DERRY — There has never been a more famous spud than the very first one planted in this area.
That, according to local historians, helped pave the way for a successful future for original Scottish-Irish settlers that first called this region home.
To honor the mighty potato, First Parish Church and Friends of the Meetinghouse hosted a PotatoFest last Saturday at the church, offering all things potato including food, chip tastings, crafts, with plenty of history mixed in.
The day was also a way to support the ongoing restoration and preservation efforts at First Parish and its meetinghouse, the original gathering place for the earliest of settlers and now on it's way to be a focal point for the 300th anniversary of the original Nutfield settlement in 2019.
It was 299 years ago that Rev. James MacGregor led his band of 16 families across the Atlantic to a settlement they called "Nutfield" that included Derry, Londonderry, Windham and parts of Manchester.
It was also then that those families, according to local history, planted the first white potato in North America.
The Fairways apartment complex now stands on what is believed to be that very first potato field.
Many who love local history have honored the potato's rich past.
Local history expert Richard Holmes has written often about the history of the potato in this area. There was even a sign to mark the spot.
In 1954, there was a drive to get a monument erected to commemorate Derry as "the birthplace of America's great potato industry," Holmes wrote in his book "Nutfield Rambles."
The National Potato Shrine Committee was formed in Boston made up of many supporters of that effort including state officials and members of potato councils in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
"The only local on the shrine committee was Republican activist Mrs. Carolyn Murdock White," Holmes wrote. "Her inclusion made sense as she owned the former "common field" on which the proposed potato monument was to be erected."
A lot of hard work followed to plan a grand shrine in Derry but the National Potato Shrine Committee never raised enough money to construct the memorial as planned.
Locals decided to do the next best thing and erect their own potato memorial that consisted of a plywood sign cut in the shape of a potato with neat, white lettering spelling out the potato birthplace information.
The sign was dedicated May 20, 1962 with many local and state dignitaries attending. A luncheon followed catered by the Granite State Potato Chip Company of Salem.
The plywood shrine stood for the next 30 years but then fell over and was lost.
"At present, the only monument to cite Derry's role in the history of the potato is a brief mention on a state historical marker in East Derry," Holmes wrote.
Local students in Derry pushed for the potato to be the state's official vegetable in 2013, with students taking on the challenge to honor the potato with official legislation.
The legislation followed a strenuous campaign by local fourth-graders, hoping to give the starchy spud its due at the state level.
At that time, Derry state Rep. John O’Connor told lawmakers in Concord that students researched the potato and found evidence that the first white potato was truly grown in North America.
“It has been confirmed that Rev. James MacGregor brought a sack of seed potatoes and planted them in 1719 in an area called Nutfield, now known as Derry,” O’Connor said at that time.
First Parish's first ever salute to the potato last weekend brought out people who enjoyed twice-baked potatoes, potato chips, history talks, juggling and much more.
Bart Wetherbee and son Arlo of Derry, showed off their juggling talents, using small white potatoes.
"You learn to juggle using tennis balls," Bart said, "potatoes are bit harder."
Organizers of the 300th anniversary of Nutfield celebration next year also offered ways to support the ongoing restoration of the meetinghouse.
First Parish and the Friends of the Meetinghouse have already raised about $1 million to support the project and needs the next million to continue the work, including finishing and remounting the steeple, interior refurbishments and completing the accessibility connector.