Friday, July 13, 2012

Local Resources

Last weekend Franconia held its annual Old Home Day celebration, which this year feted the 100th anniversary of the town’s beautiful Abbie Greenleaf Library. Just up the road, Sugar Hill is celebrating 50 years as an incorporated town, with much discussion of its history – as a town reaching the ½ century mark and as a community with families and stories that reach back to the 1700s.

Both events highlight the importance of local resources. Not the natural resources that draw both residents and visitors to this beautiful neck of the woods, but the kind that are more rarely discussed – our libraries and museums, whose stature is small, but whose import to the local community is immeasurable.

These are the places we go when we have questions that cannot be answered via a Google search. They are the places we visit to see how our towns looked 100 years ago, find out who came before us, or discover what grand building once stood at the top of those elaborate but now overgrown stone steps leading seemingly to nowhere.

Libraries offer much more than borrowed books. They are a place to find information of all sorts, to sit quietly and read, and sometimes to access the Internet – a big deal in a place where many folks are still stuck on dial-up connections at home. Larger libraries, like Littleton’s, also have microfilm of local newspapers covering several decades, along with other historical resources. These can be a boon to people conducting research, but they’re also a kick to look through, revealing enticing glimpses into bygone days.

As a resident of Franconia, I often visit the Abbie Greenleaf library, built the same year as Fenway Park. The building is well kept and the gardens out front are a glorious assortment of colorful blooms through the summer. But the real treasure is inside, where the librarians can point you in the direction of well-worn history tomes or the latest reading sensation – or offer a suggestion if you just don’t know what you want.

Likewise, our area’s museums are treasure troves of local history, revealed through photographs, personal notes, and carefully considered exhibits. While searching for one thing or another in our local museums, I have discovered unexpected gems. It is here that I found the glorious Profile House which once reigned in splendor over Franconia Notch. It is here, too, that I gained important insight into the later development of Cannon Mountain as a ski area. And it is here that I learned that as successful a poet as Robert Frost became, he was not much for farming, despite keeping a cow in his Franconia barn.

Over the years, for various stories and projects, I have turned to several local resources – the Franconia Heritage Museum, tucked into a former residence gifted to the town; the Sugar Hill Historical Museum occupying a neat, bright building and adjacent carriage barn in the center of town; the Littleton Historical Society’s museum nestled into the lower level of that town’s Opera House; and the NewEngland Ski Museum, housed in a tiny building and former maintenance shed at the base of Cannon Mountain’s tramway.

These museums range from all volunteer staff to full-time employees. Some are open a few hours during summer weeks, others nearly year-round. All hold information in the form of scrapbooks, photographs, interview transcripts, books and newspaper clippings and little tidbits of information tucked here and there that together paint a picture of our region’s history – its people and commerce and changing landscapes.

Usually, these small museums (and municipal libraries) operate on shoestring budgets. Many rely heavily on meager membership fees from a core of interested supporters to keep the doors open and the bills paid. If you haven’t visited your local library or museum lately, I encourage you to do so – and to support it however you can. You never know what you might discover.

A version of this essay appears in this week’s edition of the Record Littleton

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