100 Things You Should Do to Know the Real New Hampshire
Compiled by Steve Taylor, farmer, writer and lifelong scholar of the state’s culture
Twenty-five years ago, Steve Taylor, a lifelong scholar of all things New Hampshire, compiled a list of places, things to do, events and other diversions that offered insight into the culture and values of the state. Much has changed since its last update in 2006, so Taylor revisited the list, tweaking a few things here and there. See if you can experience all 100.
1: Decide for yourself: What’s the best foliage ride in the whole state? Bet the Kancamagus Highway will top a lot of lists.
2: Break the midwinter doldrums with a visit to the New Hampshire Farm and Forest Exposition in Manchester.
3: Lots of fine small-batch ice cream being made in New Hampshire these days, but Sanctuary Farm in Sunapee actually uses cream from their own cows to churn an incredible array of great flavors. And, yes, you need to be 21 for their rum-raisin concoction.
4: Time was when thousands of Model A Ford roadsters, sedans and pickups swarmed New Hampshire roads. Go see some beautifully restored specimens at the July show on the sprawling lawn along Main Street in Orford, or the October extravaganza of vintage A wheels, and about every other make imaginable at the Canterbury Shaker Museum in October.
5: Jump on a sled and join a poker run sponsored by a local snowmobile club.
6: Feast on raccoon, bear and moose at a wild game dinner.
7: Hold on tight when all those “Frost Heaves” signs appear on the roadsides along about February 1. And pity that bigshot journalist up from Washington to cover the presidential primary who wondered why Candidate Heaves hadn’t been getting any coverage.
8: Listen to the distinctive rural accents and figures of speech around you as you watch horse-pulling at Lancaster Fair.
9: Ride the boat out to the Isles of Shoals from Portsmouth Harbor on a sunny afternoon.
10: New Hampshire’s last hand-crank telephone exchange expired in 1973, but the Telephone Museum in Warner shows how folks communicated in the days long before dial and digital.
11: Watch the hand-mowing competition at North Haverhill Fair and see Don Elder, one of the masters, wield scythe and snath in a perfect rhythm.
12: Do you enjoy motorized mayhem and destruction? Take in the Demolition Derby at Hopkinton Fair.
13: Put on warm duds and slip into a bob house for some ice fishing.
14: Have a soda from Newfields’ Squamscot Beverages, the state’s last indigenous soft drink bottler.
15: Bring your kayak and a sandwich and quietly paddle Grafton Pond at dusk as the loons make their mournful calls.\
16: Plan to spend a day seeing all the artistic and creative talent on display at the League of Craftsmen Fair at Mount Sunapee in early August.
17: For an architectural expression of the separation of church and state, visit Middleton to see a building that hosts town meeting on one floor and worship services in a sanctuary on a level higher.
18: Track down and watch Gwen Hinman, the itinerant Acworth sheep shearer. She’s competed in championships Down Under, and clips flocks numbering in the hundreds all the way down to Bo Peep-scale holdings of two or three woolies.
19: Take a census of wild turkeys in your neighborhood and send in the numbers to New Hampshire Fish and Game headquarters.
20: Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish offers a fascinating blend of art, music and history in a range of warm-weather activities. Viewing the cast of the sculptor’s standing Abraham Lincoln is worth the trip.
21: Try your hand raking wild blueberries in one of the barrens around Alton and Brookfield. That fruit is unsurpassed for muffins and pies.
22: Buy some milk packaged in a returnable glass bottle from one of the New Hampshire dairy farms that have successfully resurrected the local processing and distribution model of a century ago. And their chocolate milk is to die for.
23: Mosey around the New Hampshire Statehouse. The place is steeped in history, and peek into Representatives Hall, home to the third-largest legislative body in the English-speaking world.
24: Celebrate when you hear the first peepers singing from the wetlands — that marks the real end of winter.
25: Find someone who knows the words and music of “Old New Hampshire,” the official state song that, sadly, few people even know about.
