lost people – although all lagged statewide growth rates in New Hampshire and Vermont .
In Grafton County, the largest county in the Upper Valley by population, the overall population increased 2.4% to 91,118. Windsor County increased 1.9% to 57,753 and Orange County rose 1.2% to 29,277.
Sullivan County, which since 1950 has grown “well below” the statewide average rate, fell 1.6% to 43,063, its first decadal population reversal since at least 1970 and one of only three counties in New Hampshire with 10 counties to lose population in the 2020 census.
Claremont fell 406 people, or 3%, to 12,949, and other towns in Sullivan County such as Charlestown, Cornish, Newport, Springfield, Sunapee and Unity all recorded lower populations than in 2010.
The fall of Claremont, in particular, was painful: once the largest city in the Upper Valley and the center of retail, Claremont’s population peaked in 1980 at 14,577.
But, like many old towns in towns that were manufacturing economies in the 20th century, Claremont never recovered from a wave of factory closures a generation ago.
Claremont was overtaken in the 2020 census by Lebanon, which now has a population of 14,282 after the New Hampshire side of the Upper Valley’s largest 10-year percentage increase: 8.6%.
Other Granite State cities with big percentage jumps include Hanover, up 5.4% to 11,870; Croydon, up 4.8%; and Plainfield, up 4%. Sunapee, Cornish, Haverhill, Enfield and Canaan all lost people, but the biggest drop was Orange, down 16.3%, or 54 people, from 10 years ago.
In Vermont, Hartford’s population jumped 7.4%, or 734 people, to a total of 10,686, making it one of 14 cities in Vermont where the population grew by more than 500 people.
The population of Thetford increased by 7.2%, that of Corinth by 6.4% and that of Norwich by 5.8%.
Eleven towns on the Vermont side of the river lost residents, including Strafford, down 0.4%; Royalton, down 0.8%; and Woodstock, down 1.4%.
The steepest decline in Vermont was Vershire, which fell 7.9% to 672 people.
Seward, for his part, said he knew West Windsor had turned the corner when a yellow school bus appeared.
“It has always been a second home community and we have never seen a school bus. Now we have a school bus line picking up kids. It was a telling feature that things had changed,” he said.
Contact John Lippman at [email protected]