Depot Square sits at the confluence of the Contoocook River and Nubanusit Brook. The earliest town center in Peterborough was up on the hill, just across the Contoocook to the east. But soon the advantages of the river valley influenced the establishment of business and industry in the current downtown location.
The first buildings in what is now Depot Square were an odd assortment of sheds and workshops. In 1844 the school district purchased some of the land and built a large (three-room) schoolhouse, which sat approximately where New England Everyday Goods is today.
At that time, School Street was laid out, which provided easier access for other enterprises. The railroad came to town in 1861, and with it, the depot and Depot Street, connecting Main Street to School Street, was established.
The school closed in 1888, when the town built a new central school on Vine Street. This building was converted to a lumber storage facility, and was eventually purchased and moved elsewhere for use as
The railroad had a huge impact on the town. Local businesses were able to receive and ship goods quickly, and passengers could easily come into town for work, errands, and entertainment.
The original depot was located approximately where the Toadstool Bookshop is today. The current building was constructed in 1961 and was originally an A&P grocery store.
The train tracks crossed the Nubanusit just at the edge of the Contoocook River. Today the remains of the supporting pillars can be seen from Depot Park.
The most prominent business in the history of Depot Square was Derby’s. Originally called Goodnow’s, the store was established in 1882. Ten years later John W. Derby joined the company as a clerk, and in 1889 he took part ownership, at which time it became Goodnow & Derby. Eventually the Derby family owned the entire business, and Goodnow was dropped from the name.
During the 1920s Derby’s was a full-fledged general store, selling groceries, dry goods, menswear, hardware, grain, lumber, and cement. As Derby’s moved into its last decade in the 1980s, it still continued to provide a variety of goods, including furniture, hardware, and garden supplies. It occupied what is now the Sharon Arts Center space, all the shops currently connected to it in the Square, and the freight depot (now 12 Pine). Like many small department stores, Derby’s succumbed to changes in the retail industry, but customers can still find a delightful variety of goods in the new Depot Square shops.
Above, the row of buildings along the Nubanusit, sometime in the early 1940’s. These buildings served a variety of purposes, including being the home of Monadnock Lumber from 1957 until 1982.
Today these buildings are nicely renovated into an array of interesting shops.