26: You don’t need to be religious to enjoy the Christmas light display at LaSalette Shrine in Enfield.
27: The working waterfront at Portsmouth is small, but that’s fine. Check it out when they off-load the day’s catch at Sanders Lobster Co.
28: Go hear Ben Kilham when he gives one of his talks on bears. Having studied the critters for a lifetime and rehabilitated hundreds, he knows the state’s most interesting wildlife species top to bottom.
29: Head to Kezar Lake in Sutton in January when they do the annual ice harvest. They’ll pack cakes in sawdust at the ice house at Musterfield Farm for use in making ice cream come summer. And there are apt to be some Model T Fords adapted as snowmobiles putting around the lake surface.
30: Used to be most every town had a baseball team playing weekend afternoons. Nothing much like that today, but there is still some good baseball to be seen. The Winnipesaukee Muskrats and Keene Swampbats compete in the New England Collegiate Baseball League and play in a fun old-timey fan environment.
31: Hike, bike, snowmobile — the network of rail trails has become one of the state’s best recreation resources, all in just a few decades.
32: Gov. Frank Rollins thought summertime festivals could lure people to repopulate hollowed-out rural communities — it didn’t work — but his 1890s idea for Old Home Days caught on and endures today in many towns. Take one in.
33: Pay a visit to the Temple-Wilton Community Farm, believed to be the oldest CSA in America.
34: New Hampshire has many great swimming holes, often secluded and hard to find, but worth the hunt. A fine example: True’s Ledges in West Lebanon.
35: Vermont tries to claim Robert Frost as one of its own, but the famed poet spent a lot of time in Derry and Franconia. Study up on his New Hampshire sojourns and visit his old stomping grounds.
36: Canoe the Connecticut, Merrimack, Saco or Androscoggin — white water, slack water, gentle current — there’s great variety, scenery, wildlife and history too.
37: Pick a warm, clear day and trek to the Omni Mount Washington Hotel, the biggest and grandest survivor of the grand hotel era. Look around and if you’ve got time, have lunch on the veranda, and gaze at Mount Washington rising to the east.
38: Harvest some fiddleheads and fry them in butter for a nice springtime treat.
39: Find Muriel’s Donut Shop in Lebanon, and have a real French-Canadian style treat straight from the kettle. Muriel Maville does it all by hand, the old way.
40: Walk the streets around the vast Amoskeag mills in Manchester, and try to imagine when it was the world’s greatest textile enterprise. While you’re at it, stop in at the Manchester Historic Association museum right there, it has lots to tell about the mill era.
41: Listen to the tales being told when hunters are weighing in the deer or turkeys they’ve harvested.
42: See 600-horsepower harvesting machines make short work of fields of silage corn in September. Look around Merrimack County or the Connecticut Valley dairy farm country for this technology in action.
43: Call yourself lucky if you live in a town that still has real town meeting — the kind where issues are debated and decisions are made right there and then.
44: Watch the water-powered, up-and-down sawmill at work at its Derry location. It functions on summer weekends and represents 18th-century technology at its best.
45: For another trip back to olden times, head for Sanborn Mills Farm in Loudon. See a water-powered circular sawmill and grist mill, draft horses and oxen, and lots more fascinating historical activities.
46: Watch the grand champion cow pick the best-in-show entry in the hay competition at the Cornish Fair. No human judge can match her knowledge of what has the best flavor and palatability.
47: Want real dancing? Rockingham Ballroom in Newmarket still features the foxtrot, waltz and the steps of the Greatest Generation.
48: Nowadays you can buy commercially made hard cider in a bottle or can down at the store, but there are still some people who know how to make their own and make it right. Find one and learn how.
49: See a Concord Coach — no, not the bus that runs to Boston — that was made by the thousands by the Abbot, Downing Co. in Concord in the 1800s, and was pulled by hitches for four, six or more horses affording high-end transportation for travelers. A few restored specimens are on display around the state.
50: Have some sugar-on-snow. It’s really congealed syrup, but so what? And pickles should be offered on the side.
