Sense of community identity: Artists, farmers to join forces
The Hopkinton Historical Society holds an annual cemetery walk.
This sign outside the Boscawen fire department shows how community groups can unite.
An antique New Hampshire map
What’s the glue that holds the people of a town together?
How do those living in small towns but working in larger cities such as Concord or Manchester or even farther away maintain a sense of community and a connection to their history?
Think pancake breakfasts and spaghetti supper fundraisers, historical society and library activities, summer band concerts in the park, farmers’ markets, summer fairs, local sports teams, and volunteer fire departments.
Artists and farmers from six area towns – Webster, Salisbury, Hopkinton, Boscawen, Canterbury and Warner – are joining forces for the second annual Articulture event, which celebrates the connection between art and farming, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Old Meeting House in Webster. There will be an art gallery inside the building and a farmers’ market outside, along with a free wine tasting. Amy Regan will provide music.
But beyond this one-day event, people from all six towns are actively involved in their communities, creating and sustaining a sense of community heritage and identity.
While it would be impossible to list every person, group and event, a snapshot of each place provides a window into the heart of these towns.
At the historic Webster Meeting House, Dottie Monz kept the crock pots of hot fudge going as she waited for students from Webster Elementary School to arrive.
The entire student body, along with teachers and some parents, crowded into the meetinghouse on a rainy May 24. Representatives from each grade presented songs, poems, and a history of Memorial Day.
All then walked to the Veterans Memorial where they laid a wreath, recited the poem “The Unknown Soldier,” and observed a moment of silence. From there, they filed to the cemetery to lay flowers on veterans’ graves, then returned to the meeting house for those hot fudge sundaes.
Monz and her husband, Gere, head the Society for the Preservation of the Webster Meeting House, an active group that keeps the town’s history alive and accessible to adults and children.
During the town’s Old Home Days in August, the meetinghouse remains open so that people can stop in. Selectmen will hold that month’s meeting at the meeting house and will dress in period clothing.
The Society’s activities go beyond just town history, though.
“A gentleman in town plays the fiddle with friends each Thursday,” Monz said. “He suggested putting something together for World Fiddle Day, which was May 18.We had it at town hall – about 20 fiddlers came – about 60 attended – they played old fiddle music. My grandson sold hot dogs, and we served desserts and beverages afterwards. We’ll do it again next year.”
Last summer they hosted an “80s party”, inviting anyone in town over the age of 80 to come, with family and friends, to get together for ice cream and strawberries.
Library Director Mindy Flater knows that story hours at the library are as important to the young parents as they are to the children.
“It’s a great way for younger parents in town to get together,” Flater said, “particularly in the winter time, when you start to get that shut-in feeling. A lot of our parents use story hour as a way to just get out, to have their kids get to know other kids of similar age, and to have an adult conversation.”
Twice a year, the library takes advantage of the New Hampshire Humanities Council’s “Humanities-to-Go!” program, which provides community organizations with various speakers.
“People here often have to drive to Franklin, Concord, and even points beyond,” Flater said. “The library offers them something in town that allows people to gather together.”
The Salisbury Historical Society is housed at the Old Baptist Meeting House, next door to the museum that was once a one-room schoolhouse.
Paul Martin, president of the society and owner of Higher Ground Alpaca Farm, said that while town and community meetings are not held at the meeting house, many events are held there that draw people in.
“We try to get something for everybody,” Martin said. “We had a master gardener come in May; in June we’ll have folk singer Jim Barnes. In September a chamber trio will perform at our benefit concert.”
It’s not all entertainment, though. Community members will do a clean-up of the Congregational Cemetery on Route 127.
“A lot of the stones are very old and have fallen,” Martin said. “We’ll dig around each one and put in Quikrete, and the moisture in the earth will harden it.
“There’s been a community call for this.”
Karen Robertson, of the Hopkinton Planning/Zoning Board, said that town and library calendars in any town provide lots of information on community activities. There’s something for everybody.
“We have a gazebo in the park,” Robertson said, “and the town band plays every week throughout the summer. It’s typical New England.”
People also gather in the park for movies during the summer.
Hopkinton has many places where people can get together for just about any purpose.
The old town hall still exists, Robertson said. Town offices are housed there, and many boards and committees meet in the space. Space is also available there and at the library for events like weddings.
“The library is quite grand,” she said. “The Brockway room and community room are well used, as you can see on the community calendar. The senior center also offers meeting space.”
Nancy Chabot, assistant director of the Historical Society, described a popular event in town, the cemetery walk. And no, it’s not for Halloween.
“We ask town volunteers to research people whose headstones are in some of our cemeteries’” she said, “then we put together a script and have local people portray Hopkinton’s forebears.”
Each of the three walks held so far has been a history of the major aspects of the town as told through the lives of the individuals selected from each cemetery, Chabot said. It engages and involves 40-50 people in the process of putting it together, and several hundred people come out to watch the performance.
