Guide to Exploring the Back Roads of New Hampshire

Authors Tom Long and Stacy Milbouer, Inspired by "Blue Highways," Take the Roads Less Traveled



A 30th birthday edition of “Blue Highways” has just been published. And the same is true of William Least Heat-Moon’s brand new book titled “Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road.”

“Not all who wander are lost.”
— Gandalf the Gray

If you always know where you are, how will you ever find anyplace new?

Life is a journey, not a destination, right? So unplug your GPS, meander, take a bypass off the four-lanes and around the heart of the city. A straight line might be the most direct route but there’s a lot more to life than rest areas, exit signs and breakdown lanes. Why not take your time and see the sights? We did. Inspired by William Least Heat-Moon’s classic 1978 back road memoir, “Blue Highways,” we wandered off the interstates. But even wanderers can use a few milestones. Enjoy this concise compendium of offbeat attractions that make the road less traveled worth the trip.

But before you head out, here’s an important secret for a true Blue Highway experience: The main reason to leave the main drag is not to see the sights. Wander on foot a bit. Say hello to the natives. Ask questions. Maybe even knock on a few doors. The greatest memories of a back road adventure are usually not the places you go, but the people you meet along the way.

 


Tip 1: Get out from behind the windshield

The Long and Winding Road (to Meanderville)

“Blue Highways” is the term coined by writer William Least Heat-Moon as the title of his iconic travel narrative. In his late 30s he had lost his job and separated from his wife so he went on the American equivalent of a walkabout, exploring the country following only the back roads. In the Rand McNally Road Atlas he took along on the trip, these routes were drawn in blue, which gave him his moody title.

Tip 2: Send a postcard to Mom

The book was on the NY Times’ best seller list for 42 weeks in 1982-83, and its title became a cultural code word for a journey of introspection and discovery. Heat-Moon’s travels took him through New Hampshire on some of the same roads our explorers followed, so we got in touch with him at his home in Missouri and asked him for memories of his journey and a word of advice to others heading out on the blue highways of life. He obliged us with the following comments:

"I’ve visited every county in New Hampshire, beginning with a trip in 1963 when I had a weekend liberty from my aircraft carrier then tied up in Boston (Charlestown) and drove up to the eastern shore of Lake Winnipesaukee to waterski. When I returned to the state a few years later, I was on the long, circling journey I describe in 'Blue Highways.' By chance, I again ended up on the east

Tip 3: Bring a change of shorts

side of the lake, this time in Melvin Village where I met several generous citizens, two of whom appear in the book. I also have memories of loons calling in the darkness on Lake Francis in the far north and several roadside bookstands, an 'institution' now vanished. My big regret about New Hampshire: I’ve failed to coax out an invitation from the MacDowell Colony.

My advice for a traveler setting out on a blue-highways exploration: Get out from behind the windshield, send your mother a postcard and carry a change of shorts."

 

Pick a Route!

Route 28 Derry to Hooksett | Route 13 Brookline to Milford | Route 33 Greenland to Stratham | Melvin Village to Wolfeboro | Route 4 Portsmouth to Concord | Route 3 Ashland to Meredith | Charles Bancroft Highway Litchfield to Merrimack | More Stops in NH

 


Route 28
Derry to Hooksett

Muhammad Ali's X-ray to Robert Frost's Farm... need we say more?

On Rte. 28 in Derry you can visit the stone fence that inspired Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” at the wordsmith’s former farm.

Travel a little farther north and take Rte. 28 Bypass to see Little Old Man of the Mountain, a one-quarter size replica of the late, great rock formation in front of Profile Self Storage on Londonderry Road in Hooksett. It sports giant red ear muffs during the winter months.

Muhammad Ali wasn’t reputed to have a glass jaw. Judge for yourself at Merchants Auto in Hooksett, which displays an X-ray of Muhammad Ali’s broken jaw signed by Ali and Ken Norton, the boxer “who done it” in a 1973 bout. The X-ray is part of a display of autographs and other boxing memorabilia belonging to Steve Singer, the retired president of the dealership.

And it doesn’t get any funkier than the Indian Cliff Moccasin and Gift Shop, also in Hooksett, a relic of pre-interstate highway travel with moccasins, turquoise jewelry and Native American memorabilia. Who could forget stopping there in the late '50s on the way to vacation at Lake Winnipesaukee to buy that sheath knife with a compass we saved all winter for?

Robert Frost's farm
Little Old Man
Merchants Auto
Indian Cliff

 


 

Route 13
Brookline to Milford

Where you find the second biggest chair (we think) in America

You’re not seeing things. Just off Rte. 13 in Brookline mythical, giant creatures, rusted soldier silhouettes and monolithic columns with glyphs appear on hills and through tall pines at the Andres Institute of Art. You can hike and appreciate the dozens of outdoor sculptors in this 140-acre site of brainchild engineer Paul Andres, who owns the property, and renowned New Hampshire sculptor John Weidman.

