Manchester’s Millyard history, Canterbury’s Shakers, dinosaurs — these and more are the subjects of area museums.
On first glance, a look for “southern New Hampshire museums” might seem to begin and end with Manchester’s Currier Museum of Art. But then you remember that the city also contains a Millyard Museum, that Concord is home to the Museum of New Hampshire History. There are museums geared at getting kids interested in science, museums celebrating other facets of local history, like the nation’s first credit union or the history of people who lived in Nashua 100 years or more ago.
The area is bursting with history and surprisingly filled with museums, historical centers and other places to get in touch with the culture and history of southern New Hampshire. Looking to discover something new about your hometown this summer? Here are a few places to start.
• America’s Credit Union Museum
418-420 Notre Dame Ave., Manchester, acumuseum.org, 629-1553
What’s to see: In 1908, this home on the West Side became the birthplace of the credit union movement. Since then the museum has become the international home of credit union history and boasts some interesting artifacts including the first credit union constitution and a hat once worn by Harry Truman.
Hours: Monday, Wednesday & Friday from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. or by appointment.
Admission: Free, but it is helpful to call ahead so a guided tour can be set up and visitors can get the most out of their visit.
Kid-friendly: The building was once home to three children; the museum now includes a children’s room where kids can work with old-time cash machines and see a magnet board that compares current prices to 1910 prices on everyday items.
Gift shop standout: There is no gift shop. But learning the benefits of saving your money is the gift that keeps on giving.
In many ways this museum tells the story of Manchester. Many of the men and women who worked in the mills lived on the West Side, according to Peggy Powell, the museum’s executive director. They worshiped at St. Marie’s church and, while they were employed, they were denied the right of savings and credit. All of that changed when Joseph Boivin began the first credit union in his home near the parish. Thus began St. Mary’s Bank, which still operates today. Inside the museum, visitors can see savings passbooks from those early years. At the time, it cost $5 to join St. Mary’s and people had to save up, saving 75 cents a week.
“This is a good lesson for people to see,” Powell said. “We think $5 is such a small amount of money but in those days they had to save up for it.”
Near the passbook are the original notes from the meetings, which led to the St. Mary’s Cooperative Credit Association’s official charter in 1909. The first meetings were in French but once the group decided to become an official organization, the notes switch over to English.
In those days people didn’t take pictures of the inside of their homes, but the museum was able to recreate the setup by interviewing Gilberte Boivin, who grew up in the home. The museum is in great condition and gives visitors a sense of what it might have been like to live at the turn of the century. However, the part of the home with original furnishings isn’t necessarily kid-friendly.
The credit union movement didn’t go national until 1934 when it was backed by a successful businessman named Edward Filenes, whose department stores were open for many years. On the second floor of the museum, visitors can view Filenes’ diary from a 1934 national conference in Colorado. His diary highlights his meticulous nature with such entries as “Aug. 14, 1934, 8:32 a.m. Taxi to St. Francis Hotel — Lovely suite.”
“He wasn’t married,” Powell joked.
Currently there are 7,500 credit unions worldwide and many of them are represented in the museum’s Hall of States, which showcases a credit union in Afghanistan.
“Credit unions began where there was a need,” Powell said. “Sometimes that was in a house, others a garage, even a hangar that was destroyed during Pearl Harbor.”
Powell believes the museum can teach children the importance of financial savings. In case visitors need a reminder of just how bad things can get, there are magnificent photographs from the Great Depression on display.
There is also a plethora of Franco-American history.
“Credit unions started for Franco-American immigrants,” Powell said. “One hundred years later that hasn’t changed. Manchester is still an area for immigrants with different financial backgrounds who could benefit from working together.”
• Aviation Museum of New Hampshire
13 East Perimeter Road, Londonderry, 669-4820, nhahs.org
What’s to see: The museum is worth the visit before you even enter it. Located as close to the runway of the Manchester Airport as Homeland Security will allow, the museum offers a great vantage point from which to watch planes take off.
Hours: Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 1-4 p.m.
Kid-friendly: Currently, the museum is not overflowing with kid-friendly activities, which is one reason it is building the Slusser Aviation Learning Center, made possible by a $1 million donation by Eugene and Anne Slusser of Hopkinton and scheduled to open in June 2011 — the Learning Center will be full of interactive activities for kids. Right now, youngsters can operate the flight simulator to “take off” from Manchester Airport.
Gift shop standout: A hand-carved wooden replica of the museum would look at home on any coffee table.
This museum is housed in the terminal that was used at the Manchester Airport in 1937. Outside its front doors, carved into the building, are benches where people used to sit waiting for their planes to arrive.
“It shows you how much times have changed,” said J. Richard Ludders of the Aviation Historical Society.
The museum embraces the changes that have taken place in flight over the years and New Hampshire’s role in them. Inside the building, painted on the wall, are the images of aviation legends in the state. Amongst them is Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, who used his hot air balloon during the Civil War to observe Confederate troops, which Ludders explained might have been the first use of aviation during war time.
