Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
These local museums are working hard to roll out the welcome mat for young visitors
By Jacqueline Tourville
Weave a basket, scatter grain for the chickens, play dress up and explore the landscape that inspired a famous poet. What do these things all have in common? Museums. There’s no shortage of places to learn about the past in New Hampshire and, luckily for parents looking for something a little different to do over summer vacation, local museums have really stepped up their efforts to make it fun and exciting to take a step back in time, especially for kids. Spend the day at one these Granite State history hotspots.
Upper Valley and Keene
Budget issues forced the Fort at No. 4 in Charlestown to close for the season in 2009 and operate on a reduced schedule last year, but the living history museum is back and better than ever for the summer 2011 season. Fort at No. 4 (www.fortat4.org) is a recreated fortified village that represents the most northerly British settlement in Colonial times -- the fort and village are interpreted to look as they did in 1744. Museum role players bring the place to life (think Plimouth Plantation) and visitors can try their hand at everything from churning butter to playing children’s games from the 18th century. A highlight of the museum’s season is its annual French and Indian War and Revolutionary War encampments.
One of the oldest buildings in Keene, Wyman Tavern (www.hsccnh.org/wymantavern) has been an inn, a school and a private home. Displaying artifacts from its busy days as a tavern at the start of the Revolutionary War, it was from this tavern that 29 men started a march to Lexington and Concord in April 1775 after hearing about the British skirmish with the Minutemen. The museum reaches out to kids and families through its Friday Afternoon at the Tavern series.
Held weekly from July 15 to Aug. 19, the series offers a low-cost way ($10 per family) for kids to participate in an activity, game, or craft that was part of life when the Wyman family, the tavern owners, lived here in the 1700s. Coming up this month, learn more about life during the Revolutionary War and make your own candle.
Spend the day at Shaker Village in Enfield (www.shakermuseum.org) and you will finally have an answer for the question: just who were the Shakers? Kids can watch skilled Shaker-style artisans demonstrating their crafts (from making brooms and basketry to building furniture) and then try their own hand at making some traditional children’s crafts. After visiting the buildings, take a hike on the trail system that fans out from the museum.
Another reason to make your way to tiny Enfield? This year marks the town’s 250th anniversary. During the week of July 1 to 8, the town has plenty of old-fashioned fun planned for its birthday celebration, including a Colonial Ball and patriotic sing-a-long.
Built in 1778, the Clark Historic House in Wolfeboro (www.wolfeborohistoricalsociety.org) was once the center of a 100-acre working farm. The house has been used as a museum since 1917 and interprets family life in the 1800s. A “mini museum” of antique firefighting equipment is also on the grounds, as is Wolfeboro’s original old-room school house, the Pleasant Valley School House (also called the District #3 school), built in 1805. What differences do your kids see compared to where they go to school? Are there any similarities? Which school would child prefer to attend?
High-schoolers who just finished studying World War II in school will appreciate the Wright World War II Museum (www.wrightmuseum.org) in Wolfeboro. Devoted to “telling the many stories of WWII,” the museum features a Life on the Home Front gallery, movie theater and visitors’ center and an impressive wing featuring military vehicles. Take along the grandparents (or great-grandparents) for a day of intergenerational bonding.
Want to build a boat with your kids? You can this summer at the NH Boat Museum in Wolfeboro (www.nhbm.org). On display at the museum is a dazzling array of canoes, guide boats, sailboats and other water craft that have dotted the waters of the lakes region throughout the centuries. From July 5 to 10, teams of parents or grandparents and a child can sign up to assemble a simple canoe, kayak or skiff -- each a traditional form of water travel. At the end of the session, a special launching on Lake Wentworth will be held to celebrate the completion of the craft.
In Tamworth, stepping back in time is easy at the Dr. Remick Country Doctor Museum & Farm (www.remickmuseum.org), a family-friendly collection of buildings and farmland showcasing the agricultural way of life in New Hampshire, from 1790 to the present. Children’s nature and history learning programs take place throughout the summer, but any day is a good day to visit with the sheep, goats, chickens and turkeys in the farmyard. Walk among rows of heirloom crops, tour the homestead, and take part in some of the chores children would have been expected to perform on a 19th-century farm.
For more farm fun, visit the New Hampshire Farm Museum in Milton, a collection of barns, fields and a house that represent three centuries of life on a Granite State farm. Kids can crack corn and scatter it for the eagerly awaiting chicken before trying to locate the museum’s many treasures in the Great Yellow Barn Hunt. The museum also offers a series of farm- and history-themed summer camps for kids.
In Derry, visit the Robert Frost Farm (http://robertfrostfarm.org), the house and lands famed poet Robert Frost and his family called home from 1900-09. It might look like just another old New England farm to the untrained eye, but throughout the property are several sites Frost wrote about in his poetry, including “Mending Wall,” “Hyla Brook” and “The Pasture.” Take some pictures and you never know; they might just turn next year’s English project into an A+. Tours, displays, and a trail through the fields and woods of the farm are available. Got a budding poet in the family? Check out the Robert Frost Youth Poet Program.
Potential presidential candidates will be criss-crossing the state this summer in anticipation of the 2012 New Hampshire Primary, making this the perfect time to give kids a little history lesson about our state’s own homegrown President, Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States. If you are saying “Franklin who?” it’s time to pay a visit the Franklin Pierce Homestead in Hillsborough. Take a guided tour of Pierce’s childhood home or explore on your own. Bonus in the fall: brownie points with your child’s social studies teacher. For seasonal hours, call 478-3165.
July is a busy month at the American Independence Museum in Exeter (www.independencemuseum.org) as it hosts the ever-popular American Independence Festival on July 16. But the fun at the museum starts earlier in the month with two historical role-playing programs for kids. From July 6 to 8, girls ages 10 and up can learn more about the past as they take on the role of an 18th-century Exeter resident. Girls will learn proper speech and etiquette, as well as daily chores and amusements which they will share at the festival.
For boys and girls (age 7 to 11), Saturday, July 9, is Muster Day and children-turned-troops will prepare for General Washington’s visit the following week by learning how to march and drill and how to live life as a Revolutionary War soldier.
Costumed role players and plenty of special events and activities help bring more than 300 years of history to life at Portsmouth’s Strawbery Banke Museum, a neighborhood of preserved buildings in the city’s South End. Don’t miss the museum’s Family Discovery Center with its fun (and very well-stocked) historical play kitchen and general store and children’s reading and game room. Stop by on a Sunday and you can even squeeze in a little grocery shopping. This year marks the inaugural season of the Portsmouth Open Market, a farmers’ and juried arts market, held on the Museum’s Puddle Dock field (www.portsmouthopenmarket.com).
Jacqueline Tourville is a freelance writer from Nashua, who often writes travel and vacation stories for PNH.
Last updated by Morgen Thiboult Jun 24, 2011.