But the sculpture park isn’t the only unique attraction along Rte. 13. Just down the street Fine Lines Auto Body in Brookline has the back of a sports car extruding from its façade about 10 feet off the ground.

And in Milford just off Rte. 13 on Hammond Road a 14-foot-tall, 8-foot-wide red rocking chair beckons buyers to Willette Furniture and Consignments. The roomy porch rocker was built in 2006 out of white pine and is believed to be second in size only to a mammoth chair in — where else? — Texas.

Andres Institute of Art
Fine Lines Auto Body building
Willette Furniture and Consignments
Texas rocking chair

 


 

Route 33
Greenland to Stratham

Get yourself a Queen Elizabeth diamond jubilee coffee mug

The nine-mile-long route stretching from Greenland to Stratham, Rte. 33, has a lot of reasons to park the car. You know the old adage about eating where truckers eat to get the best food? Just follow the semis to Travel Port just off Rte. 95 in Greenland, a 24-hour truck stop with showers and coin-operated tabletop TVs. The gift shop has the widest selection of car fresheners and knick knacks you might imagine and if you hit the buffet at the Buckhorn Family Restaurant, you won’t need another meal for a week.

If tea is your cup of tea, Anglophiles won’t want to miss The British Aisles. However, this is easy to do as it is set back near a warehouse at 1634 Greenland Rd. This hidden shop is a retail destination for the mail-order purveyors of all things English, including porridge oats and a killer Queen Elizabeth diamond jubilee coffee mug, or beakers as the British call them.

The Stratham Fair Grounds comes alive from July 18–21 for one of the state’s earliest agricultural celebrations. You can attend a working steer show, participate in a guess-the-breed rabbit competition or strut your glut in an old-fashion pie-eating contest.

Goods from British Aisles
The Stratham Fair

 

Maps for stops on Routes 28, 13 and 33


 

Route 109
Melvin Village to Wolfeboro

Stuffed lions and tigers and bears, oh my ...

North of Lake Winnipesaukee is a scenic byway visited by William Least Heat-Moon on his famous blue highway ramble. The offbeat travel writer was particularly taken by Melvin Village, which is still as cute as a kitten, with a tiny post office and an antique care restoration business with vintage gas pumps out front — a kind of Brigadoon for motor heads.

Just off the road in Tuftonboro is the 80-foot-high Abenaki Tower, a former fire lookout open to the public with a great view of the lake on Abenaki Hill. Originally built in 1929, the tower was also used for aircraft spotting during World War II. It’s now, arguably, the state’s largest piece of folk art, festooned with graffiti ranging from vulgar to hilarious and layers upon layers of hearts and initials carved into the rails.

A little farther around the lake is the Libby Museum. The natural history showcase was built by Boston dentist Henry Libby in 1912 and houses a grand collection of his mounted birds, bear, moose, fish and Indian relics as well as antique maps and photographs — it’s a taxidermist’s dream.

Skipping through Wolfeboro, which bills itself as “America’s Oldest Summer Resort,” a quick left brings you onto Rte. 28 and a double-take look at an Army tank exploding through the wall of the Wright Museum, which houses a mind-blowing collection of World War II memorabilia.

Melvin Village
Abenaki Tower
Libby Museum
Wright Museum

 


 

Route 4
Portsmouth to Concord

Our very own Trojan horse ... and a vegan pit stop

Some call it Antique Alley — Rte. 4 follows the route of Marquis de Lafayette’s 1825 Goodwill Tour from Portsmouth to Concord. Check out the historic marker commemorating the event near Northwood Town Hall. But if Ancient Greece is a more your historic cup of tea, don’t miss the 13-foot-tall Trojan horse in front of Nature’s Country Store in Epsom.

“People stop by and take its picture at least once a week,” says Sandy Boulanger, the proprietor of the health food store. But this Trojan horse doesn’t really bear gifts, she says. “People may stop to take pictures or even ask the time, but I can’t say it improves business.”

Rte. 4 follows Marquis de Lafayette’s 1825 Goodwill Tour
This Trojan horse can be found outside Nature's Country Store in Epsom.
The many offerings outside Timber Art Chainsaw Carvings.

The stallion is actually the second wooden horse to stand at that location. The first was built by George Ober, a John Birch fan and self-styled “Americanism officer” at the local American Legion post. It stood sentry over the “Graveyard of Captive Nations” — about 40 white crosses with the names of communist countries and the year the party came to power. That horse was burned down in 1987, 10 years after it was erected, perhaps by art critics or liberal activists. BTW, Ober also built a replica of a concentration camp complete with a tower and barbed wire and a dummy guard. The camp and the cemetery are also long gone.

