Kicking Off Summer in Hillsborough

Lilacs are in bloom, so it’s the right time to spend a weekend in the middle of a lilac arboretum, and track down some other New Hampshire icons in Hillsborough

Friday Evening

Summer may not be here quite yet, but we’re in the mood for our first fried clams of the season and we’re happy to find one of our favorite clam shacks open. It may be an hour’s drive from the coast, but High Tide (239 Henniker St.) always serves juicy, briny clams, fried in a crisp coating that doesn’t obscure their flavor. We can’t resist adding an order of their fried onion nuggets, which we like better than onion rings.

Saturday Morning

Our breakfast at Stonewall Farm B&B (235 Windsor Rd.) was a frittata made with fresh eggs from the farm’s own chickens, preceded by slices of host Meg Curtis’ famous apple bread. We were served at a beautifully set table that matched the graceful interior of the 1785 Colonial home.

This is one of many historic homes in Hillsborough, which was a thriving country town by the time Benjamin Pierce built his home in 1804, the same year his son Franklin was born. 

The 14th president spent his boyhood in what is now the Franklin Pierce Homestead (301 2nd NH Turnpike, near the intersection of Rtes. 31 and 9), a beautiful home whose colorful décor surprised us. Docents explained that the colors, stenciling and French wallpaper are all based on fragments found during restoration, so the house looks much as it did when the Pierces entertained the luminaries of their day here, including Daniel Webster and Nathaniel Hawthorne. 


Although German John’s Bakery (5 West Main St.) is a regular stop on our way through Hillsborough — we routinely bypass the bypass in order to buy bread here — we were happy to learn that on Saturday they serve lunch. We enjoyed steaming bowls of hearty German vegetable soup with multigrain rolls still warm from the oven. Although this authentic German bakery is best known for pretzels (and won a “Best of NH” last year), it’s the chocolate-dipped cookies we take with us, rich almondy Mandelhörnchen and Mandelschnitten.

Saturday Afternoon

After lunch we drive past rolling farmland and stone walls to Hillsborough Center, which may seem in the middle of nowhere, but is in the town’s geographical center. Surrounding its sloping green are beautiful old homes, a schoolhouse, town pound, carriage sheds and Gibson Pewter (18 East Washington Rd.). Here Jonathan Gibson crafts quality lead-free pewter plates, bowls, tankards and candlesticks that have found their way into such prestigious collections as the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

On our way we passed Fox State Forest, and stopped on our return to follow trails to a rare (for New Hampshire) stand of black gum trees, and to Mud Pond Bog. From the boardwalk through this mat of peat moss we could watch pitcher plants busily trapping insects and hoped that nature’s own little bug zappers would munch on a few that were biting us.

Saturday Evening

Although dew had sparkled beautifully on Stonewall Farm’s lilacs this morning, it had also been thick on the grass, so we waited until the long June evening to walk through the arboretum. Because there are so many different lilacs, each one blooming on its own calendar, the flowering season here can last a full month. 

Dinner at Mediterrano

We’d heard raves about Hillsborough’s newest restaurant, Mediterrano (24 Henniker St.), and we immediately liked its cozy atmosphere and the heavenly aromas wafting through the air. After creamy hummus and oven-hot lavash, our appetizer of stuffed grape leaves arrived artfully plated with tomato slices. These were seasoned with a judicious hand, chilled and fragrant. Next came sizzling lamb kebabs interspersed with bright crisp-grilled red peppers and green zucchini, and Adana Kabob, a Turkish favorite made of hand-minced lamb blended with sweet red peppers and herbs. Both were delicious, as was the baklava we could barely make room for.

Sunday Morning

Recently restored double stone arch bridge
by stillman rogers

Hot scones accompanied the latest efforts of those busy Stonewall Farm hens, and after breakfast we went on a bridge crawl. We had watched the recent restoration of the beautiful double stone arched bridge on Rte. 9, so decided to visit the other four that Hillsborough has preserved. These feats of dry-stone engineering were built of native granite, often collected from the streambed they traversed. One is not far from the Franklin Pierce Homestead, across Rte. 9 on the road opposite the Rte. 31 intersection. This road crosses over it just past the cluster of houses and little church. The fourth house on the right from Rte. 9, by the way, is the home where Franklin Pierce took his bride, and still a private home.

Back at the intersection, we were tempted by the bright painted picnic tables around Winter Hill Farm Market (136 Mathews Rd., Henniker), in the old Withington Antiques Barn. Along with Granite State Ice Cream, we found locally produced meats, honey, maple and early vegetables. Heading up Rte. 31 and bearing right on Shedd Jones Road, we found another double-arched bridge at Beard Road. Turning left we crossed over Gleason’s Falls on yet another. As we inspected the bridge and falls, we were careful not to get too close to the little chasm the rushing river has carved.

Sunday Afternoon

The fifth bridge used to carry Rte. 202 to Rte. 9, but was bypassed years ago. We had no trouble finding it near the busy intersection, and continued into the village for lunch at Tooky Mills Pub (9 Depot St.). We’d seen it mentioned in this magazine’s March issue, under the heading “Pubs with Great Burgers” and had to taste for ourselves. We chose Cheshire Mills Burgers topped with bacon, horseradish cream cheese and red onion — and too big to get my mouth over.


Categories: Our Town, Summer Roadtrips