A “then and now” look at the charming and historic town of Exeter, New Hampshire.
By Brenda Darroch
Jan 06 2016
A mere 30 miles from Manchester, the small town of Exeter, New Hampshire, has always been prized for its location. The freshwater Exeter River, tumbling into the brackish waters of the Squamscott, drew English settlers interested in harnessing that power for mills, and when Reverend John Wheelwright brokered a deal with the native Squamscott people in 1638, the town was established. Today this vibrant community is home to the American Independence Museum, Phillips Exeter Academy, and an abundance of historic architecture that stretches back to the 19th century.
Unexpectedly finding ourselves with a free afternoon, Jim and I decided to spend a few hours visiting some of Exeter’s most notable sites. Armed with a walking tour brochure and map from the Exeter Historical Society, we studied the grand architecture that lines up along Front and Water Streets. As luck would have it, the Historical Society was open when we strolled past, and the friendly folks there graciously pulled out their archival collection of images and allowed me to photograph them for this “then and now” tour of Exeter. (Unfortunately, I did not note the dates the original photographs were taken.)
Note: Walking tour stops noted in parentheses.
1. Constructed in 1855, the Town Hall (1) served as both a courthouse and town hall. A wooden statue of Justice perches atop the cupola.
2. String Bridge (2)
3. Robert Lincoln, son of our 16th president, lived in the Simeon Folsom House (4) while attending Phillips Exeter Academy.
4. The Great Bridge (5) is located at the site of Exeter’s first bridge.
5. Noted for its fortified construction, the Gilman Garrison (6) is a public museum.
6. The Eagle Steamer House (not included in walking tour brochure).
7. Now vacant, the IOKA Theater (7) was built in 1915.
8. The Bandstand (8) – which boasts a bronze roof and mosaic ceiling – was gifted to Exeter by Ambrose Swasey in 1916. The Exeter Brass Band performs there each summer.
9. The Sullivan-Sleeper House (9), County Record Building – which currently serves as the town offices (10), and Gardner House (11) have bordered Front Street since the 19th century.
10. Though the Town House (13) itself is no longer standing, you can visit the site where the first state constitution of the original 13 states was signed on January 9, 1776, and the Declaration of Independence was read to the citizen’s of Exeter on July 16 of that same year.
11. Construction began on the Congregational Church’s fourth meetinghouse (14) in 1798 and the structure retains the features of its original Palladian exterior.
12. Designed for use as Exeter’s Public Library and Civil War Memorial, the classical revival building at 47 Front Street now houses the Exeter Historical Society (20).
13. No visit to historic Exeter would be complete without strolling past Phillips Exeter Academy, established in 1781.
Visiting all the points on Exeter’s walking tour would require additional time – and warmer weather – but we hope to make that happen in the coming months. Should you decide to visit Exeter, New Hampshire, be sure to allot enough time to take in all its historic sites.
Have you ever visited Exeter, New Hampshire?
This post was first published in 2015 and has been updated.