Between antique stores, where you can buy anything from vintage duck decoys to an 18th-century blacksmith bellows, is Piece Time Puzzles. You can’t miss it. The word “puzzle” is emblazoned on the roof in black shingles. There you can purchase a de-constructed picture as simple or intricate as you like it, or have one custom-made from a photograph. There are also a couple of unique pit stops along the way. Susty’s Vegan Café is a restaurant where you can have a hummus plate or soy fritters and “celebrate the food that celebrates life.” Johnson’s Dairy Bar, where omnivores can graze, is a hilltop eatery that sells home-baked bread, honking big lobster rolls and killer steak tips, of course.

Piece Time Puzzles
Susty’s Vegan Café
Johnson’s Dairy Bar

 


Squam Lake was picture-perfect even before it was made famous in the movie "On Golden Pond."

 

Route 3
Ashland to Meredith

On Golden Pond, custom made hula hoops and cigar box guitars

This stretch of road has a lot to offer. Chow down at the Common Man Restaurant, the flagship of the altruistic restaurant chain known to occupy landmark buildings, including this one, a 19th-century brick home built by a local doctor. The chain’s Company Store is a two-story gift shop across the street that is overflowing with New Hampshire-o-bilia.

Just down the street is the Vintage Fret, a new and used guitar shop and a sort of string instrument museum. Loquacious luthier David Colburn holds court there when he’s not performing with the duo Colburn & Stuart. Check out the Taylor Liberty Tree guitar made from the last surviving Liberty Tree in Annapolis, Maryland — “as far as we know” — according to the $9,500 price tag.

At the Veggie Art Girl Boutique on the intersection of Rtes. 3 and 175 in Holderness, you can pick up a custom-made hula hoop, a child’s African batik skirt or bird’s nest earrings.

Motor past Squam Lake, internationally known as “Golden Pond” and take a detour a several miles off onto Winona Road to the Old Print Barn, which is a Civil War-era structure crammed with four centuries of prints from the museum quality to the mundane and price range from several thousand dollars to dinner money. Appearing as it does in the middle of the woods, there is a fairytale quality about it, even though they call their port-o-potty, “that little green building out back.”

 

Common Man Company Store
Vintage Fret, a new and used guitar shop
Veggie Art Girl Boutique in Holderness
Old Print Barn on Winona Road

 

Maps for Routes 109, 4 and 3

 


One of the stone markers on the Charles Bancroft Highway.

 

The Charles Bancroft Highway
Litchfield to Merrimack

Lobster, farmstands, mini-golf and a petting farm... all on the "road to nowhere"

This is the state’s premier road to nowhere. The two-lane blacktop skirts the Merrimack River from Litchfield to Merrimack. Stone markers at both ends of the road memorialize Bancroft, who left the town money when he died in 1906 to build a bridge to replace the ferry that ran across the river from Litchfield to Merrimack when it was the main stage coach line from Exeter. But he didn’t leave enough to build the structure, so the town used the money to pave a stretch of road and named it in his honor.

The road, otherwise known as Rte. 3A, is a fertile stretch of the Merrimack River Valley. Once strictly farmland, there are still some of the most photogenic historic barns in the state and the town “center” — don’t blink — you’ll miss it. It looks much the same as it did when Henry David Thoreau flowed past in his famous 19th-century trip on the river.

Keep an eye out at the northern end of the road for the funky folk art lighthouse fashioned from a standing tree with a real red light on top. At Mel’s Funway Park just down the road, a giant baseball hovers over a miniature replica of Fenway Park complete with a green monster and a little Citgo sign. Here, kids can practice their swings at the batting cage or run next door to the picturesque mini golf course. But there are no gaping mouth clowns here. Instead, golfers take aim for New England lighthouses and realistic covered bridges.

Also on the grounds is Woodman’s Restaurant. It is a northern outpost of the iconic Essex, Mass., eatery that claims to have invented the fried clam.

Drive a little farther and visit the free little petting zoo at McQuesten Farm, then head inside for local produce or show up on pick your own tomato or bell pepper. This little highway’s agricultural roots are apparent everywhere from official farmstands, like McQuesten and Wilson’s to the moms and pops who sell fresh eggs from their picnic tables, zinnias on the corner or phlox dug fresh from their garden.

Mel's Funway Park in Litchfield has a Fenway replica.
One of the historic barns along the way.
Lobster at Woodman's Restaurant.
Petting zoo at McQuesten Farm.

 

A map of Litchfield and the Charles Bancroft Highway


View NH's Back Roads - Charles Bancroft Hwy. in a larger map


 

If You're in the Neighborhood...

Here are a few other stops and sights to see sprinkled around the state.

Photo by Stacy Milbouer


Milford

Could this be the smallest park in America?

