DERRY —Three hundred years ago the area's first settlers — 16 Scottish-Irish families that left Northern Ireland for these shores — set down roots and named their new home "Nutfield."
And when they reached this area, arriving at "Horse Hill" now known as East Derry Road on April 11, 1719, they formed that first homestead from what is today Derry, Londonderry, Windham, and parts of Manchester.
This weekend is Founders Weekend, the official Nutfield kickoff event and held exactly three centuries after the Rev. James MacGregor preached his very first sermon nearby where those early families first settled in East Derry's Upper Village.
First Parish Church plays a big role in the 300th anniversary celebration and the weekend's schedule of events, hosted by the church and Derry Heritage Commission. The church, steeped in history, is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and was built in 1769 to replace an earlier structure.
The church is undergoing a massive rehabilitation project, one of the largest preservation projects in the state.
It's not only celebrating local history. Heritage Commission member Paul Lindemann said the Nutfield 300th has taken on the world with much interest on both sides of the Atlantic.
"We started to realize this is international in scale," he said.
Lindemann said this weekend's schedule not only includes public events for families to enjoy, but will also be a Nutfield reunion of descendants and researchers attending a parallel academic conference featuring several keynote speakers representing the Ulster Historical Foundation in Northern Ireland, the Maine Ulster Scots Project, and other experts on genealogy and history.
Founders Weekend begins Friday with self-guided tours of the Forest Hill Cemetery and East Derry Village area, 1 to 5 p.m. Those registered and participating in the Nutfield families conference will check in and attend family stations and genealogy areas at Upper Village Hall.
Saturday's free public schedule includes a welcome at First Parish Church at 9 a.m. and a full day of history and other activities including historic displays, lightening talks on many subjects, pottery and flax/linen demonstrations and children's activities including a Nutfield "selfies" station, Build Your Own Bagpipe, Scottish-Irish coloring time, and and Old Irish Rings Challenge, all held at First Parish.
The restored church steeple will also be unveiled and tours of the building will be available. More guided tours of nearby Forest Hill Cemetery take place Saturday, 10 to 11 a.m. and again from noon to 1 p.m.
"We are trying to educate about the rehabilitation project," Lindemann said. "We will also be able to ring the bell for the first time in decades."
On Saturday night, the Nutfield Gala is held at the Adams Memorial Building on West Broadway, beginning at 6 p.m. The building's Opera House will host music, food and a reading of the original Nutfield poem offered by Derry Poet Laureate Robert Crawford. The Derry History Museum, located in the lower level of the building, will be open from 6 to 8 p.m. during the gala. Tickets are available for $50 at eventbrite.com/e/300th-nutfield-gala-tickets-58336173064.
Sunday's schedule includes a historic church service at First Parish at 10 a.m. following by a reception. An ecumenical church service featuring many clergy representing the Nutfield area is Sunday at 1 p.m. followed by a luncheon, also at First Parish. The afternoon includes self-guided tours of the area.
Also on Sunday at 4 p.m. a dedication will honor a historic horse fountain now located in MacGregor Park. Derry Village Rotary Club members refurbished the fountain and installed it in the park next to Derry Public Library.
Other Derry plans for the anniversary will be held at various times throughout the year including a Living Treasures celebration in May, Civil War encampment, Fourth of July celebration and other historical events. The 300th schedule will officially end with the annual Derryfest and Derry After Dark in September.
Londonderry, Windham and the Derryfield portion of Manchester are also planning events to honor the 300th anniversary this year. Londonderry is expanding its annual Old Home Day celebration August 14-18, and Windham organizers will expand events surrounding the annual Strawberry Festival in June. Organizers in Derryfield, the oldest part of Manchester, will host an Old Home Day-style celebration May 25 with historic building tours and family activities.
For information and a complete schedule of Founders Weekend events, visit nutfield300th.org.