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Day Tripping: Savvy…and Secluded Sandwich

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - August 23, 2010





If you want to know how people lived in rural New Hampshire 100 years ago, take a drive to Sandwich. Discounting the cars and telephone poles, the area looks a lot like it did long ago — especially if you ride on the remote back roads in Sandwich and North Sandwich. The farmhouses are whitewashed and many have huge barns and fields that were once grazing land for cattle and fertile ground for vegetable gardens.

I didn’t drive to Sandwich to go back in time, but that’s sort of what it felt like when I arrived in the town on a summery Saturday in July. The weather was perfect — the sun was bright and seemed to make the leaves on the trees sparkle from the previous night’s rain. The temperature had dropped from its humid 90 degrees and a teasing little breeze was just cool enough to send a reminder that autumn is but a few months away. It’s the kind of day I love, with the temperature just cool enough so you don’t swelter and the sun bright enough to lift one’s spirits.

I had no particular reason to go to Sandwich, other than the fact I had not been there since last year’s Sandwich Fair in October. I have a fondness for the village because it’s the home of a lot of artists and craftspeople. I respect the bravery of these home industry-types who accept the fact that they most likely won’t get rich in dollars, but live on less so they can produce some beautiful works of art.

As I drove from Route 109 in Moultonboro, I looked to the right as I always do before Sandwich village. Two mammoth homes that are somewhat of a mystery have always intrigued me. I believe I read that one was the home of a doctor at one point, but both homes are mansion-like and lonely looking…and the best part for an over-active imagination like mine! Who once lived in those spacious rooms? What were their names and their passions and hatreds? Those two large properties are among my favorite things about going to Sandwich.

In the village, it was a busy Saturday afternoon. I pulled beside the road and decided to first visit the Sandwich Home Industries, a League of NH Craftsmen shop. Located in a charming little white Cape, the shop reminds me of the beginnings of the League, when the Sandwich Home Industries was started by the efforts of wealthy summer resident Mrs. J. Randolph Coolidge. She saw the talent of Sandwich men and women who were making hooked rugs, baskets and other objects. These craftspeople were not giving much thought to the value of the beautiful products (the crafts might have been a way to pass long, snowbound winter evenings in the country) they were producing. Mrs. Coolidge knew city folks would buy the handmade goods and she organized the local craftspeople. They opened a shop called the Sandwich Home Industries and the popularity of a shop with its handmade items caught on. Eventually the group grew into the League of NH Craftsmen and thrives to this day.

Under a tent outside the shop, Hethre Larivee was demonstrating glass flame working. Groups of young people were watching as the artist worked. It’s nice to see the shop showcases the work of its members and offers a chance for youngsters to learn about the specialized arts and crafts of talented New Hampshire people.

In the shop, it was art-heaven as usual! Pottery, weaving, photography, prints, jewelry, hooked rugs and a lot more items too numerous to list were for sale. I was charmed by the large blow up photos (black and white) of the old Sandwich Industries shop from the Coolidge era. I studied the photos and saw lots of beautiful handmade baskets and hooked rugs and wished I could be transported back in time to purchase some of that old-fashioned artistry! No matter; the things for sale in the shop in the present day are just as wonderful.

After leaving the shop, I drove up the Main Street area and followed a sign pointing to a bookshop, something I was unaware of from previous visits to the town. The shop is at 25 Grove Street tucked in a shingled part of a pretty little house. I followed a stone path to the door and entered a booklovers haven.

Hill Country Books is a true gem and just the thing to make my day complete. Peppered among the many, many antique and used books (all categorized I am happy to report!) were antiques and arts and crafts by Anne Made.

I listened as a group of young people talked with the shop owner and eventually purchased some books. They were remarking that the books they bought as gifts were ones they had not been able to find elsewhere. They were really thrilled at their finds and I was soon saying the same thing when I found a book I thought I would never find again among the shelves.

As a silent movie lover, I had long ago read A Cast of Killers by Sidney Kirkpatrick. It was a page-turner about the real life murder of a famous 1920s movie producer. I was amazed to see it among the books in the shop.

John Perkins, the owner of Hill Country Books, explained that he has been a book lover since he was a child. “I learned how to get first editions,” he says. “Today, I have a range of about 20,000 books in the shop. We have everything from science fiction paperbacks to rare books.”

He showed me a real treasure he has for sale, an autograph book that belonged to a woman named Florence Partridge in the World War I era. It is a gem, filled with drawings, signatures and passages from the soldiers and other people the woman encountered.

Perkins acquires books in all sorts of places, from local people who moved to Sandwich to retire and are now downsizing to other sources. His bookshop complements the schedule of his other job, that of school librarian. “We open July 4th and are open until Columbus Day weekend,” he adds.

After leaving the bookstore with the book I had long thought I’d never find again, I was on my way to the Sandwich Historical Society. I wanted to see the Society’s current exhibit (each summer sees a new themed exhibit). This year’s display is titled From the Vault: Treasures from the Collection, and as I soon saw, it truly is an exhibit of treasures!

Included among the papers on display are rare and interesting items such as a manuscript of an almanac worked out during local Daniel Beede’s study with famed teacher Dudley Leavitt in 1829. It was written with astronomical charts, farming and weather articles. It is fascinating, as are the old of homes and businesses in the town.

Other artifacts on display are many wooden items, tools and some baskets from the Sandwich Home Industries days of long ago. A huge dugout wooden canoe in the barn portion of the Historical Society was fascinating. It was found underwater in the summer of 1934 on Bearcamp Pond. The canoe was full of rocks, which meant it was deliberately sunk, probably to keep it safe until it was needed for water travel. It was assumed local Native Americans made the canoe until testing in more recent years dated it to the 1800s. It is now thought that early Sandwich settlers made the huge canoe. As I gazed at the worn wood of the structure, I thought what a link such objects are to our distant past and of the stories the canoe could tell of people from long ago.

A Society volunteer showed me around the museum. I soon saw that Sandwich is not only a rural, quiet town, but also a very sophisticated one.  As I browed through the Society’s charming little gift shop, the volunteer greeted a couple that explained they were historians from an Asian part of the world. She quickly switched from English to their language and was carrying on a spirited discussion with the couple when I left.

On Route 113, I was treated to some of the area’s most beautiful scenery. This is the heart of rural Sandwich, with farmhouses that are well over 100 years of age. It is marvelous that all looked well kept. Old-fashioned flowers filled gardens, also the work of long ago farm wives who wanted pretty flowers in their yards.

I stopped at the North Sandwich General Store and once again felt as if I had been sent back in time. The only people in the little store were two men playing a game of cards at a table in the back of the store. They smiled at me, but did not stop their game. The store clerk soon made an appearance and prepared a sandwich for me. “You can sit at the picnic tables in the little park across the street to enjoy your lunch,” she urged.

I am usually the grab-a-sandwich-and-eat-as-I-drive type, but I decided to take her up on her suggestion and I was soon settled in the sun at a picnic table watching the sedate world pass me by. No one, I noticed, seemed in a big hurry. I like that about the area, along with the scenery and the many creative types who call the Sandwich area their home. 

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