The museum focuses on aviation history and does not present itself as an airplane museum, although some aircraft are on display during special occasions, like September’s Wings of Freedom, when WWII bombers can be seen. A special exhibit this summer will recount the history of the New Hampshire Air National Guard.
Much of the collection has been donated by fans of flight. One prize is the spotlight that used to rest on the top of the cigar building on Canal Street in Manchester. During war time, the light, which was placed in line with the runway, was used as a sort of lighthouse to guide planes, according to Ludders. The museum got this artifact when a man went to clean out his father’s basement and donated it to the museum.
“In 1903, the Wright brothers changed the world,” Ludders said. “Only 60 years later, man landed on the moon. Aviation blows people’s minds. That is why we love airplanes.”
Perhaps even more interesting than the actual history housed in the museum’s archives, which are located in the basement and are slowly being put online, is the history housed in the memories of the museum’s volunteers.
Bob Fortnam, a volunteer, was co-pilot of a large cargo plane during World War II. When the plane was shot down, the pilot was unable to land the plane and Fortnam had to do it. He quickly made the decision that the plane could not make it over the channel into England and that he would have to crash land it in a field in Holland. As he shouted to the crew to brace themselves, Fortnam remembered he was carrying 8,000 pounds of bombs in the cargo hold.
As Ludders explained, during those days pilots were trained so quickly that co-pilots would only learn part of the operation, while the pilot would learn the other part. As fate would have it, Fortnam was not trained to release the bombs. But he thought he had an idea and so he pulled a lever. Thinking he had released the bombs, he safely crash landed the plane, only to learn that releasing the bombs was a two-part process. When he pulled the lever, he had only opened the cargo hold. He would have had to pull the lever a second time to release the bombs. So he crashed landed a plane during a war with 8,000 pounds of bombs on it.
And walked away to tell about it.
• Canterbury Shaker Village
288 Shaker Road, Canterbury, 783-9511, shakers.org
What’s to see: The Village is bursting with summer activities, including the Strawberry Jamboree on Saturday, June 19, which celebrates the Shakers’ love of good music and food, and Lavender Day on Saturday, July 10, which has been described as a day of deep relaxation and includes yoga classes, massages and lavender treats. Both events happen during Village hours.
Hours: Open daily May 15 through Oct. 31 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission: Adults $17; youth (ages 6-17) $8; children (ages 5 & under) free; family (2 adults & 2 or more children ages 6 to 17) $42; adult groups (20 or more adults) $13 per person with advance reservation. Members free.
Kid-friendly: The Village holds family tours twice a day, where kids can try out a loom at the family activity center or watch a demonstration of a spinning wheel.
Gift shop standout: Follow the Shaker spirit by buying a broom that is handmade by regional artisans.
The Canterbury Shaker Village is frozen in a moment in time. The Shakers are regarded by many as the ancestors of post-modernism, according to Maisie Keith Daily, the Village’s education manager, and their simple but beautiful furniture and crafts are known around the world for their utility and perfection.
Canterbury Shaker Village is one of the oldest, most typical, and best-preserved of the Shaker communities and has 25 original buildings, which date back to 1785, and two replica buildings. By 1848 nearly 300 Shakers were living in the village, and in that same year a detailed map was completed by Henry Clay Blinn, a Canterbury Elder.
“Many people come here knowing a little about the Shakers,” Daily said. “They might be interested because of their furniture. But this is a great experience. First, the beauty of the place. There is a special serenity where people can unplug and turn off all of the noise. The Shakers believed in the simple life and people get to experience that.”
The Village offers different types of guided tours. There is a story tour, which includes information on Shaker religion, culture and history and takes visitors to the school and meeting house. There is also a home tour, which goes through the three floors of a Shaker home.
Daily said people can take self-guided tours through the buildings, like the ministry. There is an exhibit in the infirmary that discusses how the Shakers took care of each other from birth to death. Visitors can also witness craft demonstrations from master artisans, as crafts were an important aspect of Shaker life.
Shakerism is deeply rooted in an agricultural philosophy, according to Daily. The first Shaker vegetable garden was planted in 1795 and at its height the village was more than 3,000 acres. Today, that number has been reduced to 695 acres but this still provides parents with a lot of room to let their kids roam without feeling crowded. Even when it is busy, the Shaker village feels spacious.
Despite the simplicity of their lives, the Shakers also embraced technology, according to Daily. She said they believed time was a gift from God and anything that could give them more of it was good and holy. The Shakers were great inventors who revolutionized clothespins, according to Daily.
The Shakers also had an ear for music, which is evident in Daily’s experience during President Barack Obama’s inauguration.
“I don’t have a radio in my office,” Daily said. “But I was at work during Obama’s inauguration and so I brought one in to experience the moment. It was amazing because during the composition by John Williams they incorporated Shaker songs. I looked out my window on the village and realized they are still an important part of our lives.”
• Currier Museum of Art
150 Ash St., Manchester, 669-6144, currier.org
What’s to see: On permanent exhibit is one of the top five paperweight collections in America, as well as a contemporary gallery, which changes frequently. The upstairs of the museum is devoted to early American art from colonial times to 1800s impressionism. There are also great displays of furniture, silver and portraits. The museum houses American and European art, such as works by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, and the European gallery doubles as a treasure trove of history.
