Spend a day, a weekend, or an entire lazy week just tripping around the shops, galleries, and restaurants in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
When my uncles visited from Texas last summer, they informed me they’d spent one entire lazy day just tripping around the shops, galleries, and restaurants in Peterborough, New Hampshire. That didn’t surprise me. What we’ve got here is quite special. The magazine Budget Travel placed Peterborough on their Top Ten Coolest Small Towns list in 2007, declaring it “a little bit hip and a little bit homey.” That combination is a real draw for the big-city Texans who need their small town New England fix each year. Here’s a little insight into what they found so appealing…Let’s start with a bit of local history at the Peterborough Historical Society in the heart of downtown. Currently, they’re offering a small exhibit entitled “Children: Seen and Heard” (through July 28, 2012) which explores childhood in the early 19th and 20th centuries through photos, toys, clothing, and other artifacts. The rest of the museum area is worth a peek, including the 17th century kitchen on the lower level.
Originally a mill town, you’ll find brick and stone buildings at every turn – a pretty backdrop for the spring blooms. Make your way over to one of the hot breakfast spots: the iconic Peterborough Diner on Depot Street, where many a Presidential candidate has tread, or Nonie’s Restaurant and Bakery on Main Street for a bit of local flavor.
Follow the sidewalk from Grove Street to School Street and you’ll pass by Depot Square which offers several unique specialty shops. A must-see is New England Everyday Goods– a store owned by Yankee blogger Jim Therriault and his wife Susan, and chock-full of quality items, all with a story tied to the New England region. Visit our wonderful independent bookstore, The Toadstool, for the latest titles, plus autographed copies by local authors. Joseph’s Coat features unique items made by artisans worldwide, while the Sharon Arts Center next door offers two galleries – one for rotating exhibits, and another for fine juried crafts.
If we take a short drive south on Route 101, the treasure hunting can continue at the next must-see shop: Twin Elm Antiques. No doubt you will come upon finds in this sprawling white farmhouse that you never knew you absolutely had to have. But you do. So buy them now, because they may not be there later. And, now that I’ve got you in the car, zip on over to the Peterboro Basket Company. They’ve been creating handmade baskets for over 150 years. I find my bicycle basket to be a useful accessory, but you’ll discover basketry here for every occasion. The shop also features some discounted “seconds” that make good buys. Lunch time? Drive down Union Street to the west side of town for the organic-centric café in Nature’s Green Grocer and a sandwich you’ll dream about later (personal favorite: Herb-roasted Turkey with Pesto Aioli on Olive-Rosemary Bread). Savor locally famous soups here, too, plus a wide selection of dairy-free and gluten-free offerings in both the market and the café. Don’t overlook the downtown locales as lunch options: Harlow’s on Main Street, and Aesop’s Tables which occupies a corner of the Toadstool bookshop. Afterward, pick up some house-made gelato from Twelve Pine in the Depot, or head back up Grove Street and let the lure of chocolate draw you into one of Peterborough’s best: Ava Marie Chocolates. They’re not just about extraordinary chocolate, but fine premium ice cream as well, and offer indoor and outdoor seating for your noshing comfort.
If the weather is cooperating, perhaps you’d like to pack up your lunch and enjoy it amidst the distant views atop Pack Monadnock in Miller State Park– a reasonable little 1.5 mile hike, or, in-season, a short drive up the auto road. If it’s raining, no worries. Pay a visit to the good, friendly folks at Bowling Acres for the classic New England activity – candlepin bowling (great pizza, too!).
Evenings should start at Marzano’s Trattoria where chef Jerry Willis offers casual Italian/American fare. Right next door, see what’s playing at the Peterborough Community Theatre – just 95 seats and the kind of charm you won’t find in a big multiplex. The Peterborough Players is another must on my list for visitors. They’ll soon be kicking off their 79th season of summer theatre, but the show goes on in the off-season, too, with high-def presentations from the Met, and other special events. I attended a “live” opening exhibit featuring Leonardo da Vinci’s works at the National Gallery in London this winter while comfortably seated in the Players beautifully renovated 18th century barn. A bit of culture, and no jet lag required.
Peterborough is said to be the model of Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town. There’s no denying that the “hip and homey” vibe attracts authors, actors, and artists. MacDowell Colony –the oldest art colony in the country– has offered a retreat for creative endeavors since 1907. On Medal Day (usually the second Sunday in August), a noted writer, musician, or artist is recognized, and the public is invited to attend the ceremony, listen to the speeches, and tour the otherwise private grounds.
With all this activity, you’ll need a place to lay your head. Chez Despres may suit my relatives, but for overnight accommodations, look to The Little River Bed & Breakfast.
An 1870’s farmhouse, it was once owned by Marian and Edward MacDowell, and used as housing for the first male artists accepted into MacDowell Colony. Today, you can enjoy the hospitality of Paula and Rob Fox and the comfort of their fresh and inviting guest rooms. You’ll need a good night’s rest. There’s still so much more of Our Town to explore.
Have you ever been to Peterborough, New Hampshire?