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Durham, New Hampshire
Thompson Hall, UNH 1.jpg
Official seal of Durham, New Hampshire
Country United States
State New Hampshire
County Strafford
Settled 1635
Incorporated 1732
 • Total 24.7 sq mi (64.1 km2)
 • Land 22.4 sq mi (58.0 km2)
 • Water 2.4 sq mi (6.1 km2)  9.50%
50 ft (20 m)
 • Total 15,490
 • Density 691/sq mi (266.8/km2)
Time zone UTC-5 (EST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 603
FIPS code 33-19700
GNIS feature ID 0873584

Durham is a town in Strafford County, New Hampshire, United States. The population was 15,490 at the 2020 census, up from 14,638 at the 2010 census. Durham is home to the University of New Hampshire.

The primary settlement in the town, where 11,147 people resided at the 2020 census, is defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as the Durham census-designated place (CDP) and includes the densely populated portion of the town centered on the intersection of New Hampshire Route 108 and Main Street, which includes the university that dominates the town.


General View of UNH 1913
General View of UNH in 1913

Situated beside Great Bay at the mouth of the Oyster River, Durham was originally called Oyster River Plantation. It was settled in 1635 by pioneers who traveled up the Piscataqua River and across Little Bay to settle at the falls of the Oyster River.

At the time, the land that is now New Hampshire belonged to Massachusetts; not until 1692 did the New Hampshire colony finally gain full and permanent independence from its southern neighbor. Most of the coastal area was divided among four townships, and for its first century, Durham was part of Dover. The village location was ideal for its fresh water, natural meadows for livestock, and the transportation opportunities afforded by the waterways leading to the Atlantic Ocean. The land along the river was quickly settled, and nearby dense forests provided the timber necessary to construct homes as well as boats. Oyster River Plantation took the form of a small agricultural village, and the first generation of residents worked to clear and shape the land for planting.

The town name "Durham" was suggested by the Rev. Hugh Adams, as claimed by him in an address to the General Assembly in 1738. Two of the earliest settlers of Dover were William and Edward Hilton, the direct descendants of Sir William de Hilton, Lord of Hilton Castle in County Durham, England, but there is nothing to prove that Durham was named in their honor.

During King William's War, on July 18, 1694, the English settlement was attacked in the Raid on Oyster River by French career soldier Claude-Sébastien de Villieu with about 250 Abenaki from Norridgewock under command of their sagamore Bomazeen (or Bomoseen). In all, 104 inhabitants were killed and 27 taken captive, with half the dwellings, including the garrisons, pillaged and burned to the ground.

The community would rebuild, however, and by 1716 Durham was a separate parish. Because of its arable land, the town would develop as a farming community.

Benjamin Thompson, a descendant of an early settler, bequeathed his assets and family estate, Warner Farm, to the state for the establishment of an agricultural college.


Over the years the people of Durham have created several libraries:

Durham Social Library (1815-1857): This library was incorporated by act of the New Hampshire Legislature in 1815. The library contained several hundred books and had a membership numbering nearly 50.

Durham Agricultural Library (1862-1881): Formed Feb. 3, 1862, with Benjamin Thompson as president, this library was small (approximately 72 books) and vocationally-based.

Durham Social Library (1881-1892): Organized March 9, 1881, the library had a membership of 80 and several hundred books. In 1883 the Richardson house was purchased to house the library. It eventually merged with the Durham Public Library.

Durham Public Library (1892-1906): Established in 1892 through the provisions of a New Hampshire state act, this was the town's first "public" library. It contained more than 3,500 books and eventually merged with the library of the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts.

Library of the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts (1893- ): Came to Durham with the arrival of the College in 1893. Initially, the College housed the library in a single room in Thompson Hall. In 1900 Hamilton Smith gave the University $10,000 to construct a library, another $20,000 was obtained from Andrew Carnegie. In 1907 – a year after the town and the college agreed to merge their collective library resources – the building (Hamilton Smith Hall) was completed.

In March 1997 by a margin of 2-1, Durham voters passed a charter amendment to establish a Board of Trustees and allow plans for a new library to go forward. In July 1997 a temporary space was found for the new Public Library in a storefront between the dollar store and a pizzeria. Under the guidance of the Trustees and a newly formed Friends of the Library group, many volunteer townspeople come forward to sheetrock, paint, assemble shelves, and unpack and shelve 719 boxes of books. On July 21, 1997 a dedication ceremony was held for the new library, with Governor Jeanne Shaheen as the keynote speaker. It was the first new public library to be established in New Hampshire in almost a century. In July 2013 a new public library building was completed on Madbury Road.

