Concord Locale Heroes: Joan Woodhead & Julianne Gadoury
About this series: Meet our Local Heroes, a special band of folks dedicating their lives to making things even better in the great Granite State places they have chosen to live and work and play.
History lives in New Hampshire and nowhere more so than in its Capitol City where our state Legislature still meets in the same chambers it has occupied since 1819 and where the U.S. Constitution was finally ratified, in 1788, ensuring that it would become the blueprint for America democracy.
But there are as many ways to keep the past relevant and alive as there are unique historical resources (like Concord’s ungainly Gasholder) and devoted caretakers of those resources, like these two Locale Heroes who operate at different ends of Concord’s historic and isolated North Main Streeet: Joan Woodhead of the Pierce Manse and Julianne Gadoury of the Kimball Jenkins Estate.
“The Manse demonstrates democracy in action,” says Woodhead. “It was a small group of citizens that united to save a house that was the home of the President.” It’s hard to believe, but the Concord home of Franklin Pierce, our oft-disparaged 14th president of the U.S., was about to face the wrecking ball of urban renewal until a “brigade” was formed to save it. “They started in 1966 and moved the house in 1971 and opened it to the pubic in 1974. So it’s been around for a long time and with all volunteers,” says Woodhead, president of the Pierce Brigade, which has kept the Pierce Manse in shape and attractive with tours, concerts and lectures just about ever since.
One block closer to downtown (but still separated by the busy on-ramp to Interstate 393) stands the lovely mansion, carriage house and grounds of the Kimball Jenkins Estate which has served as an architectural treasure for the city since it was completed in 1882 and has served as event space, wedding setting, art school and studio. Under Gadoury’s guidance as executive director, the estate has blossomed with new life.
“We see this as publicly accessible green space and grounds for people to still interact with history but also with current, contemporary programming,” says Gadoury. Examples include hosting shows for Concord Youth Art Month that pack the historic block with the bustle of proud families and happy kids; an artist-in-residence program (currently featuing performance artist Gemma Soldati) and an arts- and history-based day camp designed to activate kids’ creativity. “People come here from all over. I hope it can be a link between New Hampshire past and the present — people aren’t going to come here if there aren’t things happening,” she says.
The stretch of North Main between these two outposts of the past is also rich with history, like the restored, mansard-roofed home of the Reverend Timothy Walker: Concord’s “founder” and first minister. The home has even recently attracted the attention of the Black Heritage Trail of NH.
The New Hampshire Historical Society — only a few city blocks away, but in a different world in terms of foot (and vehicle) traffic — has plans for outreach this summer to all of Concord’s historical leaders and resources to seek out more collaboration, says Gadoury, and both she and Woodhead see opportunities for working together.
There was a push for awhile to stage tours of the North Main Street district and explore its other historic treasures, recalls Gadoury. “But a lot of these houses are privately owned,” she says. “Not everyone wants someone standing out front talking about your home.”