Hours: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (free admission from 10 a.m. to noon); open the first Thursday of each month, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; closed Tuesday
Admission: Adult $10, senior $9, student $8, children under 18 free. With Zimmerman house tour: adult $20, senior $19, student $16, children 7-17 $8. Members admitted free to all sites.
Kid-friendly: The Discovery Gallery is a place where kids can work on themed projects, like a watercolor exhibit. There are always colored pencils, and kids can get their work framed and put up on the wall at the Currier. In July and August, Wednesday afternoons are family time when parents can bring their kids in from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. and work on a different project each week.
Gift shop standout: Who wouldn’t want a Vincent Van Gogh stick-on tattoo to wow your friends with your edgy yet sensitive side?
The Currier Art Gallery changed its name to the Currier Museum of Art in 2002 because people thought a gallery was a place where you could purchase art and the Currier is a place to appreciate it. Karen Tebbenhoff, director of marketing and public relations, said the big-name artists often bring people in but once they are at the museum, many visitors really appreciate the New Hampshire perspective.
“People are always surprised by the talented artists that are working in our own state,” Tebbenhoff said.
The museum houses American and European art in its two floors. The European gallery has a lot of history, and the museum puts out interpretive materials that give viewers a little more depth on a variety of topics, such as tapestry preservation. While the museum focuses on American and European art, which Tebbenhoff said it does because at some point a museum of this size has to make a choice on what it can do well, the Currier does have special exhibits throughout the year. The expansion in 2008 allowed the museum to have bigger exhibits without having to remove its own collection, while maintaining the balance of being intimate and personal without feeling like you’re on top of other people.
This summer there will be three special exhibits for visitors to enjoy. And remember, while enjoying them, just how much work went into the way the paintings are shown. Tebbenhoff said the museum has people on its staff whose job it is to make sure visitors have the most ideal viewing experience. These staff members make sure the paintings are hung at the right height and the wall color doesn’t detract but makes your eyes go right to the painting.
“When they’re setting up a room the walls are filled with swatches of color,” Tebbenhoff said.
While the walls are important, the art takes precedence, and there are some diverse artists on display this summer. Through Sept. 6, visitors can contemplate the meaning of movement by observing the kinetic sculptures of Massachusetts-based artist George Sherwood. Sherwood’s stainless steel sculptures move in the wind or, in the case of the indoor sculptures, in the breeze of a fan.
If photography is your passion, then Jerome Liebling’s “Capturing the Human Spirit” is worth checking out. On exhibit from June 19 through Sept. 19, it will feature a new series of large-scale master prints. Liebling’s subjects have included the people and places of the Bronx and Brighton Beach neighborhoods of New York; street life in Spain and Israel; and the stark realities of the slaughterhouses, coal mines and steel towns of the Midwest and Pennsylvania.
And if you like a broader view of art, then check out Cross Currents in 20th-Century Art, which is an exhibit of pieces owned by Anne and Harry Wollman of Woodstock, Vt., who have spent the past 40 years collecting prints and ceramics.
The museum also offers a wide variety of activities and classes, which are listed on its website.
• Kaleidoscope Children’s Museum
250 Commercial St., Waumbec Mill, Suite 1011, Manchester, 606-3381, kaleidoscopechildrensmuseum.net
What’s to see: There is a toy at the museum called Zoom, where children can place a handkerchief into plastic tubing and watch it get sucked up and around through the spiral tubing before it gets shot back out like a parachute. Very fun.
Summer Hours: June-Sept. Monday-Thursday 9 a.m.-2 p.m.; in case of rain, call ahead. Fridays & Saturdays 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sundays noon-6 p.m.
Admission: $9.99 per child age 1 and up; free for children under 1 and adults. Please no Crocs, slippers or flip-flops — they are not safe on the worn wood floors. Please wear secured sandals or sneakers!
Kid-friendly: The museum is so kid-friendly it is more important to note it is also adult-friendly. There is a section devoted entirely to stroller parking. And, while the museum is a great way for young kids to interact, it also provides an opportunity for new parents to meet other people in a similar place in life.
Gift shop standout: Owner Michelle Carignan didn’t want to sell toys or products; she wanted to sell an experience. That is why she is turning the gift shop area into a “design your own craft area.” Carignan said this goes back to her decade as an arts teacher.
The Kaleidoscope Children’s Museum moved from Concord’s main street to Manchester in 2009, after owner Michelle Carignan spent a year looking for just the right location for her burgeoning business. While the home in Concord was well loved, it was only 2,000 square feet. The Manchester location is 6,400 square feet and full of natural lighting that comes in through the many windows of the old mill building. But when you arrive at the Waumbec Mill, the museum is not really inside. If you’re looking at the entrance to Tiny Tot Land, go to your right and around the corner and the entrance is on the side of the building. Don’t wander through the mill!
The museum is designed for children walking through Grade 1, according to Carignan, and is a creative space for old-fashioned play, which means no modern-day technology. Kids can climb on a fire truck, zip down a pirate ship slide (Carignan said this is very popular and if they ever got rid of it there would be a mutiny), put on plays, build with blocks, launch a rocket ship and solve floor puzzles.