Police department

A police force of some manner has served Durham since at least 1848. Durham Police Department is made up of 20 full-time and part-time officers and provides service 24-hours a day.

The Police Department's Adopt-A-Cop program was instituted in 1999 to improve relationships between University of New Hampshire fraternities. Each fraternity is assigned a police officer who attends house meetings and events and acts a liaison between the fraternity and the community.

Fire department and EMS

The first fire department organization in Durham was organized in 1927 and the first salaried firefighter was employed in 1934.

The Durham Fire Department is one of the few fire departments in the country that is funded by both a municipality and a university.

In addition, McGregor Memorial EMS is a regional, non-profit organization delivering emergency medical services and education to the New Hampshire Seacoast area since 1968.

Geography and transportation

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 24.8 square miles (64 km2), of which 22.4 sq mi (58 km2) is land and 2.4 sq mi (6.2 km2) is water, comprising 9.57% of the town. The town is drained by the Oyster River. The highest point in Durham is Beech Hill, at 291 feet (89 m) above sea level, located on the town's northern border. Durham lies fully within the Piscataqua River (coastal) watershed.

The village area of the town, defined as a census-designated place (CDP), has a total area of 2.7 sq mi (7.0 km2), of which 0.1 sq mi (0.26 km2) (1.85%) is water.

Amtrak's Downeaster train stops at Durham–UNH station with service to the Portland Transportation Center and Boston's North Station.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1790 1,247
1800 1,126 −9.7%
1810 1,449 28.7%
1820 1,538 6.1%
1830 1,606 4.4%
1840 1,498 −6.7%
1850 1,497 −0.1%
1860 1,534 2.5%
1870 1,298 −15.4%
1880 962 −25.9%
1890 871 −9.5%
1900 996 14.4%
1910 823 −17.4%
1920 749 −9.0%
1930 1,217 62.5%
1940 1,533 26.0%
1950 4,770 211.2%
1960 5,504 15.4%
1970 8,869 61.1%
1980 10,652 20.1%
1990 11,818 10.9%
2000 12,664 7.2%
2010 14,638 15.6%
2020 15,490 5.8%
U.S. Decennial Census
Old Library, UNH
Hamilton Smith Hall c. 1920

The demographics of the town of Durham are strongly influenced by the presence of the campus of the University of New Hampshire. As of the census of 2010, there were 14,638 people, 2,960 households, and 1,544 families residing in the town. There were 3,092 housing units, of which 132, or 4.3%, were vacant. 7,266 town residents lived in group quarters such as dormitories, rather than in households. The racial makeup of the town was 93.8% white, 0.9% African American, 0.1% Native American, 3.2% Asian, 0.01% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 0.4% some other race, and 1.6% from two or more races. 2.0% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

Of the 2,960 households, 23.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 45.8% were headed by married couples living together, 4.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 47.8% were non-families. 25.2% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.2% were someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.49, and the average family size was 2.94.

In the town, 8.6% of the population were under the age of 18, 64.3% were from 18 to 24, 7.7% from 25 to 44, 12.5% from 45 to 64, and 6.9% were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 21.0 years. For every 100 females, there were 85.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 83.5 males.

For the period 2011–2015, the estimated median annual income for a household was $71,190, and the median income for a family was $120,039. Male full-time workers had a median income of $72,197 versus $58,750 for females. The per capita income for the town was $22,650. 24.5% of the population and 1.4% of families were below the poverty line. 0.7% of the population under the age of 18 and 5.1% of those 65 or older were living in poverty.

Sites of interest

  • Durham Historic Association & Museum


Notable people

Sam Fuld running
Sam Fuld
  • Jack Edwards (born 1957), play-by-play announcer for the Boston Bruins
  • Daniel Ford (born 1931), writer
  • Sam Fuld (born 1981), outfielder in Major League Baseball during 2007–2015, General Manager of the Philadelphia Phillies from 2020-present
  • Louise Janin (1893–1997), painter
  • Manuela Lutze (born 1974), four-time Olympic rower, two-time Olympic gold medalist
  • Joyce Maynard (born 1953), writer
  • Hercules Mooney (1715–1800), lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Revolutionary War
  • Don Murray (1924–2006), journalist
  • Deron Quint (born 1976), defenseman with six NHL teams
  • Alexander Scammel (1747–1781), colonel of the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment
  • Daniel C. Stillson (1826–1899), inventor of the Stillson pipe wrench
New Hampshire historical marker 89 in August 2019
Historical marker for Major General John Sullivan
  • John Sullivan (1740–1795), Revolutionary War general
  • Ben Sulsky (born 1987), professional poker player
  • Benjamin Thompson (1806–1890), farmer, businessman and benefactor of U.N.H.
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