51: Rebecca Rule ought to be designated New Hampshire’s humorist laureate. Go hear her whenever she’s in your area, she’s guaranteed to make you smile.
52: Visit the Shaker villages of Enfield and Canterbury and learn about the amazing accomplishments of that now-extinct religious sect.
53: Study the New Hampshire-focused, outdoor photography of Peter Randall. It’s in various books and occasionally in galleries.
54: Inhale the charismatic fragrance of New Hampshire’s state flower, the purple lilac. And take in the springtime lilac festivals in Lisbon and Portsmouth or visit Rochester, which proclaims itself the “Lilac City.”
55: Drive US Route 3 in Pittsburg and look for moose in what has been dubbed “Moose Alley.” Admire the Connecticut Lakes as you go along.
56: Catch the spirit of some of the state’s very small rural high schools as they battle it out on the fields and in the gyms. Recognize some of those teams travel 100 miles or more to find opponents their size.
57: Watch a fully mechanized logging operation. Mighty machines shear off the trees, lop the limbs and cut logs to length, and then another machine trundles the logs to the roadside. Not a chainsaw to be seen or heard.
58: Enjoy tourtière at Christmas. The basic French-Canadian pork pie is now tweaked into many variations, but it’s still a classic holiday dish.
59: Find an oldtimer who once soared off the Nansen ski jump in Berlin. And give a cheer for efforts to restore the site.
60: The views from the summits of the Presidentials are wonderful, but some of the downstate peaks offer plenty — think of Monadnock, Kearsarge and Cardigan for starters.
61: See cows being milked by robots at Tullando Farm in Orford.
62: Attend the August steam and gas engine show in Dublin — lots of ancient iron huffing, puffing and chugging away.
63: Learn about North Conway’s rise as a skiing mecca. The New England Ski Museum tells of the 1930s coming of the ski trains and the legendary Hannes Schneider, whose teachings revolutionized American downhill skiing.
64: Tour a small farm freeze-framed in the late 19th century. It’s the Poore Farm museum in Stewartstown.
65: View the antique desk of Stephen Fowler, the visionary Cheshire County legislator who had the inspiration for a Presidential Primary back in 1916. It sits in the front office of the Secretary of State’s Office in Concord.
66: Arsonists destroyed the historic Corbin covered bridge in North Newport in 1993 and it looked like it would be replaced with a generic concrete span. No way, said Newporters, and they set about to raise the money to build an exact replica, and today it’s one of the state’s sturdiest and most picturesque covered bridges. Go drive through it and get out and take a closer look.
67: Go tour some of the many historic houses in Portsmouth and Exeter, plus Strawbery Banke in the Port City, a wonderful assemblage of buildings tracing way back to the state’s earliest settlement.
68: Get a DeLorme’s atlas and see if you can find Chickville, Tinkerville or Bowkerville or maybe Fish Market.
69: Pick some plump strawberries and have a nice shortcake for supper. Be sure you have real whipped cream to go with it.
70: If you’re in shape for it, climb all of the state’s 4,000-foot mountains and claim membership in the Four Thousand Footer Club.
71: Community general stores have been struggling for years, but South Acworth and Canterbury folks pulled together to keep their stores running via the cooperative route. Visit one of these and learn how it has worked out.
72: Attend a lecture by John Porter on the architecture and preservation of New Hampshire barns. He has written fascinating books on the subject too.
73: Head to northern Coös County in late October when the Christmas tree harvest gets underway. Stop at the Weir, Beloin or Sibgo plantations and watch the thousands of trees being bundled and carefully stacked on semitrailers destined for urban markets far to the south.
74: If it’s on the menu, ask for an order of poutine. You may be surprised by the different ways this dish is prepared — fries with beef gravy? Melted cheese? Wait and see.
75: Help your neighbor cut, split and stack wood. It’s great exercise.
76: Take in the spring open house at Townline Equipment in Plainfield or Bascom Maple Farms in Acworth. They want to show you the latest equipment but the events are great social occasions too.
77: Study your annual town report. It’s packed with useful and interesting information, and it’s worth filing away year after year. It’s a sad day when they’re spotted in a recycling bin.
78: Grafton County has the only functioning county dairy farm in the United States, according to the National Association of Counties. There’s a prize herd of milkers plus a piggery and produce gardens, and it’s worth a visit to the North Haverhill spread when they have an open house.
79: Head for the Legislative Office Building in Concord any day hearings on bills are going on. Sit in on most any committee session and you’ll be amazed at what the lawmakers have to wrestle with — often it’s issues you never knew existed.
80: Watch a crew of timber framers shape pine and hemlock beams into rugged residences, barns and sheds that will endure for many generations.
81: Buy a “Moose Plate” for your car and know the extra money you’ve paid for it goes to all manner of worthwhile conservation and preservation projects.
82: Tour the antique village at Deerfield Fair — one-room school, artifacts of long-ago rural life, costumed cooks toiling over a wood-fired range, fiddle music, on and on.
83: Lancaster was the capital of snowmobile racing 50 years ago. Relive the glory days of noise, smoke and daredevil riding at the town’s vintage snowmobile racing fest.
84: Hunt around for the best sweet corn. Grow your own, or get it at your local farmstand. Make sure you consume it within hours of harvest if you want the tenderest, sweetest ears.
85: Pay heed to those ubiquitous “Brake for Moose” bumper stickers. Hit one and you’ll pay dearly — if you survive the crash.
86: See a master of an almost-extinct trade, Dunbarton’s Bob Boynton, as he fashions an ox yoke.
87: It’s called the most youth-friendly beach in New England, and if you visit Hampton Beach on a hot July weekend you’ll see why.
88: They’ve been holding a contra dance every Monday evening at the Nelson town hall since almost the dawn of history. You’ll be lucky if Gordon Peery is playing the jigs and reels at the piano keyboard when you go.
89: Local history is a strong New Hampshire suit. Read, or re-read, your town’s history book, and browse old maps, documents, letters and ephemera at the historical society.
90: Stand by as a little 9-year-old 4-H girl preps her heifer calf for the fair show ring, and then see how she makes out in the judging.
91: Sidle up to a bucket hanging on a tree during maple season and listen for the gentle drip-drip-drip of the sap flowing from the spout. Now that’s real country music.
92: Go find New Hampshire’s last one-room schools. They’re in New Hampton, Landaff and Croydon, where the 1794 “Red School” (it’s of brick) purports to be the oldest continuously functioning one-room school in the nation.
93: New Hampshire still has thousands of miles of stonewalls dividing pastures and coursing through the forests. Hear the state’s foremost authority on stonewalls, Kevin Gardner, lecture on the subject. He builds a model stonewall from pebbles without missing a beat as he speaks.
94: It’s been getting bigger every year, and Berlin’s midsummer Jericho ATV Festival has something for every fan of motorized recreation.
95: Patronize one of the surviving classic “rail car” diners, especially ones that offer pie baked onsite for dessert. And it’s OK to have some pie for breakfast.
96: Catch up on some of the interesting stuff they do at the University of New Hampshire’s research farms. New plant varieties, better ways to grow fruits and vegetables, cutting-edge animal nutrition and lots more spill forth in Durham all the time.
97: Relax with a work of fiction set in New Hampshire. From LeGrand Cannon and Grace Metalious to Thomas Williams and Ernest Hebert, there’s something for every taste.
98: See the Border Collies from Wellscroft Farm in Chesham when their master, Dave Kennard, conducts a demonstration. Those dogs have boundless energy and smarts.
99: Rate the best pastoral landscapes in the state. Start at the bluff overlooking the great meadow adjacent to the Connecticut River at Hatchland Farm in North Haverhill.
100: Go to Northwood the last Saturday in July and feast on “Bean Hole Beans.” They bury pots of pea and kidney beans with molasses and salt pork in a pit filled with glowing charcoal and let ‘em bake for 18 hours. Have a full plated dinner or get some to go.