Area Museums: Much More Than Glass Display Cases
By Mark Okrant
At the beginning of this decade, there were people in the U.S. tourism industry who felt the term “museum” was passé, an obstacle rather than an enticement to visitation. One thing is certain, culture and heritage-related activities are immensely popular in this country right now, as more than three-quarters of all travelers participate in them. For their part, American museums host nearly 850 million person-visits each year, a total that would make the most successful major league sports franchise envious.
New Hampshire is not without its share of excellent museums and, in 2014, seventeen of these properties formed the New Hampshire Heritage Museum Trail. Their cooperative purpose was to share resources and to better promote programs, collections, and events. The result was an excess of 200,000 annual visitors during 2018.
What follows is a brief examination of four of these outstanding institutions, each of which contributes to entertainment, education, and the place-ness of their communities. Three are situated in Wolfeboro: the Wright Museum of World War II, the New Hampshire Boat Museum, and the Libby Museum. We also will visit the Museum of the White Mountains in Plymouth.
Given that the directors of these institutions have elected to call themselves museums, one might expect a significant amount of commonality in their makeup. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Wright Museum of World War II was founded in 1994, for the purpose of making future generations aware of the sacrifices and contributions by countless Americans during the Second World War. The museum offers two large galleries: one devoted to the military theater and a second that presents the way lives were lived here in the states. The clever design of the museum simultaneously satisfies those with an interest in the strategy, technology, and regalia of the battleground, while others can experience the film, fashion, culture, and innovations that evolved on the home front. The Wright Museum offers a wealth of special artifacts and dioramas, highlighted by three different types of tanks and a 1939 to 1945 time tunnel that depicts changes occurring at home. It is the attention to detail about the home front that truly sets this museum apart. While older visitors will revel in the photographs and artifacts provided by the curators, the museum is certainly relevant to every generation and both genders.
Attendance at the Wright Museum has been growing steadily during the past five years, reaching 18,911 during 2018. In addition to its excellent permanent display, this museum has become increasingly interactive—with three touch screens and four sound stick displays. During the 2019 visitor season, the Wright will offer three exhibitions, a symposium, and 20 Tuesday evening lectures.
From May 1 through July 7, 2019, the museum will host the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History traveling exhibition called, Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and World War II. Next, from July 14 to September, 2019, there will be an exhibition examining one of American’s most influential magazines in an exhibit called, Esquire Magazine, The WWII Years.
Finally, from September 15 to October 31, 2019, a third exhibition called The Last Good War: Faces and Voices of World War II will be offered. On July 23, there will be a Symposium on D-Day, in Honor of the 75th Anniversary of Operation Overlord, featuring National Best Selling Authors Patrick O’Donnell and Alex Kershaw.
This season’s Tuesday Evening Lecture Series will address a variety of topics, with a number of authors making presentations that range from the Holocaust, to Japanese Internment, to Patton, to actress Donna Reed. Specific dates and times will be available on the museum’s website, www.wrightmuseum.org.
The Wright Museum is situated at 77 Center Street in Wolfeboro, and is open annually from May 1 through October 31. Museum hours are 10 am to 4pm (Monday to Saturday) and noon to 4 pm (Sunday). Admission is free for members and children 0-4; $6 for children 5-17; $10 for adults; and $8 for military and seniors. Call 603-569-1212.
The New Hampshire Boat Museum (NHBM) was founded in 1992, with the mission to inspire an understanding and appreciation for the boating heritage of the fresh waterways (lakes and rivers) of New Hampshire. One cannot possibly overstate the significance of this slice of the state’s culture.
This museum is widely recognized for boat rides on the Millie B, a replica 1928 Hacker Craft wooden boat named for longtime area resident, tourism director, and state legislator, Mildred Beach. The NHBM offers an exquisite collection of wooden watercraft, highlighted by the zip boat, a middle class powerboat built by the Laconia Car Company, circa 1900.
Just because this excellent institution calls itself a museum, one should not form preconceptions about a stagnant experience. If ever a museum has the right to call itself “experiential,” this is it. During a visit to the NHBM, one will be immersed in the lengthy history of this region’s water-based culture.
The Boat Museum is truly a terrific place for families, as numerous hands-on educational opportunities await boating enthusiasts of all ages. Complementing their excellent collection of vintage powerboats, an army of volunteers offers boatbuilding programs for youths, adults, and families. There is a two-week program that teaches participants to build, and then operate, a powerboat. For those adults and children who prefer sail to power, the museum offers a program in conjunction with the Town of Wolfeboro, titled Under Wind Power. This program teaches participants the intricacies involved with navigation while under sail.
