The Libby Museum is a Natural History Treat!
By Sarah Wright
If you’ve never visited The Libby Museum of Natural History in Wolfeboro, you’re missing out on a treasure trove of local history. The first time I went there, I was amazed at how many interesting artifacts and animal specimens were packed into a fairly small space. I’ve been back multiple times since, and I notice something new each time.
The taxidermy specimens on display are beautiful, and give the viewer a rare, up-close look at some of our local species. Then there are the Native American artifacts, like arrowheads, and even a dug-out canoe. There are plenty of other artifacts from museum founder Dr. Henry Forrest Libby’s life as well, including his dentistry tools and other popular household items from the late 1800s and early 1900s, like combs, hairpins, and pottery. I found the old money to be especially interesting, since we once had different currency for the Confederacy, back before the Civil War.
From time to time, more artifacts are added to the unique collection, like an old photo album that was found in the attic of Dr. Libby’s former home across the street from the museum. For art lovers, there is a changing art display that currently features nature photographs by Jane Kelley, entitled “Wings & Things: Nature of New Hampshire.”
My kids have always liked the activity table where they could look at rocks and gems with a magnifying glass, or dig for shells in the sand and match them to the pictures. They also have a scavenger hunt for kids, and if they locate everything on the list, they can earn a small prize.
In the woods next to the museum, enjoy some real natural history and take a stroll on the Libby Woods Walk. This was the dream of former Executive Director Lauren Hammond, and after cutting some branches and receiving wood chips from the town, it opened a few years ago. It’s a short loop through the woods, and even toddlers can manage it. It’s also an interpretive trail, so everyone can learn about and identify the native plants and trees that Dr. Libby originally planted there years ago. There’s an area of the woods with a ramp that leads to an old barn’s foundation, and the museum sometimes uses the spot for painters or children’s story time. Dr. Libby’s old hunting lodge is also visible from the trail, although the building is now used for apartments.
The story of Dr. Libby is fascinating. I’m sure many people know that he attended Brewster Academy, but did you know that he married his Latin teacher? To make money, they moved to Boston, where Dr. Libby became a dentist, first learning as an apprentice and then later getting his degree from Harvard. He was also an inventor of sorts, devising a method of filling teeth with gold and then discovering that he could burn gypsum in a kiln to make plaster of Paris (which can still be seen at the museum.)
Dr. Libby and his wife, Hattie, continued to summer in Wolfeboro, eventually moving his house across the ice to where it stands now, across the street from the museum. At the time, he owned much of the coast line as well as Rattlesnake Island.
Dr. Libby had always been interested in science and nature. He started making little nature boxes of his collections in order to study them more closely, and then moved on to skeletons and taxidermy. (Most of the animals on display at The Libby Museum are from his original collection.) News of his hobby spread, and soon the townspeople were bringing Dr. Libby new artifacts, animals, plants, or bugs to add to his collection. After a while, he decided he no longer had enough room to house the items, so in 1912, he set about building a public museum to display them. He supposedly used wood from trees on Rattlesnake Island to construct the museum.
The museum was an instant hit as everyone wanted to take a look inside. Dr. Libby’s father liked to sit out front to greet visitors as they filed in. One particular story that I learned from Alana Albee, current Executive Director of the museum, was the sensation caused by the “Wolfeboro Cootie.” During World War I, a woman in Wolfeboro received a letter from her son who was on the battlefield. A little lice-like bug was in the envelope with the letter. The woman brought the bug to Dr. Libby to display at the museum, and it’s still there today! At the time, it served as a connection to the war, no matter how small. People wanted to see it.
Over the years, The Libby Museum has expanded its offerings to include numerous events and programs. Summer day camps for kids are very popular, with the Young Explorers science program for ages 5 to 7, open now for registration. Every Wednesday at 2 pm throughout the summer, all ages can enjoy the free Wildlife Adventures show, where visitors get up close to live animals and learn fascinating facts about them. “Mrs. Libby” might even be there to walk you around the museum and answer questions about the exhibits.
New this year are Art Classes. Learn from artist Stephanie Blackstock Ayers and choose from Wildlife Sketching on Saturday, July 27 from 10 am to 12:30 pm or Landscape Painting with oil and palette on Saturday, August 10 from 10 am to 2:30 pm. Sign up in advance at www.thelibbymuseum.org or by calling 603-569-1035.
You can also buy passes at The Libby Museum for the Museum Loop tour. Take an antique boat ride on Lake Winnipesaukee from the Wolfeboro town docks to The Libby, and then hop on Molly the Trolley to visit the NH Boat Museum, the Wright Museum, and the Clark House complex. Call 603-569-4554 for more information.
The museum’s latest undertaking is a Restoration Project and Expansion. This is very exciting news for a museum that opened over 100 years ago. Architects began planning the project on June 1, and details will be ready by this September.
The Libby Museum is located at 755 North Main Street, and is currently open from 10 am to 4 pm on Tuesday through Saturday, and from noon to 4 pm on Sundays. From Labor Day to Columbus Day, the museum will limit its hours to Saturday and Sunday only, before closing for the season.