Lingering in Littleton
Spreading some cheer in the White Mountains
An air of gladness pervades Littleton’s Main Street in June, inspired by a little girl named Pollyanna, whose sculpture smiles down from the lawn of the Littleton Public Library. This irrepressible optimist was the creation of Littleton native Eleanor Hodgman Porter, and instead of sliding into obscurity like many children’s books of the era, Pollyanna endured, and not just in Littleton.
Her story has been told in movies — a 1920 silent film, in 1960 by Disney and again in 2003 — and in two TV series, in 1973 and 1986. Back in her hometown, Pollyanna became the inspiration for Glad Day, an annual event celebrated in June (this year on June 10, 2023), and a symbol of the town’s rejuvenation.
The 2002 dedication of the bronze sculpture, created by New Hampshire artist Emile Birch, coincided with Littleton’s revitalization of its historic downtown, and Pollyanna became the symbol of this community spirit. Empty storefronts came back to life as the town reclaimed its Main Street shopping district. By 2011 the retail vacancy rate had dropped to 2 percent. (Read more about the people behind the success of the Polyanna sculpture in our May issue’s Best Places feature.)
Main Street is the perfect stage for the two dozen or so independent local businesses — six blocks bookended by the 1895 town hall at one end and the 1832 First Congregational Church at the other. About halfway between them is the imposing façade and columned portico of Thayers Inn, a recently updated 1850 landmark that’s hosted U.S. presidents, movie stars and a Japanese spy just prior to World War II. It’s the oldest continuously operated hotel in the White Mountains.
Small shopfronts are set inside this row of substantial 19th-century mercantile buildings, many of which have bronze plaques detailing the history of the buildings, pointing out architectural details. Standouts among the specialty shops are Little Village Toy & Bookshop, The Little Herb Shoppe, White Mountain Canning Company and Calico Cottage, a sewing store.
Scattered among these are antiques and vintage stores, notably Cryans on Main, in the former Masonic Temple, styling itself accurately as “Half Antique, Half Boutique,” and just L Modern Antiques. The latter is a vast display space filled with mid-century modern and earlier furniture and housewares. Emma & Co. is a consignment clothing shop, its display windows a fashion show of retro styles. Next door is Chutters with its famous candy counter.
At the heart of this is the GoLittleton Glad Shop, a cheerful space where you can find sunshine-yellow “Be Glad” t-shirts and hats, the book itself and a variety of Littleton and Pollyanna souvenirs. A display on Eleanor Hodgman Porter includes a collection of past Pollyanna editions.
Beside the shop is the Pollyanna Gateway, easy to spot in the summer for the canopy of colorful umbrellas that float in the air above it and all the way down the rainbow-colored staircase leading toward the river. At the bottom, on Porter Street, is the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen gallery and more small shops.
Also at the bottom, Harmony Park overlooks the river, with five outdoor musical instruments inviting everyone to make music. A piano sits on Main Street, again for passersby to stop and play a few chords or an entire song (which others will probably carry on down the street humming). The “glad” atmosphere is contagious.
Two years after the unveiling of the Pollyanna sculpture, the Riverwalk Covered Bridge was opened, a 352-foot Warren truss bridge that crosses the Ammonoosuc River at the base of the falls. From the bridge — for pedestrians only — you can get a good view not only of the falls but of the giant millwheel and riverside mill buildings the falls once powered. Today, the former Littleton Grist Mill building houses the brewpub of Schilling Beer Co., serving European-inspired ales and lagers to enjoy on a deck overlooking the falls.
The bridge gives a focal point to the riverside area below Main Street, as well as access to walking trails in both directions along the river. Follow the trail downstream and recross on the Curran Suspension Bridge at Saranac Street, built to replace the 1902 suspension bridge lost in the hurricane of 1938.
Glad Day embraces the entire of downtown Littleton, with activities centered on the central blocks of Main Street and parallel Porter Street, at the foot of the rainbow staircase.
The weekend of “gladness and cheerfulness” begins this year at 11 a.m. on June 10, with a hat-decorating party on the lawn of the library on Main Street. The purpose is to create hats to wear in the annual group photo in front of the sculpture, and in the hat and pet parade that follows. The afternoon includes, among other events, music performances and a cupcake eating contest.