“We wanted this to be a place where kids could be more interactive with people than if they’re just playing a computer game,” Carignan said. “Technology is important but it is also important to foster personal connections.”
Carignan said the museum is a great place for parents and kids to spend time together. She said physical interaction helps motor skills and fosters intelligence. She said doing floor puzzles or creative play helps children come to their own answers. Often times with technology, Carignan said, there is an answer already there and kids don’t need to figure it out on their own.
“The world is not virtual,” Carignan said.
She has also noted there is a decline in eye contact, which is another reason for the importance of face-to-face play.
“Society is beginning to recognize the importance of raising children with good interpersonal skills,” Carignan said. The museum is a good place to start. It holds summer camps and birthday parties and will teach sign language classes on Monday mornings in July and August for a fee of $120 for eight classes. There is also a space where adults can bring a lunch for the kids. It should also be noted that it is a peanut-free facility, so kids with allergies should not fear.
Though the room is divided into different play areas, Carignan said, kids don’t necessarily compartmentalize play, meaning they may build a pizza out of felt ingredients (they were changed from plastic because kids don’t tend to put felt in their mouths as much) and bring it over for a pretend snack at the dog-tor’s office, where they can look at real X-rays from a veterinarian.
“Having them go to the dog-tor’s office is good practice for when they actually have their first doctor’s visit,” Carignan said.
• Lee Scouting Museum & Library
571 Holt Ave., Manchester, 669-8919, scoutingmuseum.org
What’s to see: On the banks of a picturesque lake deep into Camp Carpenter, the museum has 100 years of Scout history within its walls.
Hours: July and August: from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Sept. through June: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Kid-friendly: The Scouts is all about kids and this museum knows how to appeal to them. Besides showing the history of an organization, of which thousands of kids in the state are members, the museum offers scavenger hunts for Cubs and Boy Scouts. There is also a large section of the museum devoted to Girl Scouts, as well.
Gift shop standout: Buy one of Max Silber’s internationally renowned belt buckles. Silber, the man the Scout library is dedicated to, was known for the intricacies of his belt buckle design. An astronaut who was a former Scout once brought one into space.
The Scouts were started by General Sir Robert Baden Powell in England in 1907. Powell was a hero of the Second Boer War in South Africa. Based on many of the books he wrote during war, he developed Scouting for Boys, which was published in 1908. Prior to its publication, he took a group of children on a camping trip at Brownsea Island, which is generally considered the start of Scouting.
On his 80th birthday, in 1938, he recorded an address to Scouts around the world. The museum has a copy of the audio. It is a really neat experience to hear the voice of someone who was born before the U.S. Civil War.
Docent (a person with the right to teach) Paul Smith said there are both guided and self-guided tours of the museum, which wraps its way through the history of the scouting movement. Smith said in the 1920s, American scouts wore surplus Army uniforms but, as time went on, and the Scouts did not want to be looked at as a paramilitary organization, the uniform changed but was still driven by functionality.
Smith has a wide knowledge of Scout history and can point out tidbits like the fact that Scouts were messengers during World War II. Scouts in America go so far back that the first national jamboree was canceled in 1935 because of a polio outbreak. It was rescheduled for 1937 and the museum has interesting artifacts from that conference. (This year marks the 100th anniversary of Scouts in America and there will be a huge jamboree held later this year at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia — the last jamboree held at a military facility.)
There is also an international room, which has patches from troops all across the world. A map shows scouting in countries around the world. In 1907, there is a little color in England but the rest of the world is blank. By 1995, virtually every country in the world has it. Smith even pointed out photos from scouting activities going on in Baghdad, and the best part, as Smith noted, was the involvement of women, which is a massive shift in that country.
Badges have always been an important part of Scouts, representing all the youngsters’ accomplishments. Needless to say, the museum has a large collection of badges, as well as religious awards.
Smith said there are thousands of kids involved in scouting, which can begin with Tiger Cubs for kindergarteners and Scouts, which can be up to 18 years old. Smith also said there is Venturing, which is for kids 14-21 years old.
The museum is run by the Daniel Webster Council. The museum is dedicated to Lawrence L. Lee, who was a long time Daniel Webster Council Executive and one of the founders of the museum. There is also a library, dedicated to Silber, full of adventure books and Scout history.
New Hampshire’s role in Scouting is on display in a classic photograph of a 1939 conference at Bretton Woods.
“Scouting has been a fun and worthwhile activity for thousands of kids for many years,” Smith said. “And the museum celebrates that history.”
• McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center
2 Institute Drive, Concord, 271-STAR, starhop.com
What’s to see: New Hampshire has quite a connection to the stars, and the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center is a great place to learn about it and gain all sorts of scientific knowledge.
Hours: Daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Closed major holidays. Science store Hours: Monday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday & Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed major holidays.
