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The township was granted in 1779 to Timothy Walker, Jr. and associates of Concord, New Hampshire. Rumford is a former name of Concord, from which many early settlers arrived. The first pioneers, however, were Jonathan Keyes and his son Francis in 1782 from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. Incorporated in 1800, the town would later annex land from Peru and Franklin Plantation.
Located in the foothills of the White Mountains, Rumford is the site of Rumford Falls, George J. Varney called it "the grandest cataract in New England," where the Androscoggin River drops 177 feet (54 m) over solid granite. Bands of St. Francis Indians once hunted and fished here, where salmon spawn in the 13-acre (5.3 ha) pool below Upper Falls, a barrier that fish cannot pass. The river is home to a large population of the finless brown variety of trout. Indians also came here to trade furs brought from the lakes region. Sawmills and gristmills were built to harness water power from the falls.
In 1882, industrialist Hugh J. Chisholm recognized the falls' potential for the manufacture of paper. Chisholm directed construction of the Portland and Rumford Falls Railway connecting Rumford to the national rail network in 1892. The first paper mill began operation in 1893, drawing an infusion of people and money into the sleepy community of about 200 residents. Oxford Paper Company, owned by Chisholm, would dominate Rumford's riverfront and economy.
Much of the mill town was built in the spurt of prosperity at the turn-of-the-century, and Rumford retains significant Victorian and Edwardian architecture. Most notable is the Hotel Harris & Strathglass Park, perhaps the finest company housing in the nation. Wishing to avoid the stacked slums endemic at Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts, Hugh Chisholm commissioned Cass Gilbert in 1900 to plan a 30-acre (12 ha) site in his company town, instructing the prominent architect that "We will build of brick and stone and slate, and we will provide not merely for a house, but for comfort, elegance and social gratification."
Recognized for unique architectural and social merit, in 1974 Strathglass Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district. Today, much of the history of Rumford is preserved by the Rumford Historical Society. Founded in 1961, under the sponsorship of prominent residents Louis Thibodeau, Minerva Anderson and Jonathan Mackenzie, the society pledges to preserve the rich history of the western mill town and encourage community involvement among all.