×

Canterbury town history book brought community together

  • Jill McCullough of North Family Farm in Canterbury flips through the pages of "Staying Small in a Century of Growth: Canterbury, New Hampshire 1900-2000" during the Canterbury Farmers Market on Wednesday, June 21, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Jill McCullough (right) and her husband Tim Meeh of North Family Farm in Canterbury flip through the pages of “Staying Small in a Century of Growth: Canterbury, New Hampshire 1900-2000” during the Canterbury Farmers Market on Wednesday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Jill McCullough of North Family Farm in Canterbury flips through the pages of "Staying Small in a Century of Growth: Canterbury, New Hampshire 1900-2000" during the Canterbury Farmers Market on Wednesday, June 21, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Jill McCullough of North Family Farm in Canterbury flips through the pages of “Staying Small in a Century of Growth: Canterbury, New Hampshire 1900-2000” during the Canterbury Farmers Market on Wednesday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Sunday, June 25, 2017

Start with the Canterbury Country Store, nearly 200 years old, and the bell attached to its front door. Start with the “ding-ding” heard each time you go in.

Then see the 19th century post office in the corner, then, deeper in, the locally made bread and cheese and maple syrup and quilts and jelly and honey.

Outside, in the big parking lot near the church, library, gazebo and 19th century one-room schoolhouse, the weekly farmers market adds to the narrative. The one about small-town values, preserving the past, keeping it fresh and vital while the outside world spins fast, sometimes out of control.

It’s captured in a new book about the town, its flavor, its culture, its history in the 20th century. The title says it all: Staying Small in a Century of Growth.

“Ding-ding.”

“Fabulous,” said longtime Canterbury resident Rob Scarponi, when asked to describe the writing process. “It brought so many people together for a purpose we could all believe in, because Canterbury is so special.

Special?

“Everyone in their own town says theirs is special, Scarponi continued, “but there’s a sense here, almost a spiritual feeling, perhaps coming from the Shakers and that genre, but it seems to filter through the town.”

Crazy as it sounds, Scarponi, 75, is not the author; that distinction goes to Kathryn Grover, a writer and historian who lives in Vermont.

Instead, Scarponi is the electric impulse that created a buzz in town. He’s worked in real estate, customer service and medical services for the state. He moved to town in 1971 and dropped off mainstream’s path, choosing to live in a tent with his family while building his house. His wife, a silversmith, supported the family for a time, selling her artwork.

Now retired, Scarponi is the president of the Canterbury Historical Society. He hatched his plan four years ago, looking to tie a bow around the town’s 20th century history.

That’s why this story is so cool. Not because of the finished product. Yeah, it’s amazing, a hardcovered, 600-page giant filled with photos and stories about a farming community that never lost its identity.

But look beyond the book. Look at the four-year process involved.

Look at the meeting held to gauge interest in such a massive project, which drew 40 residents. Look at the work needed to frame a budget, create a Town History Book Committee and a Town History Finance Committee, appoint people, 24 of them, to conduct interviews and do research, hold a seminar to polish their interviewing skills, transcribe all those recordings, ask the town to appropriate $5,000 at the 2014 Town Meeting, $10,000 at the 2015 meeting, and fund raise, fund raise, fund raise, to the tune of $87,000.

“I’ve tended to be on my own, which is usually fine with me,” Grover told me via email. “But in Canterbury a collaborative process was indicated both by the willingness and capabilities of book committee members and by the way the Canterbury people in general seem to like to do things.”

Here’s an example: Officials in 1956 were unable to secure a loan to upgrade the town’s one-room schoolhouse. No problem. Town residents, 141 in all, built a new school, prompting President Dwight D. Eisenhower to write a letter in 1957:

“The splendid story of the Canterbury Elementary School has been brought to my attention. It is encouraging to learn of this demonstration of community spirit.”

The old school was transformed into a museum, then back into a one-room schoolhouse, site of an annual field trip where students learn about a specific time period from retired teachers eager to keep old snapshots alive.

That old-new-old schoolhouse, in fact, sits near the Canterbury Country Store, in the heart of a town dripping with nostalgia. I met Toni Halla, working the cashier. Over to her left was a shelf lined with the new book. Halla said around 45 copies were sold during the first two weeks after its release.

She greeted 70-year-old retired plastics and state worker Dave Wescott, who plopped down a few canned drinks and said, “Take $10 off my tab.”

She greeted Peggy Fischer, who’s relatively new in town, a three-year resident. She moved here from Virginia with her husband, who was ill at the time and died 1 ½ years ago. She brings plants from her nephew’s greenhouse to decorate the store, waters them, nurtures them, and she’s gotten something back.

“These guys were incredibly welcoming,” Fischer told me. “This whole town has just adopted me.”

I met Stephanie Jackson on my way out. She’s a former consultant from Lebanon who retired to Canterbury. She coordinated lots of interviews for the book, found photos, joined the effort.

“It wound up being a surprisingly collaborative effort,” she said. “The book shows the phenomena of this being a farming community and its attempt to remain as such. And it’s a heavy volunteer community. The fair is a big event each year and entirely volunteer. The cemeteries are taken care of by volunteers.”

Outside on the front porch, I asked a couple of seniors if Canterbury was their hometown. Yes, they said, in an English accent.

“We come from the bigger one,” said Tony Smith, a retired schoolmaster from England. “We knew it was named Canterbury when we learned about the Shaker Village. The assumption was there must have been someone at some time with a connection to Canterbury, England. I haven’t found anyone, but I shall. Lovely town.”

The farmers market is part of the landscape. It’s held each Wednesday from 4 to 6:30 p.m. through the summer. Music fills the air, and this week, on the first day of summer, it featured acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle.

There was maple syrup for sale, of course, and booths with signs that read Toast and Jam, White Oaks Dairy, Good Earth Farm and Red Fox Farm.

I brought the book and showed it to Silvia Styles, a retired CPA and the market’s treasurer. She’d read one-third of the book.

“As I’m reading I’m picking up bits of information that relate to my neighborhood and how it has evolved over the years,” Styles said. “There were border houses and a tavern, and I knew about the church that used to be there. I think people have a story to tell, and this is wonderful.”

Jill McCullough of North Family Farms sold honey, syrup, cream and firewood. She hadn’t seen the book yet, but said she was in it. On the back cover she spotted a shot of the quilt she’d made of Shaker Village. She looked at the index and saw her name, then flipped to the corresponding pages, 548, 570 and 580.

“I’m going to get me a copy,” she said.

Paul Lepesqueur and Mary Kerwin sat together at a picnic table, near an L-shaped line of people holding paper plates, looking hungry, waiting for their chance at the smorgasbord.

Their plates were full, with salad and beans and bow-tie pasta and blueberry pie and strawberry rhubarb pie.

“We were part of the team who helped with interviews, Mary and I,” said Lepesqueur, who’s lived in town for 40 years.

Kerwin initially said she was too shy to speak with me. That didn’t last long. She wanted me to know that some of the lettuce people were eating was her lettuce.

“This is a community in the finest sense of the word,” Kerwin said. “It’s a group of people who really pull together to get things done, and when someone needs help, someone is there. There’s lots of enthusiasm for this book.”

Grover, the author, will sign copies on Sunday starting at 1 p.m. at the Canterbury Elementary School. She’ll answer questions as well.

Nearby, the Canterbury Country Store will be open, with its old-time feel, including a bell attached to the front door.

“Ding-ding.”