Admission: Free for Basic and Plus Level members, children 2 and under; $12 adults; $9 children (ages 3 to 12); $11 seniors (age 62 and up); $11 students (age 13 through college); $9 groups of 15 or more. Thursday and Sunday senior discount: two seniors admitted for $11 (individuals and non-profit groups only). Children under 13 must be accompanied by an adult. Planetarium show tickets: Free for Plus Level members and children 2 and under; $4 per person per show add-on to general admission. Tickets are sold until 10 minutes prior to show time. No late admission or re-admission to theater. The Discovery Center reserves the right to change shows and programming.
Kid-friendly: The center is chock full of interactive activities for kids, including flying a shuttle simulator and trying to land a lunar simulator on the moon. Sure, it sounds easy, but when the pressure’s on even the slightest flick of the joystick can cause chaos.
Gift shop standout: The center takes its name from Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space, and what better way to learn about her than by watching a documentary narrated by Sigourney Weaver?
The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center was recently featured in Saudi Arabia at the American Embassy National Day, which is celebrated each year in U.S. embassies worldwide. U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Smith and his wife, Dr. Janet Breslin-Smith, are from Salem. And when the Ambassador chose science and technology as the 2010 National Day theme, it was a natural fit for them to invite Discovery Center Commissioner Erle B. Pierce. On his trip, Pierce met up with NASA Astronauts Rusty Schweickart and Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the first Arab man in space and a friend of Christa McAuliffe.
“The Discovery Center is doing important work, not only for the people of New England but for our country and the world,” Pierce said. He also said his primary objective is to shift the focus of education back onto science and math.
Visitors can go to the Planetarium and learn some about life in space, according to Jennifer Jones, the Center’s marketing coordinator. On the second floor there are exhibits that teach visitors how to sleep in space and, even more importantly, how to use the bathroom. One interesting fact on display is that space shuttle tires, unlike tires on a car, which can usually go 30,000 miles before being replaced, are used only once and travel on a runway for less than two miles.
For fans of 1980s television, there is a uniform that was worn by Grace Lee Whitney in Star Trek on display, and for any budding meteorologists, there is a green room where you can deliver a weather report, according to Jones.
Throughout the center, there are life-size cut-outs of people whose real job it is to do some of the things visitors are experiencing, according to Pierce. For example, in one section there may be a cut-out of a UNH professor who does research in physics for a living. Near the cut-out is a kiosk that gives more information on how that person grew up and became interested in the job. This gives visitors an idea about how to pursue their interests.
Another neat object on display is perhaps the oldest thing you will ever see. Under glass the center has a meteorite that was found in Campo del Cielo in Argentina. The 13-pound rock is thought to have been floating in space for billions of years before entering Earth’s atmosphere.
• Millyard Museum
200 Bedford St., Manchester, 622-7531, manchesterhistoric.org
What’s to see: There is a special exhibit up until Aug. 28 that highlights Abraham Lincoln’s visit to Manchester. Lincoln came to support Republican candidates but also to visit his son, Robert, who was a student at Philips Exeter Academy. Lincoln stayed one night at the City Hotel and his signature is on display from the hotel’s register. Seeing the writing of the man who kept America united is worth the price of admission. But there is more: Could someone from New Hampshire have been involved in the president’s assassination? Check out the exhibit to find out.
Hours: Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; the research center is open to the public Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission: adults $6; seniors and college students $5; children 6-18 $2; children under 6 free; MHA members FREE; family maximum $18.
Kid-friendly: The museum has several gallery hunt games and crosswords that allow kids to search the museum for clues and earn a free postcard from the gift shop.
Gift shop standout: Visitors can buy handcrafted dolls of George Washington and Rosie the Riveter that were made in China. There is also a great picture book of a variety of images from the Manchester Historic Association.
“We have 11,000 years of history in this museum,” said Aurore Eaton, its executive director. “It is Manchester’s history from the paleo-Indians to the Segway.” Eaton said most people don’t realize how much the museum has to offer — it includes a research center (housed in a separate building, at 129 Amherst St.). She said next year will be the museum’s 10th season and she knew of no other city of comparable size that had such comprehensive exhibits.
The museum’s collection boasts more than 600,000 documents and artifacts.
Before even entering the museum visitors are confronted with a penstock, a closed conduit or pipe for conducting water to a water wheel. This huge brick sewer helps visitors feel the power of industry that was used to harness the Merrimack River and make Manchester a leading manufacturing town of its age.
Once inside the museum, visitors begin their tour with the Penacook people who lived on the shores of the Merrimack around 1650. On display is a food grinding tool, which was carved with the head of an animal, making the Penacook the first industrialists in New Hampshire.
Past these native people, visitors can see a rifle used by New Hampshire’s most famous Revolutionary hero, John Stark (famous for saying “Live free or die”) and a fragment from Molly Stark’s wedding dress. Just over a footbridge, past build-it-yourself bricks, visitors can learn about Francis Lowell and his sneaky mission to England, where he learned about textile factories. England wanted to keep the colony as a client and didn’t want to teach Americans the ways of manufacturing, but Lowell remembered everything he saw and brought it back to America. What he also saw were a bunch of illiterate people working in the English factories. He thought Americans deserved better than that and so he envisioned a town where workers could live, worship and learn together. Such a town was created and became Lowell, Mass.
It is in this section of the museum, with its large display of looms and fun facts — like that in the winter of 1873 workers made 6,800 pounds (roughly the size of an Asian elephant) of cotton ticking and heavy blue denim — that visitors feel as if they’re back in time. Some said the walled city of the Amoskeag Millyard resembled a medieval village complete with towers, walls and a moat.
The tour of the museum ends with “Thursdays on Elm Street.” As Thursday was pay day, the street came to life as shops stayed open late.
However, the tour never really ends because once a visitor leaves he is still surrounded by the real-life millyard. And even if that visitor leaves New Hampshire, the work of that millyard stays with him. The stitching machine, created by T.D. Baily in the 1850s, which is on display, changed the way shoes were made. The work is no longer solely done by cobblers but by machine, which made the sneakers on your feet possible.
• Museum of New Hampshire History
6 Eagle Square in Concord
What’s to see: If you’re a fan of New Hampshire, then this is the place for you. With artifacts like an original Concord Coach, which was the beginning of public transportation in 1855, and a mystery stone that was discovered in Meredith in 1872, there is a little something for everybody in the museum that rests in the shadow of the state capitol building.
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, from noon to 5 p.m. Also open Monday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. from July 1 through Oct. 15.
Admission: $5.50 for adults; $4.50 for seniors; $3 for children 6-18, with a family maximum of $17. Children under 6 free. Members of the New Hampshire Historical Society free.
Kid-friendly: One of the most popular features for youngsters is the replica general store, which is in the style of stores of the turn of the century. Inside the store, kids are encouraged to touch and handle everything. They can also play with the old-time cash register and talk on the crank phone. Which should make them appreciate the cell phone mom and dad let them use.
Gift shop standout: Get patriotic with a Live Free or Die needlepoint coaster. But ask yourself, what was the second half of that famous line uttered by John Stark?
An afternoon spent in Concord at the New Hampshire History Museum would be a good start to understanding how New Hampshire has changed over the years to become the state we now inhabit.
The museum moved to its current location in 1995, according to Wesley G. Balla, director of collections and exhibitions. There are two levels of gallery space and the first floor stays constant and is based on the theme of “New Hampshire through many eyes” — it looks at the Granite State from its pre-history to Timberland boots. This floor is divided neatly into sections like “European Colonization” and “The Role of the Seaport” and has interactive areas, with signs that read “Please touch,” which allow visitors to play with arrowhead and stone tool replicas. Visitors can learn about everything from the state’s conservative presidential track record to different types of furs.
“We have 400 years of New Hampshire history within these walls,” Balla said. “That is around 30,000 objects. The Historical Society has been collecting since 1825.”
With such a collection, the museum can’t have everything on display. That is why the second floor has revolving exhibits. This summer it will be New Hampshire quilts and their stories, showcasing 15 quilts and 55 quilt patterns. This exhibit will run until January and will then be replaced with an exhibit on “Icons,” symbols of New Hampshire, which Balla said will include a portrait of Franklin Pierce, the only president from the state, and a coat worn by George Washington.
There are also exhibits at the library, which is also run by the Historical Society and located at 30 Park St. in Concord. Balla said there are 2 million manuscripts available there and it is a great place for people to research New Hampshire history and genealogy.
Balla said the ground is always shifting when it comes to traditional collecting areas and he keeps a constant eye on both long- and short-term issues in the state. But knowing about what is happening is not enough. Balla has to take historical moments and events and make sure he can display them visually for visitors. One future exhibit he is working on is of the toll booth system that was on local highways for years. He said E-Z Pass will soon be everywhere and the old tokens and baskets will be a part of the state’s past.
Balla said New Hampshire is the perfect size state to have a museum that can do justice to its history. He said he was originally from upstate New York and the size and diversity of New York state and New York City could not fit on two floors. But Granite State residents have an opportunity to capture their history, which Balla said will only become more important as the world continues to shrink through technology.
At the museum visitors can discover where the name “Granite State” came from, and the answer may leave them singing a song.
• SEE Science Center
200 Bedford St., Manchester
What’s to see: From the moonwalk exhibit where any child under 70 pounds can fly through the air, to an exhibit on the science of hockey, which measures a slap shot at 100 mph, there is plenty to see and do in this two-floor science fun house.
Hours: Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission: $6 per person ages 1 and up; free for SEE members
Kid-friendly: The SEE Science Center is to kids what Las Vegas is to adults. Needless to say, any child will have a blast bringing science to life.
Gift shop standout: Be amazed as The Universe Wheel defies gravity for only $24.99.
The SEE Science Center, located on the fourth floor of an old mill building, will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year, but it has only been in its current building since 1998. In 2007, 150,000 visitors experienced its attractions. As Becky Mayhew, the Center’s education and program manager, sees it, the Center fills a void in many people’s summer vacations.
“This is a hands-on science center that is family-friendly,” Mayhew said. “It is accessible and a fun way to learn about science.”
Mayhew said parents who can’t stand another day in Chuck E. Cheese will find the center to be fun and educational and fully equipped with air conditioning. The center has about 100 exhibits that focus on physical science.
