Originally a part of Sanbornton, this town was once known as "Sanborton Bridge" and "Bridge Village". In 1869, it was set off and incorporated as "Tilton", named in honor of Nathaniel Tilton, whose grandson Charles E. Tilton was the owner of textile mills and the community's wealthiest citizen. Nathaniel Tilton established an iron foundry and the area's first hotel, the Dexter House. Charles E. Tilton donated many statues to the town, a unique feature, and his estate is now part of the Tilton School. Tilton Hall, his former mansion built in 1861, houses the Lucian Hunt Library. The attached carriage house was renovated in 1980 to become the Helene Grant Daly Art Center.
Charles E. Tilton also donated what is perhaps the most notable landmark in the area, the hilltop Memorial Arch. The Roman arch replica was built in the late 1800s as a memorial to his ancestors. It is built of Concord granite, 50 feet high and 40 feet wide. Ironically, the Tilton Arch is actually located in the neighboring town of Northfield, across the Winnipesaukee River from the center of Tilton.
The highest point in Tilton is above sea level, along the town's northern border, near the summit of Calef Hill.
As of the census of 2000, there were 3,477 people, 1,360 households, and 875 families residing in the town. The population density was 303.8 people per square mile (117.3/km²). There were 1,631 housing units at an average density of 142.5/sq mi (55.0/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 96.66% White, 0.06% African American, 0.63% Native American, 0.60% Asian, 0.09% Pacific Islander, 0.17% from other races, and 1.78% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.98% of the population.
There were 1,360 households out of which 30.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.7% were married couples living together, 10.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.6% were non-families. 28.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.39 and the average family size was 2.89.
In the town the population was spread out with 23.0% under the age of 18, 7.0% from 18 to 24, 28.8% from 25 to 44, 24.2% from 45 to 64, and 16.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 100.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 100.5 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $41,977, and the median income for a family was $50,143. Males had a median income of $32,095 versus $25,227 for females. The per capita income for the town was $19,578. About 2.9% of families and 5.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 5.0% of those under age 18 and 6.2% of those age 65 or over.