|Towns & cities||New Durham, Farmington, Rochester, Dover|
|• location||New Durham|
|• elevation||880 ft (270 m)|
|0 ft (0 m)|
|Length||38.3 mi (61.6 km)|
|• left||Dames Brook, Blackwater Brook, Fresh Creek|
|• right||Hayes Brook, Ela River, Mad River, Rattlesnake River, Axe Handle Brook, Isinglass River|
The Cochecho River (or Cocheco River) is a tributary of the Piscataqua River, 38.3 miles (61.6 km) long, in the U.S. state of New Hampshire. It rises in northern Strafford County and runs southeastward, through the town of Farmington and the cities of Rochester and Dover, where it provides hydroelectric power. Below the center of Dover, the river is tidal and joins the Salmon Falls River at the Maine border to form the Piscataqua.
Significant tributaries include the Ela River, the Mad River, and the Isinglass River.
Cochecho is an Abenaki word meaning "rapid foaming water," referring to Cochecho Falls in downtown Dover. Settlers adopted the name for both the river and their principal settlement, Cochecho village.
In 1642, Richard Waldron was granted water privileges at Cochecho Falls, moving there from Dover Point to build a sawmill and gristmill. During the Industrial Revolution, these industries would be supplanted by cotton textile mills. In 1827, the Cocheco Manufacturing Company was founded, and its brick buildings would come to dominate the riverfront. But as 19th-century historian Caroline Harwood Garland writes, "By an error of the engrossing clerk in the act of incorporation, the old Indian word, Cochecho, became Cocheco."
Another early historian, Alonzo Hall Quint, laments the error: "The chief fault of the present Company is their barbarous spelling of 'Cocheco' instead of 'Cochecho,' for which no possible excuse exists." In an 1851 essay written for the Dover Enquirer, Quint records the history of the Cochecho River's name:
It has been ill-treated in a most serious manner. Every person seems to have felt himself authorized to manage its orthography in any way he chose; hence all sorts of ways of spelling it have prevailed.
The first record in which we meet the name is in 1642, and in that the name is spelt CUTTCHECHOE, the pronunciation of which is evident. In 1648 it is spelt COCHCHECHOE and is so pronounced for many years. In 1650 COCHECHAE is met with for once, and the pronunciation of this manner of spelling was that usually followed about 1670. In later times the pronunciation of the last syllable had reverted to the original form, that of the first and second remaining as it was so that Cochecho became the name; this is seen to be almost the exact original pronunciation and has been well settled for years. The spelling KECHEACHY was used occasionally a few years after 1700, but it never came into general use. The form QUOCHECHO is a unmitigated barbarism, so is COCHECO, although its unfortunate adoption by the Manufacturing Company of this place has given some credit to that form. The form Cochecho is best supported by old examples and is at present generally adopted by all who know anything of its origin."
In 1909, Pacific Mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts bought the Cocheco Manufacturing Company and set about making changes, one of which was to end the disparity between the river's historic spelling and the mill's 1827 error. Instead of correcting the mill's spelling, it petitioned the United States Board on Geographic Names to drop Cochecho and adopt Cocheco. It complied, increasing confusion about the name, a common Dover brand then and now. In 1937, the Cocheco Manufacturing Company succumbed to the Great Depression and went out of business. All that remains of the business are its buildings, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and contentious spelling.
In 2015, the United States Board on Geographic Names received a formal proposal to correct the spelling of the river from Cocheco to Cochecho, reversing the board's 1911 decision. The board was conflicted what to do. The 1911 decision may have been unethical, a federal agency bowing to a commercial enterprise, but a century had passed, allowing the public to get used to the mill's error. It passed the decision to the New Hampshire Council on Resources and Development (CORD), a conference of state bureaucracies. The Department of Cultural Resources, which includes the State Division of Historical Resources, supported correction, as did the Department of Resources & Economic Development. Dissenting were the Department of Fish & Game and Department of Environmental Services, unable to justify the inconvenience. So CORD did nothing, the result being that signs on Dover bridges identify the stream as the Cochecho River, the sign on the Spaulding Turnpike as the Cocheco River. Until CORD accepts correction and the US BGN agrees, this contradiction will continue.