“Parents or alumni?” asks a fellow passenger as we step into the elevator at the Hanover Inn, docked like an ocean liner on the banks of the Dartmouth College Green in Hanover, New Hampshire. Neither, as it turns out, but the lines get blurry in this Ivy League enclave. The pretty town was founded July 4, 1761; the college followed in 1769. Since then, the two have grown together like vines, to the point where they’re practically indistinguishable from each other. Hanover’s population (11,260 in 2010) is almost double Dartmouth’s, but it feels like an even match. Maybe it’s all that youthful energy, or the elegant 269-acre main campus infiltrating the town. Or the range of daily diversions, from arts to sports, that speak to both students and residents. Or the dynamic café scene that someone like Robert Frost (student, lecturer), Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss (student), or Mindy Kaling (student) might appreciate. “It’s a concentrated shot of culture,” says one local resident. “People are well educated, and you feel it.”
The Appalachian Trail winds past the college-owned inn (the only inn on the 2,200-mile trail). Nearby, there’s Ledyard Canoe Club for canoeing and kayaking, Occom Pond for skating, Dartmouth Skiway for downhill, and the Dartmouth Cross Country Ski Center for, well, the obvious. All the perks of an Ivy League habitat, none of the academic pressure.
Midway up New Hampshire’s western border, Hanover sits on the Connecticut River, with Vermont just across the water. The White Mountains rise to the east, the Green Mountains to the west, less than an hour in either direction. In the center of town, college buildings surround the Green, which is anchored at the top by the Baker-Berry Library, with its polished-wood study nooks, and at the bottom by the Hanover Inn, still gleaming from its $43 million facelift in 2012. Main Street shoots off the Green in a tumble of cafés, clothing shops, and bookstores—an impressive amount of stimulation condensed into several blocks, illustrating a peculiarly Hanoverian law of physics.
The Social Scene
While the Hopkins Center for the Arts (the Hop) posts a full roster of films and performances, it offers less predictable events, too—a piano master class, say, or Christmas Revels at Spaulding Auditorium. The adjacent Hood Museum, one of the oldest and largest college museums in the country, shares its rich collection for free, but residents can also volunteer to be docents, learning all there is to know about Assyrian reliefs in the process. The sports-inclined can find a hockey game on Occom Pond or watch the college stars at Dartmouth’s Thompson Arena, and cheer on the entire college community at the Big Green bonfire on homecoming weekend.
“We like drinks at Pine—the atmosphere is fun and they have a real mixologist,” says one half of a longtime-resident couple, referring to the Hanover Inn’s sleek restaurant. The two quickly add Dirt Cowboy for best coffee and Canoe Club Bistro for lunch. But then we discover Base Camp Café, specializing in Nepali food; turns out the lightly spicy scent of sweet-potato chhoila and chicken tarkari on a chilly January afternoon is more warming than a wood stove. Later, dinner at Candela Tapas Lounge—tacos de pescado and braised pork belly over pineapple—is good enough to order twice (so we do). Lucky Hanover, with foodie treasures everywhere … like Morano Gelato, which has the best blood orange and dark chocolate scoops this side of Rome.
If the Green is your thing, the Dartmouth Co-op can clothe you, plus feed your mind with its deep catalog of books and magazines. Among the nearby shops are the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, Simon Pearce (glass), Left Bank Books (used and out of print), and even J.Crew, but keep an eye open for the little boxes set at bird feeder height along the sidewalk: The Howe Little Free Libraries, organized by the town’s Howe Library (praised by a local author as one of the best libraries he’s ever been in), ask only that you “Take One, Leave One.”
In-town properties can be expensive, but there are perks, too: Bike to downtown from an 1801 four-bedroom “mini farm” colonial, with barn, on 4.5 acres for (at the time of our visit) $649,000. A 1988 Cape with three bedrooms, a two-car garage, and pretty grounds listed at $359,000, while less than 10 miles from the center of town there was a three-bedroom open-concept home with a large deck on 2 acres abutting conservation land listed for $269,000.
You can find culture where you least expect it, like the sprawling José Clemente Orozco mural The Epic of American Civilization, painted between 1932 and 1934 and located on the lower level of the Baker-Berry Library. On the subject of health, a pass to Dartmouth’s Zimmerman Fitness Center bestows 16,000 square feet of wellness potential. Just across the river in Norwich, Vermont, the King Arthur Flour Company offers a dazzling array of workshops, a café, and a kitchen store, while the Montshire Museum of Science attracts 150,000 visitors annually with hands-on exhibits. Norwich institution Dan & Whit’s General Store has been around for more than 110 years, and it would take about that long to explore every cranny in this emporium of everything.
Getting Your Bearings
It’s big, boutiquey, and comfortably chic, but the Hanover Inn is also home away from home for Dartmouth alumni. The rest of us get to crash the party—a “Dartmouth in Town Again” board tells you which alums are currently in residence at the inn.This feature originally appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of Yankee.