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The Never-Quite-Predictable Clark House Museum

The Laker - July 16, 2017





Story & photos by Barbara Neville Wilson

(Photo): The restored Amoskeag Steamer is a highlight in the Firehouse at the Clark House Museum Complex

At first glance, the quaint white cape, white schoolhouse, white barn and white firehouse surrounded by the white picket fence at Wolfeboro’s Clark House Museum Complex look like something out an issue of Yankee Magazine in the 1950s or—true story—The Granite Monthly in October 1920. But walk through that white picket gate, and you’ll find collections that tie past with present uniquely.

Take July 15th’s beer pairing event. Really. When’s the last time you had the chance to go to a museum to taste beer? Glenn Knoblock, author of Brewing in NH: An informal History of Beer From the Colonial Times to the Present shared his research about beer in New Hampshire, and Wolfeboro’s Lone Wolfe and Burnt Timber micro-breweries provided samples for adults in the audience.

Did the event make Greenleaf Clark, who gave the Clark House and its grounds to Wolfeboro, turn in his grave? Hardly. The event tied in well with the past life of the House. It was built in 1778 and run as a tavern by the Widow Evans as “late” as 200 years ago. Many a beer was hoisted on its grounds. And besides, Greenleaf fancied himself progressive.

After Greenleaf’s grandfather Joseph bought the house in 1817, it became the centerpiece of a 100-acre lakeside farm owned by the family for three generations. One hundred years later, grandson Greenleaf gave it to the town “to be preserved as a relic of olden time” with a plot of land to be used “as a public park or garden.” Greenleaf was also instrumental in the forming of the historical society that oversees the museum.

On a recent quiet summer afternoon, I stopped by the Clark House, planning to complete a quick interview with docent Mark Lush and take a tour through dusty collections before filling my afternoon with more contemporary activities. How wrong I was!

I was greeted at the broad doorway of the Firehouse by a colonial-garbed Jim Rogers, recent past-president of the Wolfeboro Historical Society, and a Tshirt-wearing Mark Lush, the Society’s only paid staff member in summer, and longtime history teacher at Kingswood Regional High School the other nine months of the year. The two make a great tag team: Jim, the descendant of one of Wolfeboro’s seven founding families steeped in history and anecdote, and Mark, the “newcomer” of several decades, and an academic fairly fresh to the local history scene.

Since my own arrival in the area some 30 years ago, the Museum Complex has grown from the Clark family home and the Pleasant Valley schoolhouse to include the firehouse filled with colorful fire wagons, equipment and memorabilia, and more recently an antique barn. When finished, it will offer an additional 3000 square feet of exhibition and program space. This has been Jim’s special project in his tenure as president, and it is nearly complete.

Our conversation is soon interrupted by the arrival of a “real customer,” as Mark says.  A sunglasses-wearing woman and teenage boy approach. “Hello,” she says, “I called earlier?” Lauren Eveland of Middleton Road has called Winnipesaukee her summer home since childhood and has recently taken possession of a barn, “well, now it’s a house,” that, she has been told, once belonged to the Sheas of Shea Stadium. And Mr. Shea and his friend Joe Kennedy used to go antiquing together to furnish his property.

“Oh, yes. Yes,” says Mark, “I checked our records on that, but we don’t have much.” Lauren looks disappointed. “But,” Mark continues, “I’ve passed the information on to our history guy and he will research it and get back to you.”

The Society’s historical sleuth is Gene Danu, a research fanatic who has stepped into the very big shoes of Harrison Moore who performed the same service for years. Gene is not particularly enamored of limelight opportunities, says Mark, but he loves to dig in and find out facts. Lauren’s face registers surprise at the full service offered her, and expresses thanks as she leaves.

Mark and I settle on to a bench on the park land donated by Greenleaf. It’s busy every Thursday in summer when the Wolfeboro Area Farmer’s Market sets up shop, but today it’s quiet. Just as we start to look official and do an interview, a convertible swings in and out steps Don Hargy, a transplant who arrived to Wolfeboro in retirement. He pulls out his wallet and hands Mark some bills. “I told people there was no charge, but if they’d like to make a donation to the Wolfeboro Historical Society, we’d appreciate it.”

“And all that came from your sign?” asks Mark, referring to a sign Don carried in the July 4th parade, inviting people to meet him for a walking tour of downtown when the parade was through. It brought his biggest group yet, and a few donation dollars to the Society.

The two explain that Don runs these walking tours four times a summer. He asks guests to return in time with him to the year 1872, just after the Boston & Maine Railroad spur from Sanbornville was completed to Wolfeboro. Together, they walk the few blocks of downtown, seeking their best choice of lodging among the large hotels then thriving: the Sheridan, where the Wolfeboro Marketplace is now, the Belvue, at today’s Cate Park; the Glendon House across the street where the US Post Office has laid claim since the 1930s; the Pavilion where Brewster Field is now; and the Glen House on the corner of Main and Center Streets. Don tells me tours will run again July 29, August 12 and August 26 at 10 am, then quickly gets to brass tacks with Mark. Can he take advantage of the deal offered with Historical Society membership? Double the membership fee of $50 to $100 and get a copy of Q. David Bowers’ three-volume The History of Wolfeboro, NH—1770-1994 for free?  Mark walks him into the gift shop, and I wander the grounds beautifully kept by the Wolfeboro Garden Club.

I meet Georgia Mosher busily weeding and watering the memorial herb garden. She’s in the last few days of her two-week stint of volunteering and in a quandary: to cut back or to not cut back some of the more prolific plants? Perhaps to let the next volunteer decide? She’s joined Susann Stadtfeld’s group caring for this historically-influenced plot. She points to the thriving, well-coiffed rose garden across the yard. It’s cultivated by another group from the Wolfeboro Garden Club. She chose the herbs, though, because, “I like herbs, and I particularly liked Pat Booth” in whose honor the plot was planted.

Along with the building and land, the Historical Society inherited substantial collections of Clark family documents. Mark takes me into the archives and shows me some of the files his Advanced Placement students began organizing this past spring. A quick scan reveals Greenleaf as a man of strategy, perhaps giving his gifts to achieve desired ends.

A Boston Post headline from September 1924 proclaims Greenleaf Clark’s “First Free Dance Hall in New England A Huge Success” and quotes him saying he built the $2000 outdoor dance hall, and hired its live bands from the city on Saturday nights and used a “high-priced radio amplifier” on weekdays because he believed “dancing is one of the best means of keeping the youth of today out of trouble” and to “put Wolfeboro on the map.” This was at a time when many civic institutions questioned the morality of the close physical proximity of the sexes when engaged in dances like the Charleston. Mark and I laugh aloud as we wonder about the effect the final paragraph had on townspeople reading it, “Free parking space makes it possible for couples to sit in their cars within earshot of the music. There is no ban on spooning.”

I suspect Greenleaf would have been pleased when the final visitor of the day is a father of the bride. He asks permission to use the grounds and buildings as backdrop later in the summer. Of course the Society will say, “yes.” It’s a lovely location, and if there is no ban on spooning, formal wedding photos will be just fine.

The Clark House Museum Complex is located directly across from Huggins Hospital on South Main Street in Wolfeboro. It is open Wednesday-Friday, 10 am – 4 pm and Saturday, 10 am – 2 pm. Upcoming events include “Abolitionists of Noyes Academy” with Dan Billin August 8, “Old Camps on Wentworth & Winnipesaukee” with Kathy Eaton September 11, and “Wolfeboro’s First Settlers” with Jim Rogers October 2. http://www.wolfeborohistoricalsociety.org/

 

 

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