Though the center doesn’t sell food, families are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch and watch the demonstrations that go on throughout the day.
“Sometimes we’re afraid that you have to be a genius to do science,” Mayhew said. “But it is fun and everybody can do it. When you brush your teeth with toothpaste and not mud, you’re using science. We try to relate scientific concepts to everyday life. The center is a good way to spend an afternoon.”
Visitors can try to mimic Leonardo DaVinci, who wrote backwards. Was DaVinci writing in a secret code or was he just left-handed? Kids can make bubbles that fit over their heads or lift themselves up by using a pulley system, view the airplanes hanging from the ceiling and create electricity by rubbing their hands together.
The center’s crowning achievement has to be the three million LEGO pieces that were put together to form a model of the Amoskeag Millyard. That’s right. Three million LEGO pieces. Mayhew said people come from all over the country to look at the tiny city that stretches out over the bottom floor of the center. When the project was completed in 2006, after two years of work by volunteers, the president of LEGO flew from Denmark to be at the opening ceremony.
“We enlisted the services of two master LEGO builders,” Mayhew said. “I’m serious. Their business cards literally said ‘Master LEGO Builder.’”
While many come for the LEGO exhibit, which also include a replica of the Statue of Liberty, many kids enjoy SEE’s summer camps. For one week, either July 19-23 or July 26- 30, campers can explore electricity, chemical concoctions and reverse engineering. Camp registration costs $200 per person; call 669-0400.
• Speare Museum
5 Abbott St., Nashua
What’s to see: The motto of the Nashua Historical Society is “preserve the past for the future,” and that is exactly what the Society has done with the Abbot-Spalding House Museum, which was built circa 1802-1804 and was once home to Nashua’s first lawyer, Daniel Abbot. The library collection is also available for research.
Hours: The Florence H. Speare Memorial Museum is open from March through Thanksgiving weekend, Tuesday-Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment. The Abbot-Spalding House Museum is open per the calendar and by appointment.
Kid-friendly: The Speare Museum is a bit more friendly for kids than the Abbot-Spalding House, and some of the exhibits, like the Mail exhibit, invite kids to use old mail equipment like a scale, which was used to weigh letters and parcel posts.
Gift shop standout: History is a gift. But otherwise, nothing is for sale.
Upon first reflection, Nashua might not seem like a city bursting with history, and yet the Speare Museum, which was built in 1971-1972 through the generosity of the late Sceva Speare, is full of interesting facts.
In the front entrance of the building is a glass display case that holds a revolving exhibit of artifacts belonging to members of the Nashua Historical Society. Currently on display is the gear of a firefighter.
Past the display case is an exhibit on mail, which doesn’t seem interesting until visitors realize letters record the history of people’s lives. In this exhibit, viewers can learn about Evelyn C. Early, the only woman to pass the New Hampshire Bar (law exam) in 1935. She was appointed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt on Jan. 17, 1942, as the first female postmaster in American history.
Next to the celebration of Early’s life is a grave reminder of the pain and sorrow of death. The museum has letters on display from soldiers of different wars. One particularly sad letter was written on Jan. 31, 1919, to Mrs. Deschenes regarding her son, Amadee, who was killed during World War I. The letter reminds the viewer just how many young boys were lost during this war, as it begins by saying, “It is with regret that I am writing to confirm the death of the above named soldier...”
Next to the Mail exhibit is a display of hats, which had a surprising influence on Nashua’s economy. The room is nicely labeled, quiet and relaxing.
The upstairs of the museum is in disarray as the historical society prepares for a new permanent exhibit in the fall titled “Images of Nashua Through the Lens of Frank M. Ingalls.” Ingalls was a professional photographer who captured Nashua from 1891 to 1954. If you can’t wait until then, head to the Nashua Public Library, 2 Court St., between Friday, July 2, and Tuesday, Aug. 21, to see the images on display in the library’s Image Gallery.
Next to the Speare Museum is the Abbott-Spalding House, which, through fundraising and renovations, brings visitors back to a more stately period in American life. When visitors enter the home they are asked to remove their shoes, which adds to the reverence of the experience. There are several different types of tours that can be scheduled, according to Beth McCarthy, curator. Each tour takes about 45 minutes and examines different aspects of life and history.
There is a lot of history within the walls of that home. Thomas Jefferson was president when Daniel Abbott, known by many as the father of Nashua, first moved in, according to McCarthy. Abbott was just beginning his friendship with Daniel Webster. Of his friendship with Webster, Abbot is recorded as saying, “In his [Webster] earlier days, he always made my house his home, when he was traveling in this direction.”
William Spalding, a local banker, owned the home from 1860 to 1922. Upon his death, his daughter, Sylvia, lived in the home until 1983. She left the home and its many collections of 18th- and early 19th-century furniture to the Nashua Historical Society in 1984.
“All of our collection is based on donations,” McCarthy said. “It is the beginning of the community, and when people come here they can see the steps that led to change. Our museum pays tribute to Nashua’s firsts.”
