Fascinating, Lovely and Unique Littleton
By Kathi Caldwell-Hopper
Littleton is unique. There’s something different (in a good way) about the town. Is it the old buildings that cluster in the downtown area, seeming to crop up from nowhere in the mysterious mountains? Is it the artsy feeling that lends a creative vibe to many of the shops? Is it the variety of shopping, or the many little eateries, or simply the fact that you can find so much that would seem to belong in a larger city right in this town in the White Mountains that draws me to the area?
It is all those things – and more - that make Littleton, NH a great place to visit. I have been there a number of times; once because my daughter’s high school softball team played the Littleton high school team and my husband and I made the drive north from the Lakes Region. On that first visit, I was puzzled to see so much in a seemingly isolated area. We got off I-93, after traveling through the Cannon Mt/Old Man area and there we were, in downtown Littleton with its wonderful shops. In the outlying area of the downtown, there were some big box stores and that surprised me a bit too.
“There is so much here,” I probably observed to my family as we toured the town. I was curious enough to make another trip and then another and another. I have seen the area in summer and winter, but on my last trek, it was a wintery day and snow flurries seemed to be the order of the afternoon.
Although this is a winter issue, the things I did and saw are just as applicable to a nice summer or autumn day because many of the shops are open year round.
The day I visited, my daughter, Megan, and I were on a typical let’s-just-get-in-the-car-and-see-where-we-end-up type of day. We started with a pancake breakfast (with real maple syrup of course!) at Polly’s Pancake Parlor in on Rt. 117 in Sugar Hill (off I-93). It is among our favorite places for the old-timey décor and atmosphere with beautiful views and incredibly delicious foods.
After a filling feast, we decided to get back on I-93 north and head to Littleton. My daughter likes to poke around in trendy shops and I like arts and crafts, so it seemed likely we would find everything we hoped for in Littleton and we weren’t disappointed.
There is nothing like seeing the Old Man of the Mountains/Echo Lake/Cannon Mountain area and there probably never will be, in my opinion. You can get some good views of the mountains as you drive through the “Notch” area, but there are a number of places where you can get off the highway to explore the scenic sights.
Past the Notch, we drove on to Littleton and headed for the downtown Main Street. Parking is plentiful and we easily found a spot - quite close to Thayer’s Hotel, an historic, large business that has always intrigued me. As we locked the car, I told my daughter, “We’re going to explore that place before we head home today.” She gazed at the white columned inn and I saw her eyes light up with curiosity. She nodded, and said, “It does look kind of interesting.”
With no particular plan in mind, we ambled through a sporting goods store and into a bookstore with a wide variety of titles.
We browsed around and found ourselves at the League of NH Craftsmen - Littleton Fine Craft Gallery at 81 Main Street on the Lower Level, not far from the bookstore. A friendly staff member greeted us and we were soon immersed in all the things the shop offers, all handmade with high quality.
I love the League shops and the organization because it promotes the work of NH artisans and has high expectations that all work we well made. You won’t find anything in the shops that isn’t made to perfection, from pottery to woodwork to jewelry and much more.
Back on Main Street, we noticed there are a lot of fun shops featuring second-hand items and handmade goods. As a lover of colorful paintings, I just could not walk on by a very unique gallery/shop at 33 Main Street titled Sign of the Times Art Gallery. The owner/artist Mike Bouton was painting in the shop when we visited and he was eager to chat, telling us something of his background. He specializes in creating daring and robust depictions of inner city life. His highly interpretive works portray colorful, raw emotions from every inch of canvas. While most of his works characterize “life on the street”, they are not ‘copies’ of the action. Inspired by the style of well-known Mexican artist Diego Rivera, every one of Michael’s creations is an original-formed in the mind and heart of the artist.
The walls were filled with his amazing paintings, so colorful and alive they seem to beg the viewer to stop and take in all their action and hues. The gallery/shop is large and paintings fill every wall space. If you visit Littleton, take the time to stop at this gallery and chat with Mr. Bouton. Then browse the unique paintings, and maybe take home a work of art.
My all-time favorite antique/second-hand shop when in Littleton (it also ranks my top 10 shops anyplace) is Just L Modern Antiques at 35 Main Street. The shop’s “Oh my! I remember that from my childhood!” factor is huge and the day we visited the place was busy. I was amused to see Millennials oohing and ahhing over burnt-orange upholstered chairs and avocado green dinner plates like my Mom used in the 1970s. If you want a true walk down memory lane, this is the place to come.
One of the thrills of antiques shops for me is discovering something I have not seen before. Serendipitously, I had recently come across an old newspaper article on a fabulous mid-century painter named Omer Thomas Lassonde (1903 to 1980). He lived and had a painting studio in Penacook, NH and was one of the founders in the 1940s of the NH Art Association. I am a bit fascinated with Lassonde, and imagine my delight and surprise when, upon entering Just L Modern Antiques, there were some of Lassonde’s paintings for sale on a wall. To see some of the paintings of this masterful artist was certainly an unexpected treat. There were other wonderful pieces of artwork in the shop as well.
There always seems to be something new at the shop, and if you collect toys or kitchenware or furniture or lighting…or just about anything from the mid-century mod era or the years before or after, this is a great place to shop.
“We have to get candy before we leave!” Megan reminded me. It seemed a great time to take a break from shopping and stop in to Chutter’s at 43 Main Street. The shop boasts “the world’s longest candy counter” - because the row of candy jars full of oh so many candies just seems to run on and on forever. My daughter loves penny type candy and you can fill a bag with your choices at Chutter’s, as well as browsing through the large store for all sorts of gift items and fudge and more.
Of course, before we headed back to our car, we had to stop at the Littleton Public Library on Main Street to say hello to the large statue of Pollyanna, the Glad Girl. (The author of Pollyanna, Eleanor Hodgman Porter, grew up in Littleton.) It is said if you rub your hand over the Pollyanna statue’s little booted foot, you will have good luck. For us, it’s always fun to have our photos taken standing near the statue of the Glad Girl, with her big smile and arms open wide as if to embrace the world.
We decided to peek into the lobby of Thayer’s Inn at 111 Main Street just because I had always wanted to view the hotel’s interior. It is a large inn, with big columns on the front. Inside, it was a bit like stepping into a beautiful time tunnel. Everything was very well kept and it brought to mind a classy hotel of the early 1900s. The friendly hotel worker invited us to take a look around and we were intrigued with a hallway off the lobby with old photos of such politicians as Richard Nixon, who once campaigned in the area.
With a late afternoon appointment to keep elsewhere, we had to leave Littleton, but when we come back again, we plan to stop back in to Thayer’s Inn to learn more about the historic hotel (they also have a dining room on premises.)
There is a great deal to see and do in Littleton, and we only scratched the surface. In the future, we will return and mosey around down by the riverfront area, and make a stop at the wonderful Littleton Historical Museum on Union Street in the Town Building/Opera House to see their exhibits is also on our to-do list. Indeed, this town in the mountains is full of wonderful, entertaining surprises and well worth a visit no matter the time of year.