Where to Find Big Fun in Littleton

There's always gladness in this big little city

Littleton’s Main Street is best known for winning the Great American Main Street Award, and there’s no better time to stroll along its several-block length than in early June. This year, as usual, Littleton’s annual Pollyanna Glad Day is June 10, the day after the 2nd Friday Art Walk, making it easy to do both in one trip.

The 2nd Friday Art Walk, held in June, July and August, is a good way to explore Littleton’s arts scene. In addition to the shops and galleries, there are likely to be street performers and a party atmosphere along Main Street and the parallel Mill Street, down the hill toward the river. Any shops or galleries we missed on Friday evening would be open on Saturday, so we browsed at leisure.

Our first stop was at the The Gallery at the Nest, where we admired handmade furniture, beautiful turned wood pieces, pottery and jewelry along with paintings, etchings and photography. The work is by a mix of local and national artists. 

The juried work shown at the town’s League of NH Craftsmen outpost is all by New Hampshire artists, or by those within 10 miles of the state border. The shop itself is a work of art, with the wide variety of media artfully displayed to showcase each piece. The mix of blown glass, quilts, woodworking, metal, handweaving, pottery, fine art prints, calligraphy, leather goods, photography and baskets represents some of the state’s premier artists.

Bad Art, on Mill Street, cheekily proclaims that “where most galleries end, we begin.” Their counterculture, alternative and pop art, from “Star Wars” to vinyl, is a nerd’s nirvana. Missing The Ramones? They’re probably here. Browsing at Bad Art put us in the right frame of mind for our old favorite haunt, Just L Modern Antiques. The name “Modern Antiques” is not as contradictory as it sounds. Mid-century modern is hot in the antiques market, and they have a fine, ever-changing collection that spans much of the early- to mid-20th century. We could have outfitted an entire 1940s kitchen here,  complete with chrome kitchen table and nesting Pyrex bowls, or a whole living room with sectional sofa, Danish modern chair and kidney-shaped coffee table, set off by a brown-and-orange shag rug.  

Down the street, the statue of Pollyanna (the inspiration for Glad Day) stands — quite appropriately — in front of the Littleton Public Library. The bronze sculpture celebrates the fact that the irrepressible optimist’s creator, author Eleanor Hodgman Porter, was born in Littleton. Ever since the statue by New Hampshire artist Emile Birch was erected in 2002, Littleton has celebrated an annual weekend of “gladness and cheerfulness” with music, a parade and free events.

Inside the library, we found more than the expected books. When Littleton resident Daniel C. Remick died in 1917, he left his art collection to the library. Much of this was collected by Remick’s father-in-law, Benjamin W. Kilburn, a Littleton luminary whose name is still well-known today as the maker of the stereograph cards that form a photographic record of the White Mountains, their attractions and their grand resort hotels.

Eleven of the paintings are scenes of New Hampshire by the White Mountain Artists, making it one of the best publicly displayed collections by the group of prominent landscape painters who worked in the region in the late 1800s. Several of the White Mountain paintings are by Edward Hill, who, like many others of the White Mountain School, had summer studios at several resort hotels, where the artists painted on commission from wealthy hotel guests and sometimes gave painting lessons.

The paintings are hanging among the books in reading and reference rooms, along the stairway to the upper floor and in the central rotunda. It’s quite a lovely building and well worth a look inside. Other artists on display include New Hampshire painter Ellen B. Farr, who specialized in flowers, and W. F. Halsall, best known for his maritime scenes.

Across from the library, the stately white columns of Thayers Inn have been a focal point of downtown Littleton since 1850, when it opened as Thayer’s White Mountain Hotel. Through its history, the hotel has hosted five US presidents, entertainers from PT Barnum to Bette Davis and at least one spy. In 1940, World War II General Tomoyuki Yamashita lived here for the three months on a spy mission in the White Mountains for the Japanese government.

The oldest continuously operated hotel in the White Mountains, Thayers Inn is getting an update to restore its former luster and to add guest-friendly tech features. This is taking place under the new management of Gary and Sandra Plourde, owners of Christmas Farm Inn & Spa in Jackson. It couldn’t be in better hands.

Anchoring the end of Main Street is the octagonal clock tower (the Seth Thomas clock was another gift of Daniel Remick) of the Littleton Opera House. Recently restored, even to the meticulous repainting of the flowers decorating the balcony, the opera house is now the venue for Upstage Players performances. The group, which began in 1978 and now produces a musical and a stage play each year, sparked interest in restoring the Opera House with their production of the 1916 “Pollyanna – The Comedy Play” for Glad Day in 2004.

Near the Opera House, a state historic sign marks the building that was the Kilburn factory, where a staff of more than 50 people once turned out 3,000 stereographic views a day. (You can read more about these at Janice Brown’s wonderful website, cowhampshireblog.com.)

Categories: Our Town, Summer Roadtrips