Synthesizers, snowmobiles & Robert Frost
Some cultural sites in the area proved harder to visit than others. Here are a few to check out that this reporter didn’t get to puruse.
• New England Synthesizer Museum
6 Vernon St., Nashua
What’s to see: More than 300 old synthesizers, many of which are still working and playable. The museum is so unique it has received visitors from Sweden and Madrid, Spain (in fact, the visitor from Spain came twice!).
Hours: By appointment, as it is part of Curator Dave Wilson’s home. Call Wilson at 881-8587 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kid-friendly: Many children love music, and the sounds of a synthesizer are sure to be something they don’t hear every day.
Gift shop standout: Only the gift of music.
When Dave Hillel Wilson was a kid, he heard Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Bach recording and really liked the sound of the synthesizer. He told his mother they had to get one, but at the time they couldn’t afford it. So, like any industrious child, Wilson built a synthesizer from a kit that you could get at the store, but it was really not all that good.
“So when I graduated from college and started having some disposable income — that was in 1984 — that was the same year that Yamaha brought out the DX-7, which basically put all the synthesizer companies out of business,” Wilson said. “And people were suddenly throwing out all these synthesizers that I wished I could have owned when I was younger. I was buying them up for pennies on the dollar.”
This collection continued to grow until finally a friend of Wilson’s suggested that he turn his collection into a museum. It is the oldest collection of its kind in the world and is showcased on the second floor of Wilson’s house.
He now has 300 old synthesizers, some of which were purchased through money raised by donations to his museum. Wilson’s love of synthesizers has only grown with his collection. It is that sound that he first heard when he was eight that still moves him.
• New Hampshire Snowmobile Association Museum
Beaver Brook State Park Museum
Complex off Route 28, Allenstown
What’s to see: The museum is located in the Bear Brook State Park Museum Complex, which means there is tons to do even if you don’t love snowmobiles. The park offers camping and swimming in the summer, and in the winter, well, you guessed it, snowmobiling.
Hours: From Memorial Day to Columbus Day the museum is staffed by volunteers from the Camping Museum and is open daily, but please call or email to make sure the complex will be open for your enjoyment. Special visiting requests from groups and individuals can be arranged by calling Dan Lewis at 235-7314.
Kid-friendly: According to Snowmobile Association president Dan Lewis, kids love the 1918 Lombard Log Hauler, which looks like a locomotive with skis attached and was used for winter logging operations.
While the museum is conveniently located off Route 28, the truest way to access it is off Corridor 15, which is a snowmobile trail. But remember, the museum is closed in November, December and April. When it is open, it is staffed by volunteers and showcases quite the collection of snowmobiles from owners all across the country.
The idea for the museum came from Paul T. Doherty, a New Hampshire native who dreamed of a place where people could learn the history of snowmobiling. This became a reality in 1985 when the museum became the first and only state-sponsored snowmobile museum in the country.
The museum’s fall and spring swap meets are the largest such events in New England. The next one takes place on Saturday, Sept. 18, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. These meets allow snowmobile enthusiasts to come together and buy, sell and trade parts, pieces and prizes.
“People like winter sports and so you’re either skiing, snowshoeing or snowmobiling. Or you’re staying indoors or going South. Snowmobiles are a good way to see a lot of scenery in a short period of time,” Lewis said.
The museum currently has two buildings and houses more than 80 snow-traveling machines and an impressive collection of memorabilia. Some beauties are a 1953 Eliason Motor Toboggan, which was the only such machine ever used in the state, and a Model T Ford, which was turned into a snow traveling machine by Virgil White of Ossipee in the 1920s. White sold 25,000 of them and patented the name “snowmobile.”
According to Lewis, the museum has been given a third building, which he hopes to have cleaned up and painted in the next year. This should give the museum the capacity to house 150 snow traveling machines.
• Robert Frost Farm
122 Rockingham Road (Route 28), Derry
What’s to see: The Robert Frost Farm was home to Robert Frost, one of America’s most prominent poets, and his family from 1900 to 1911. While the farmhouse is typical New England, the man who lived inside it was anything but typical. Today the farm is home to a plethora of cultural activities. Pulitzer prize-winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Maxine Kumin will speak on Thursday, July 8, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and Rhina Espaillat will speak on Thursday, Aug. 12, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. as part of the summer program put on by a local writers’ group, the Hyla Brook Poets, formed by Trustee Robert Crawford and Farm Manager William Gleed. “We are continuing Frost’s love of poetry,” Gleed said.
Hours: June 28 – Sept. 6, daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission: $4 for NH resident adults (18-64); free for NH youth (0-17) and NH residents 65 and older; $5 for non-resident adults; $3 for non-resident youth (6-17); free for non-resident children (0-5). Season passes are available.
Kid-friendly: Kids can learn what it was like to grow up on a New Hampshire farm by reading a journal kept by Frost’s daughter. Kids can even read Leslie’s letter to a woodchuck.
Gift shop standout: Wood from the maple tree that stood just outside Frost’s window is for sale because the tree needed to be cut down recently. The Trustees received inquiries on the tree from people all across the country looking for a Frost keepsake.