New book celebrates the New Hampshire country store
An old checkerboard still sits beside the original pot-bellied stove inside the Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vt., Thursday, April 21, 2005. Since the store's first catalog in 1945 to a current level of 50 million catalogs, the store is still selling wheels of cheese, penny candies, and dill pickles from a pottery crock among the many products it's been selling since the 1940's. (AP Photo/Alden Pellett)
"Old Country Stores of New Hampshire" by Bruce Heald
As a busy lady bustles in to check on that package she’s been waiting for, she passes an old codger porch-sitting, marking time with the regular hurl of chaw into his spittoon. A slow but steady checker match occupies the corner as a wide-eyed little guy stands eyeball-to-gumball with the jars and jars of sugary wonders, all for a penny.
“Every time I go into one of these country stores, it’s the characters, I see there,” said author and historian Bruce Heald. “The people that sit on the front porch that kind of watch things go by. Not in any hurry, they just meander around, sit by the old stove, spit in the spittoon.”
Back in the day, the country store was the place to be. It was the center, the heart, of a town: a place to get mail, spices, gossip, tobacco or all of the above.
“This book is a celebration of that heritage,” Heald said.
Heald has more than 40 titles under his belt. But in Old Country Stores of New Hampshire, the Plymouth State History Professor has attempted to capture not only the stories of the old country stores, but their very essence.
“Here I am trying to capture and embrace the nostalgia of what is very characteristic of the Granite State: the country store,” said Heald. “You walk into a country store, what do you smell? You smell spices
and tobacco maybe some food cooking. . . . They are disappearing. They’re going
. . . . We’re losing this heritage and legacy.”
The book is a another of Heald’s love stories, really. When Heald, who holds degrees from Boston University, the University of Massachusetts–Lowell and Columbia Pacific University, moved to New Hampshire, he became smitten with the state and documented the love affair in odes to a variety of his favorite things about the state.
“I fell in love with the Lakes Region and the mountains, and I started writing,” Heald said. “I started realizing, there’s not enough out there to preserve the heritage. So I started writing about the mountain, the lake, the railroads, the Cog Railway. And then I said, ‘My best friends own this country store in Moultonboro. . . . I found it fascinating, and I started researching where did they come from and what have they become today.”
To that end, he visited every country store in every town, city and hamlet in New Hampshire. And that’s what the book is, he said, a true reporting of each store’s history, along with what he experienced. In his travels he visited the country store in Bath, believed to be the oldest existing country store in the nation. He tasted the sweets of Fadden’s General Store and Sugarhouse in North Woodstock and the Old Country Store in Moultonboro, which started out life as a tavern.
“They are unique in themselves,” he said. “Take, for example, Tuftonboro. That’s not a gift shop. It is truly a country store. It is the only store in town. So you come to the post office in the store. You come for your groceries. You come for whatever necessities you need. . . . It has all the features that capture the romance of a country store.”
But these stores won’t be around forever, although out-of-towners are buying some of them in a nostalgic preservation effort, Heald said. When or if they go, Heald hopes that the book will be a way of keeping the legacy of the country store alive.
“What’s great about this book is that it celebrates the lasting heritage and nostalgia of the Granite State,” said Jeffrey Saraceno, an editor with The History Press who worked on the book. “These country stores are essentially time capsules scattered across New Hampshire. Bruce’s book goes a long way to help preserve that history.”
When Heald isn’t touring country stores, teaching American history at Plymouth State University, or in Romania teaching at Babes-Bolyai University, he’s doing book signings. And though in his 70s, he’s not planning on stopping.
“I’m not retiring,” he said. “I’m going to keep on doing what I am doing.”
The book is sold at most major and local bookstores and online at Amazon and HistoryPress.net.