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Historical Autumn at the Clark House Museum Complex

The Laker - September 10, 2012

The Laker is a to-do newspaper. By that I mean we love to report to readers about all sorts of wonderful and fun places to visit. But if the place is about to close for the season, we generally are not reporting on that. After all, if you can’t visit the place, why write about it?

The answer to that question, when it comes to the Clark House Museum Complex operated by the Wolfeboro Historical Society, is because although their regular summer hours have ended, visitors can still call for a tour of the complex of fascinating buildings steeped in the area’s history.

I visited the Clark House Museum Complex located at 233 South Main Street in Wolfeboro, on Saturday, September 1, for their last day of their regular summer hours. Fall is soon to be upon us, and there is less traffic in the autumn months, so it makes sense to close.

Tours can still be scheduled and there are informative programs offered in the upcoming weeks.

For those who have never seen the complex, it is well worth a call for a fall tour. When I stopped by, the Wolfeboro Historical Society’s president greeted me from the doorway of the Monitor Engine Company Firehouse Museum, which is part of the complex. I could not help but notice he was dressed as a person would have been many years ago.

“We dress in period clothing at the museum,” John told me. “The clothing is representative of the Colonial time period.”

Jim was eager to talk about the shiny, well-kept fire apparatus that is housed in the building. “This fire museum is a replica of the South Wolfeboro Fire House. Kingswood High School students built it in 1981. Don Hallock directed the project and helped restore the old equipment you see here today.”

He went on to add that the equipment was stored in the old Factory Street Firehouse in Wolfeboro before being put on display at the museum. The collection includes some gems from the past. Visitors will be dazzled by all the shiny red paint and glistening brass. Included in the Society’s collection are Carroll Engine Co. apparatus used at Pickering Corner, a two-man hose tender and the showcase piece, an 1875 Amoskeag Steamer.

The hose tenders date from the 1800s; one was horse drawn and the other had to be pulled by firemen. It’s a sobering thought to wonder how the firemen of days gone by managed to put out fires with such equipment.

Next Jim directed me to the 1787 Clark House, located a short walk across the grass. The home was a typical Revolutionary farmhouse, with furniture from the period. Tour guide Cheryll Ross was dressed as a housewife of the 1700s would have been, including ruffled cap, long dress and apron.

Cheryll is an elementary school teacher and history buff. Dressing in period clothing and talking about how folks lived in the past is a passion for her and it shows in her presentation at the Clark House.

When I visited, Cheryll was busy doing a hands-on demonstration for two children and their grandfather. It was difficult to know who was more excited about making butter, the grandfather or the children! Laughter rang out in the huge, old-fashioned kitchen and it brought me back to what life would have been like decades ago when families were large and children helped with household and farm chores.

The back door of the kitchen stood open, welcoming guests into the home. The huge fireplace lured me, the table in the middle of the room full of cooking apparatus and the old Flintlock rifles over the fireplace. The children were finishing up on their project of churning butter. Cheryll was explaining about washing the butter for ultimate taste. (She also shared information that the more windows in a home, the higher the taxes would be. The Clark House must have been a well-to-do household because I counted many windows!)

The tour of the downstairs Clark House rooms included the borning room where the woman of the house gave birth to her children. Displayed in glass fronted shelves on two walls were a large collection of old pewter; I was told it is among the best in the country.

In the dining room, a large round table was set as it would have been for an elegant dinner party. On one wall I spied three etching of Wentworths. (The Wentworth family was very important to Wolfeboro and NH, with male members of the family serving as governors before and around the time of the American Revolution.)

The bedroom has a canopied bed and on display, a beautiful crazy quilt, a very old white lace gown (a wedding gown?) and other antique textiles.

I loved the parlor that was furnished as it would be for an active family many years ago. Every person living in the house seemed to be represented with some memorabilia. Antique dolls were placed around the room, ready for the little girls of the family to play with, and wooden pull toys on the floor looked as if a small boy from the 1700s or 1800s had just walked away from play to answer the call of a father who needed help with farm chores. There was also a fascinating old puppet theatre on display.

The parlor also has a large restored piano and portraits hanging on the wall above it of George and Martha Washington. The portraits were very life like, painted on glass and attractively framed.

The Pleasant Valley School sits but a few steps from the Clark House and the door to the building also was open, welcoming visitors. As I stepped inside, I saw a very old bicycle and a tiny photo on the wall above the bike. The photo showed a woman standing beside a bicycle and I realized it was the same bike as the one on display. I was told the woman was Maude Cate, who taught school in Wolfeboro. She looked very stern; she was known to ride the bike around town and traffic always stopped to let her pass!

In the large and airy one-room schoolhouse, I got a look at how children learned their A, B, Cs and mathematics in the 1700s and 1800s. Each desk had an inkstand and small primer book. The Pleasant Valley School was built around 1805, and has original desks and classroom supplies. I loved the huge dollhouse on display in the schoolhouse, a scale model of the mansion of John Wentworth, the last Royal Governor in NH. The dollhouse is very large, giving an idea of what Wentworth’s summer “cottage” in Wolfeboro was like. (The house burned many years ago and by accessing known information, the Society members created a dollhouse to show what the elegant home probably looked like.)

Those who want a detailed look at how people lived long ago should plan a visit to the Clark House Museum Complex this fall. I can’t imagine a greater place to visit on a sunny autumn day. With the foliage bursting forth and a private tour of the complex, what better way to spend an Indian summer day?

There are events planned at the Wolfeboro Historical Society this fall, including a concert by Don Watson, performing original NH songs with guitar. Watson is also a storyteller and his stories of NH are wonderful. More events are being planned; call Barbara at 569-6491 for the schedule.

To schedule a fall tour of the Clark House Museum Complex in Wolfeboro, call 569-1683 and ask for Jim Rogers. 

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