A view of the town’s River District takes in the restored Littleton Grist Mill, built in 1797, and the area’s newest covered bridge, constructed in 2004
over the Ammonoosuc River.
Photo Credit : Matt Kalinowski
Route 93, scampering up the spine of New Hampshire, is a pleasant drive until you reach the White Mountains. Suddenly they yawn and drop away, and the distance shimmers with peaks veiled in pale-blue silk. As you twist past landmarks like the Flume and the memory of the Old Man of the Mountain, crumbled to a rock pile in 2003, all distraction ceases to exist. With a plunge into Franconia Notch, the landscape grabs for drama. Cannon Mountain looms, and mountain-fed Echo Lake spreads out below, its beach speckled with brightly colored swimsuits.
It’s a mountain world, walled in by peaks, with its own wild language of notches, elevations, and some of the most romantically challenging terrain in New England. Just east, Tuckerman Ravine is a magnet for extreme skiers; legendary Mount Washington juts 6,288 boulder-strewn feet into the air, with the “worst weather” in the world. The Presidentials rise all around; the Appalachian Trail meanders through.
Just off I-93, at exit 41, the pretty town of Littleton straddles the Ammon-oosuc River, close to all that this region offers. “North of the Notch” is how it’s described, meaning Franconia Notch, but it’s north of Crawford Notch, too, and almost parallel with Jefferson Notch. Nestled in a valley, this town of almost 6,000 (4,400 in the town center), settled in 1770, is the commercial hub of the region, and has been ever since it first harnessed the river in the 1790s, setting up sawmills and gristmills. Today its vibrant Main Street hums with locals and tourists ducking into cafés, gift shops, clothing boutiques, the family-run market, and a first-run movie theatre. A dynamic revitalization of the waterfront, with its 2004 covered bridge, makes the river a focal point, with a new brewpub, a lively farmers’ market, and invitingly flat rocks where you can sit in the river’s flow and cool your heels.
It’s hard to miss the “Be Glad” banners hanging from lampposts all over town—this is where Eleanor Porter, author of the best-selling children’s book Pollyanna, was born, and the theme of “gladness” is everywhere, including the annual Pollyanna Glad Day in June, and even in the random pianos plunked along Main Street, where people often sit and spontaneously play. All this town spirit hasn’t gone unnoticed. Outside magazine named Littleton one of “America’s 10 Best Towns”; the National Main Street Program lists it as one of the “Top 10 Small Towns in America”; and Fodor’s Travel conferred “Best Main Street” status in 2014. In the spirit of Pollyanna, let’s take a closer look.
The Setting in Littleton, NH
Some of New Hampshire’s most dramatic scenery is just outside town, in White Mountain National Forest. In town, you’ll have to climb to the higher neighborhoods to glimpse the mountains, but the rolling Ammonoosuc is a vivid presence. A Riverwalk stroll incorporates the 300-foot-long covered bridge across the water, plus an Indiana Jones–style suspension bridge farther downriver, crossing back into town. North of town, the Connecticut River is restrained by Moore Reservoir Dam, with a tranquil swimming beach off Route 18. Local hikes? Ask Marlene Gallinelli at the Littleton Information Booth on Main Street; she’s lived here since 1957. “Take ’em all,” she says. “They’re all grand. Twin Mountain has the most beautiful blueberries. Nothing grander than just sitting in a patch eating blueberries.”
The Social Scene in Littleton, NH
Dan and Moocho Salomon’s extra-ordinary store, Northern Lights Music, draws customers from Ottawa, Boston, and Portland, plus “acts as a networking place for musicians,” says Moocho. The two met at Franconia College. “Talk about having an influence on an area,” she says of the progressive school. It closed the year they set up shop, but alumni-formed organizations such as WREN (Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network), in Bethlehem, are still going strong, and serve as great social places to meet. The Sunday farmers’ market, too, injects a lively note. “You won’t become a millionaire, but the people are so nice,” says French Canadian vendor Marcel, as Johanna hands me a meltingly good Nutella crêpe. “It’s peaceful and friendly,” agrees Marlene Gallinelli. “No one’s trying to keep up with the Joneses. If you want to fit in or make friends, volunteer at the hospital, food pantry, or Meals on Wheels.”
Eating Out in Littleton, NH
Miller’s Café & Bakery gets raves from the Food Network, which claimed it made one of the “50 Best Sandwiches in the USA” with choices such as “Grilled Catamount Turkey & Bacon,” but nothing beats the deck view cantilevered over the Ammonoosuc. Next door, beer nerds are ecstatic over the European-style brews (Erastus Tripel?) at Schilling Beer Co., in a former 18th-century mill, but you had us at gourmet pizza—thin, crackly, and oozing with prosciutto, pear, and arugula, and sizzled in a wood-fired oven. The landmark Polly’s Pancake Parlor is 10 miles away in Sugar Hill, with a mountain view that will take your breath away, but not your appetite.
Shopping in Littleton, NH
The oldest ski shop in the U.S.—Lahout’s—has been here since 1920, selling “country” clothing and gear, and its 91-year-old patriarch, Joe, still lives over the original store. Just down the street, Chutters boasts the world’s longest candy counter—112 feet of kid heaven—the effects of which can be counteracted by actual food from family-run Porfido’s Market & Deli across the street, or the Littleton Food Co-op. Lots of fun shops dot Main Street, but for imaginative gifts, Juliette Ains-worth’s Travel Bug sells whimsical treasures, such as the solar-powered butterflies that her mother brings back from France. “I tell her a few things that I want—like soaps and piggy banks—and the rest is a surprise,” she smiles. How did Juliette end up here? “I like the mountains, wanted an area that wasn’t too populated; it’s close to Quebec and only seven hours from Paris!”
Real Estate in Littleton, NH
The average sales price of a single-family home in Littleton is around $160,765, says Kerri Dufour, vice president of Coldwell Banker Linwood Real Estate. “Styles include farmhouses, Victorians, Cape Cods, Colonials, and ranches,” she notes; more than 35 percent were built before 1940. For views, try Manns Hill Road; across the river, South Street (off Cottage Street) has lovely Victorians. A well-maintained three-bedroom New Englander on Cottage Street, with enclosed front and back porches, was listed at $149,900. A newer development on Rock Strain Drive offers nice gardens, pretty ranches, and Capes—a well-tended touch of suburbia surrounded by woods.
Getting Your Bearings
Since 1843, the historic Thayers Inn has welcomed presidents and travelers, including Ulysses S. Grant, Henry Ford, and Robert E. Peary, to the heart of downtown. 111 Main St. 800-634-8179; thayersinn.comSEE MORE: Littleton, New Hampshire | Photos