During the 2019 season, the museum’s theme is Racing on the Waterways of New Hampshire, highlighted by a vintage race boat regatta during September 12 to14, hosted by the museum. Other programs for families with kids include Back Bay Skippers, a model yacht building and navigation program, and numerous interactive games designed to prepare young people to be responsible boaters. These include, but are not limited to, navigation sign interpretation and the rules of boating.
The Boat Museum is located at 399 Center Street in Wolfeboro. NHBM is in the midst of a capital campaign for its nearby Bay Street property. Once completed, the new facility will substantially enlarge the organization’s boat restoration space.
AttendaMarnce at the New Hampshire Boat Museum reached 10,000 during 2018. The New Hampshire Boat Museum’s normal visitor season is from Memorial Day through Columbus Day. During the 2019 season, construction projects will push the opening back to late June. The public is encouraged to select from a choice of membership levels. Admission for members, active military, and non-members aged 13 and under is free, $7 for both senior citizens and students 14 to 17, $9 for adults 22 to 64. The fee for tour group participants is $5. For more information, call 603-569-1212.
Dr. Henry Libby founded the Libby Museum in 1912, with the goal of educating visitors about the natural world. Entering this eclectic jewel, patrons will encounter a12-foot tall moose, a polar bear, a huge alligator, a mummy’s hand, and a human skeleton. However, these are a small sample of the treasures this museum offers. The Libby provides opportunities to view a range of colonial pieces, as well as artifacts from China, the Middle East, and other corners of the world.
As the Libby is more than one century old, one may mistakenly believe that it offers little beside fixed displays in glass boxes. In fact, the Libby provides an opportunity—rare among similar institutions—to handle the merchandise, including fur, feathers, and hides. Furthermore, subsequent directors have continued the founder’s directive to allow visitors to experience regional flora and fauna, by taking advantage of the property’s beautiful surroundings and vistas.
While the museum serves the interests of patrons of all ages, children will find its nature programs and nature trails particularly inviting. Nature programs for 5 to 7 year olds and 11 to 14 year olds are available, and the Libby is a favorite stop for third grade school groups. For adults, there are wonderful art programs on Saturdays, with opportunities to sketch animals in the Libby’s collection, as well as a wide range of area vistas.
Annual visitation is approximately 3,000. However, there is much new activity planned for the 2019 season, including intended renovations to the property. A number of rotating art exhibitions, including the works of two artists—a nature photographer and a water color painter—will be provided during a busy schedule that is being developed. For the second year, the Libby will be participating in the Museum Loop. On Thursdays and Friday mornings, people can travel by antique boat from downtown Wolfeboro to the Libby, then subsequently by trolley to the Clark House, New Hampshire Boat Museum, and Wright Museum.
The Libby Museum is open from June 1 through Columbus Day. Admission is $5 for adults; children under 16 and military veterans are admitted free of charge. For more information, call 603-569-1035.
The fourth institution featured is the Museum of the White Mountains (MWM). Situated 30 to 60 minutes from most locales in the Lakes Region, the museum was founded on the campus of Plymouth State University, in 2013. The MWM is a collaborative design, open concept facility that provides opportunities to learn about the history, arts and culture, environmental, and tourism legacies characteristic of this 3,440 square mile area of New Hampshire. Unlike the other museums in this story, the MWM has no permanent exhibits. Rather, visitors have an opportunity to view archival and digital learning resources in the form of individual and collaborative works by faculty, students, as well as contributions by local residents and others who share a passion for this idyllic region.
Special exhibitions during 2019 will include: “19th Century Tourism in the White Mountains,” “Taking the Lead: Women in the White Mountains,” as well as an excellent display of historical photographs.
The Museum of the White Mountains serves 10,000 visitors per year, 3,800 of these during the summer months. It is situated at 34 Highland Street in Plymouth. The museum is open year round, as long as Plymouth State University is in session. Museum hours are 10 am to 5 pm, Mondays through Fridays, and 11 am to 4 pm on Saturdays; the museum is closed on Sundays. Admission is free. For more information, call 603-535-2646 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Okrant joins The Laker after two years as a columnist for InDepthNH.org. He is emeritus professor of Tourism Management at Plymouth State University, and he coordinated tourism research for the State of New Hampshire or 26 years and received the 2016 Dick Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as special commendations from two former NH governors. Mark is the author of the popular Kary Turnell Mystery Series, set in NH tourism locales.