City Hall, Keene, NH

City of Keene at 150 Years and Beyond

City of Keene at 150 Years and Beyond  

The City of Keene, NH, celebrates its 150th anniversary of being incorporated as a City this May, a fact recognized at its May 2nd City Council meeting.  The Historical Society of Cheshire County chronicles Keene’s long history beginning with the Colonists who arrived in Keene in the 1700’s.  There’s the fabled story of Nathan Blake, who arrived in Upper Ashuelot with his family in 1736 and established a homestead on the corner of Winchester and Main Streets, only to be taken captive in 1745 by Indian allies of the French and taken to Montreal.

As the Upper Ashuelot settlement grew, England’s King George III named Keene for Sir Benjamin Keene, England’s minister to Spain, and the town became incorporated in 1753.  Given Keene’s central location in Cheshire County, it became a crossroad for commerce.  By the 1840s railroads provided a connection through Cheshire County to Keene and from Keene to Fitchburg, Boston, Vermont and Maine. By 1870, Keene had grown to nearly 6,000 people, and on May 5, 1874, the State recognized Keene as a City. 

Keene has preserved many institutions well over the years.  As the Cheshire County seat, Keene has housed a courthouse and corrections facility since 1788 and 1774 respectively.  The City gave birth to Keene Normal School in 1909, which grew into Keene State College in 1963.  It gave birth to Elliot Hospital in 1895, which grew into the Cheshire Medical Center in 1972 and became a regional affiliate of Dartmouth Health in 2014.  Its library was established in 1898.  And this year the City will recognize the Keene Sentinel’s 225th year and Colonial Theater’s 100th year.  

Keene is also an employment hub for the region.  Approximately, 20,000 of the 31,000 jobs in Cheshire County are in Keene. The City is the 6th largest of 13 NH cities.  Manufacturing, retail, and commercial services locally support employment and residents over a 30-mile area in all directions.  Keene enjoys features seldom found in a city of 24,000 residents: natural landscape beauty, a safe community, a healthy pace, an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities, good restaurants, access to educational and healthcare resources, thriving cultural arts, and strong community engagement -- important attributes upon which to build its future.

However, Keene’s future is still to be written.  That brings me to highlight Keene’s Comprehensive Master Plan, a document last prepared in 2010, which needs to be updated in order to guide decisions regarding growth and development, sustainability, and inclusion over the next 10 to 15 years. 

The updated Master Plan depends on citizen engagement.  It needs to coalesce around common themes representing the interests of different demographic groups.  So, it’s not a simple process and it depends upon the involvement of many, which is where you come in, people who either live in Keene or you come to the city to work, attend schools, shop and/or visit Keene. 

A steering committee has been appointed and titled its work, “Vision 20-Forward: Learn from the Past, Plan for the Future”.   The early stage of the process involves the committee seeking your input through a survey that can be found at

You’ll be asked to offer your thoughts on where and how Keene should focus for future success.  In order to keep the process moving forward, the committee needs your completed surveys by May 31st.  Whether you live in Keene or in nearby communities, please take the time and opportunity to provide input for the committee to consider.  The success of the master planning process depends on community engagement, and people who care to make a difference in their region.  I invite you to help shape Keene’s future.

Jay Kahn

Mayor, City of Keene