Thursday, November 4, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 82: Concord, New Hampshire

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 82:  Concord, New Hampshire
September 21, 2010

            Although it is one of the smallest capitals people-wise in the United States, Concord has an amazing amount of history.  A beautiful city at the end of a beautiful drive down from Central New Hampshire, Concord gives you a chance to be in a city, a state capital none the less, but also retain the feel of a family friendly town.
            It was originally inhabited by the Abenaki tribe of Native Americans and later became known as Rumford upon being settled by colonists between 1725 and 1727.  The name Concord came about in 1765 after a border dispute between Rumford and its neighboring Bow.  The name Concord means harmony and thus the name was meant to reflect the new harmony, or concord between the two towns.
New Hampshire State House
So much of the modern history of Concord has to do with the United States government.  It is easy to get lost in the wonder of the history of Concord as soon as you step foot in front of the State House on North Main Street.  With its golden dome and well kept green lawn heading toward its granite steps the New Hampshire State House is as beautiful as it is historical. 
The State House is the oldest state capitol in the country where the legislators still meet in the original chambers.  The first sessions of the General Court took place here in 1819.  After parking on North Main Street I entered the grounds of the State House through a magnificent granite archway that made me truly feel as though as I passing from the present to the past.  It was an awe-inspiring time to get to stand so close to a spot with such a significant meaning to it.  It has always been known as the ‘people’s house’ and therefore there are no gates around the ground, which also means there is no excuse not to take some time to pay the State House a visit.
Concord also offered me my first opportunity to visit the resting place of a former United States President.  Born in 1804 in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, a small town thirty-six miles south of Concord, Franklin Pierce is as of today the only President born in New Hampshire.  Pierce was the 14th President of the United States, serving from 1853 to 1857.  He also fought as a brigadier general in the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848.  He was seen as very personable and therefore made a great deal of friends, however his record as president was less than stellar and is widely forgotten.
The grave of Franklin Pierce.
I first paid a visit to Pierce’s final resting place at the Old North Cemetery on North State Street.  The grave itself is in a small enclosure surrounded by an iron fence.  I was honored to be standing before the grave of a former U.S. President, no matter what his political achievements may have been.  However, I was also amazed at what little fanfare there was to this simple plot.  If I had not gone there specifically to look for Franklin Pierce’s grave I might have passed right by it.  The unspectacular headstone seemed to be fitting of what I have read about Pierce’s life and accomplishments.
The connection to Franklin Pierce continued at the Pierce Manse on Horseshoe Pond Lane.  The term ‘manse’ means ‘a house lived it by its owner,’ it was bestowed upon the house in 1969 as a nod to Pierce’s longtime friend, author Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Hawthorne’s Salem, Massachusetts home was known as ‘The Old Manse.’
The Franklin Pierce Manse
Much like his grave the only place in New Hampshire ever lived in by Franklin Pierce and his family is very unassuming.  I had expected a gigantic mansion but the Manse is much more modest for a President.  Sticking with that theme the Manse was actually saved from being demolished in 1971 by a group called the ‘Pierce Brigade.’  Imagine that?  A home lived in by a former President actually was going to be demolished?  I guess as someone who loves and respects history I find that almost unimaginable.  The home was moved from its original location on Montgomery Street to its current location in 1971 once the land it sits on was acquired.  It is open by appointment year round.         
After leaving the life of Franklin Pierce behind I found a beautiful park which held another smaller, probably less significant piece of history.  White Park, located on White Street is a great place for families to gather for picnics and other outdoor activities but it is the pristine baseball field with unbelievable brick dugouts that caught my eye.
Site of the Sunset Beaseball League at White Park.
I did not know it beforehand but the baseball field, now known as Red Eastman Field, was much more than meets the eye.  It turns out that this field was and still is the home of the Sunset League.  The Sunset League is the country’s oldest evening amateur baseball league formed in 1909.  The original teams’ names were the White Parks, Old Timers, Haymakers, and Sluggers.  This field was a training ground for some future Major Leaguers including Red Rolfe who collected nearly 1,400 hits during ten seasons with the New York Yankees from 1931-42.  After finding this information out I had to stop and really take in the beauty of the field, imagining what it was like when the ‘after supper’ games first began over a hundred years ago.
Finally on my trip to Concord I stopped at the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium.  This was a spot I really wanted to see because of the connection the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion has to my childhood.  I remembered learning about the citizen astronauts, especially Mrs. McAuliffe who was a teacher, when I was in second grade in 1986.  We watched the launch live and saw the unbelievable tragedy as it unfolded.
McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center
Seeing this beautiful dedication to Mrs. McAuliffe and to a lesser extent the Challenger crew was a sort of cathartic experience for me.  I really liked the model Mercury-Redstone rocket ship just outside of the building; it stands ninety-two feet tall and was like something out of the 1960’s.  Even if you are not familiar with the Challenger events this planetarium is a must see for science and space lovers.  I really think that if you are not a fan of either you will be by the time you leave.   
Concord, New Hampshire is a state capitol with a small town feel.  It is every bit as historic and filled with everything a city has to offer but it is much less imposing than larger capital cities might be.  Take the time to tour the State House, even just the grounds.  Visit the grave and home of a former president, check out a beautiful historic baseball field, and definitely pay homage to Astronaut Christa McAuliffe at the planetarium named in her honor.  Have fun and happy traveling!

My first book, In My Footsteps: A Cape Cod Travel Guide, is now available at,, and, soon to be in stores everywhere!  Follow me on Twitter!

DirectionsNew Hampshire State House:  From I-93 headed north take Exit 15W for Rt. 202.  Merge onto Rt. 202, turn left after a half mile to stay on Rt. 202, State House is half mile away on right.
            Franklin Pierce Manse:  From I-93 headed north take Exit 15W for Rt. 202.  Turn right at N. Main St., Pierce Manse will be straight ahead at end of the road.
            Christa McAuliffe Planetarium:  From I-93 headed north take Exit 15E for I-393.  Take Exit 1, turn left at Ft. Eddy Rd.  Continue onto College Dr., turn right at Institute Drive.

References:  Pierce
                McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center
            Concord, NH - Official Site
            New Hampshire Historical Society

No comments: