New Hampshire Glossary: Intervale

Intervale” is a word unique to New England.

It is used to describe low-lying meadow land, usually along a river, and particularly alluvial land (or land made by deposits from the running water) that is more fertile, at least at first.  It comes from the more common word “vale,” which is a valley coursed by a stream.

These meadows by the rivers were soil basins, that when first found had a surface of alluvial and vegetable deposits. Many times these low lands are overflowed by the rivers in the spring and the fall, or whenever the waters rise to their greatest height.  They are usually level plains.

No doubt they were once covered with water, which, by the deepening of the channel, has gradually passed away.  Logs, leaves, nuts and other vegetation are often found buried under the surface at various depths, sometimes as low as twenty feet.  The time of deposit, geologically considered, was recent, chronologically estimated it was exceedingly remote.  The soil thus formed is free from stone, easy of cultivation and for a time very productive. The native peoples used these lands exclusively for planting crops.  After girdling the trees and piling the brushwood, the ground was carefully burned over in autumn to prepare the land for planting the following spring.

The word “intervale,” was one that was “mapped” by Dr. Hans Kurath, linguistic professor at Ohio State University, and later Brown University, to create the “Linguistic Atlas of New England.”  His study showed that although the word was common in the 1940s, by the 1960s it was less known.

This would actually make sense.  By the 1960s the intervale land along New Hampshire’s larger rivers was no longer the rich, alluvial land that the first settlers found.

The following are some early examples showing that the word “intervale” was used in New Hampshire and nearby locations during colonial times.

An extract from a journal kept by Walter Bryant, who ran the line between Maine and New Hampshire in 1741. [from “Fryeburg Maine: an historical sketch, by John Stuart Barrows, Fryeburg: Pequawket Press, 1938,
– page 7: “I also saw the Pigwaket Plain or Intervale Land, as also Pigwaket River which runs from the North West to the South East and cuts aforesaid Intervale in two Triangles…”

– page 40: Records of the Proprietors of Fryeburg Maine to Dr. Joseph Frye
Dec. 1763: To Planning and drawing the writings Necessary for drawing for the House & Intervale Lots of the first division in said Fryeburg, 1 pound.”

In 1770, the people of Rumney New Hampshire address their grievances to New Hampshire’s General Court, “Fourthly, the intervale is not equally divided.”

The natural and civil history of Vermont by Samuel Williams, Burlington VT, printed by S. Mills, 1809, page 39, Chapter III, Subtitle is “Rivers and Lakes–The Situation, Channels, Intervales, Courses, Depths and Effects of the Rivers.

A 1831 newspaper public notice, mentions a property to be sold at public auction in Hancock, Hillsborough Co. NH as “Jonathan Temple Intervale.”

Intervales, according to Tickner’s White Mountains (1884), are “the level green meadows which adorn these valleys.” ]

In New Hampshire there is a village called Intervale, contained within the township of Bartlett.  Bartlett includes the villages of Glen, Lower Bartlett and Intervale, in the White Mountains region.

Janice

*Additional Reading*

The Intervale Foundation

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