It’s a park but there’s barely enough room for an ant colony to attack a hot dog. The Ricciardi-Hartshorn Memorial Park, on Union Street in Milford, is said to be one of the smallest parks in the country. Dedicated to a neighbor boy who died In World War I, the park is also the home of the 1798 Oak Tree, so named because it supposedly was planted in 1798. That’s it, really — just a tree, a granite plaque and a rock. Joggers beware: It would take even the slowest perambulator less than 15 seconds to traverse the entire “grounds.”

 


 

Photo by Jessica Hendelman

Just outside of Keene

Rail memories

Sharp-eyed motorists on Rte. 101 just outside of Keene find the turnout for Cheshire Railroad Arched Bridge. Fifty feet high and 90 feet across, the bridge was completed in 1847. The railroad line was abandoned in 1847. The bridge is currently a favorite haunt of rock climbers and railroad buffs.

 


 

Photo by Robert Pelkie

Madison

(Very big) Rock of Ages

What says New Hampshire better than a big rock? The Madison Boulder is a huge glacial erratic boulder measuring 83 feet in length, 23 feet in height and 37 feet in width. It weighs more than 5,000 tons and has its own state park off Rte. 113 in Madison.

 


Errol

The white moose no one wanted

Up in the North Country, a mounted white moose stands in the entrance to L.L. Cote Sports Center in Errol. “We didn’t shoot it,” says Shawn Cote. “A few years ago we got a call from a hunter in Canada. He said he wanted to donate the moose to a museum, but nobody wanted it. They didn’t want to pay the cost of mounting it. We had the money and said why not?”

 


Photo by Wendy Wood

Tilton

arch de tilton

The Memorial Arch of Tilton, sometimes called Tilton’s folly, is the Granite State’s own arch of triumph. The 55-foot-tall structure atop a hill on Elm Street in Northfield overlooking the town of Tilton was built by Charles Tilton in 1882 and was inspired by his visit to the Arch of Titus in Rome. He had apparently planned on being buried beneath the arch and had a sarcophagus built under the structure, but he was buried in Tilton instead.

 


Courtesy of Ellen Edersheim

Boscawen

Hats (and scalps) off to Hannah

Hannah Duston grabbed an axe and gave her captors many whacks way before Lizzie Borden ever thought of disciplining her overbearing father. The Colonial heroine was abducted by Native Americans during King William's War in 1697, and she and her fellow captives killed and scalped 10 of her Indian captors on an island in Merrimack River and escaped. A statue of Duston marks the site of the island off Rte. 3 in Boscawen.

 


Ken Aiken; courtesy of Thunder Press

Warren

10, 9, 8 , 7, 6...

A 70-foot-tall Redstone missile makes an incongruous monument on the town green in Warren, right beside the historical society. But why? Grover Libby, the former president of the society, said a local man who saw surplus missiles at a government facility in Huntsville, Ala., asked the town’s board of selectmen if they would accept it. They agreed, he put together a team of volunteers and trucked it up to Warren. The missile was erected as a memorial to local-boy-made-good, Senator Norris Cotton, and dedicated by Governor Walter Peterson on July 4, 1971.

 


Photo by Matthew Lomanno

Littleton

The story of the Wallace "children"

The Wallace Horse Cemetery on Mt. Eustis Road off of Rte. 18 is as good an excuse as any to visit Littleton, a sweet little city that is a kind of North Country Shangri-la. The cemetery is the final resting place of Maud and Molly, a “matched pair of bay Morgans” owned by Eli and Myra Wallace and who, according to the sign at the site, were “the only children the Wallaces would have.” Molly and Maud were buried in 1919, pharoah-style, with all their harnesses, bridles and even feed boxes. Myra died a year later and Eli must have grown lonely, for another horse, Maggie, was acquired and then buried here 10 years later.

 


Photo by Wendy Wood

Hampton

Leif Ericson's brother, Thor, was (maybe) buried here

On the grounds of the Tuck Museum in Hampton stands a rock construction that looks much like the base of a wishing well. Upon closer inspection it reveals the resting place of Thorvald’s Rock, a stone scratched with crosses. The rock is reputed to be the gravestone of one of the first Norsemen to visit the new world, a fact never confirmed by a reputable expert. Thorvald was the brother of Leif Ericson, who was killed by natives around the first century on Vineland, according to the Norse sagas. With scant evidence, locals claimed a rock on Boar’s Head was the gravestone. The rock was moved to the grounds of the Tuck Museum in 1989. It stands next to a stone monument to Eunice “Goody” Cole, who was convicted of witchcraft in the town in 1657 but  then absolved on the 300th anniversary of the town in 1938. 

A map to all of the "In the Neighborhood" spots


View NH's Back Roads - More Stops in a larger map

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