“It’s huge,” Chabot said. “This is something that people of all ages come out for and gets them to a historical part of the town that they wouldn’t have gone to otherwise, and is a way of telling the history of the town through different people’s eyes.”
Hopkinton has always had a theatrical bent to it, she said. There have been art colonies and local theaters in town. This event has become a good venue for people in town who have an interest in theater.
“We take what’s part of the fabric of the community and use that as the vehicle to convey the historic messages. This just worked fabulously,” Chabot said. “It’s been really, really engaging for the community.”
While many community activities are spearheaded by volunteer organizations and town government initiatives, sometimes the efforts of just one or two people can go far in bringing a community together.
Mike Hzvida and Ryan Ferdinand of Boscawen have turned their home, a huge 250-year-old farmhouse, into a sort of town meetinghouse.
“We feel like we’re the stewards of this house,” Ferdinand said. “It has a history – it feels more like a community space rather than just a residence for two people. One of the things we’ve been doing to embrace this structure are these community events.”
The couple set up a “pop-up” holiday store last year.
“We cleared out the whole first floor of the house and turned it a gallery/shop,” Ferdinand said. “We had 15 local artists’ and farmers’ goods for sale. All of our marketing went viral through facebook.”
The eight-day event drew 80 people the first night, and about 250 people overall. On the last night, they hosted a mixer for beginning farmers, to help people who might be isolated in their new ventures get to know each other.
Their kitchen recently doubled as a concert venue for the “Kitchen Concert,” where three farmers performed their music. An art show occupied the whole house as well, Ferdinand said, and about 50 people attended.
Art and farming pair naturally for this couple. Ferdinand is a photographer; she and Hzvida own Phoenix Hill Farm. Her art and their farm products will be featured at Articulture on Saturday.
Farmers and the people who buy their goods create a community, Hzvida said.
Boscawen has a “really awesome” agriculture commission, Ferdinand said, which is doing everything it can to connect local people to local farmers. From their float in the summer parade, they give out coupons from local farmers.
Hzvida noted, however, that some local food intiatives tend to be pricey and exclusive. The Agricultural Commission helps people obtain healthy, fresh food, he said, by supporting a large community garden and producing a newsletter, “The Latest Dirt,” that provides information about the gardens. And, every few weeks while the gardens are active, it hosts a talk or workshop focused on topics around a community garden.
The couple also promotes environmental stewardship within the community.
“We turned the house into a classroom a couple of weeks ago,” she said. “Kate Epsen, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association, did two different workshops on all the rebate and incentive programs for alternative energy systems in New Hampshire.
“And, we had Jonathan Gregory from Spread the Sunshine come and do a presentation on solar energy; about 25 people came.”
When people think of Canterbury, their thoughts might first turn to the famous Shaker Village. But the town itself is chock-full of its own gems.
Bob Scarponi, president of the Canterbury Historical Society, spoke proudly of the One-room Schoolhouse Program (recently featured in the Monitor), which was created in conjunction with the school system. Twenty children from grades 1-5 experience a day in an old-fashioned classroom.
“The children love it,” Scarponi said, “and the experience, because it’s real, stays with them.
“On Halloween, because the children trick-or-treat in the town center, we opened our one-room schoolhouse. My wife and I gave out candy, and the children brought their parents in to show where they sat and where they wrote on the blackboard.”
The historical society and the elementary school enjoy a close collaboration. The students recently created a scavenger hunt history lesson, looking for historical objects using clues.
“And, two high school students are on our board of trustees,” Scarponi said.
The Society hosts Friday fun nights to draw the community in.
“We recently had one where we invited people to bring us an old tool and see if they could stump us,” Scarponi said. “We served wine and cheese, and about 40 people came.
“We help create community by carrying out these activities.”
Katharine Nevins is the owner of Main Street BookEnds in Warner. In the attached barn, Main Street Marketplace and Gallery, local artists can display their work, and it’s a marketplace selling local milk, meat and bread.
It’s also the home of Main Street Warner Inc., a nonprofit that could be called a community “ booster club.”
The organization, which sponsors many local events, is responsible for the Jim Mitchell Community Park, between the bookstore and the library.
“Jim Mitchell was my brother,” said Nevins, a member of the organization. “He and I and my husband, Neil Nevins, started the bookstore 15 years ago. Jim helped create Main Street Warner Inc. to support local artists and musicians and bring in events to the bookstore, and in the process, extend that to the community.”
It was Mitchell’s idea to create this community park, she said. He had created the entire plan for the park and had just started the process of trying to raise funds to create it when he died of a heart attack about five years ago.
“It’s very much his spirit that has brought this to fruition,” Nevins said. “When he died, the community got completely around making this happen because he had taken it so far at that point.
“This community park is the focal point for the arts and education and the farmer community.”
On the business side, little stores and restaurants are flourishing on Main Street, Nevins said.
“Folks are very cognizant of supporting their local businesses,” Nevins said, “and keeping this community’s spirit alive. That’s very big here in Warner. It really makes for an active little downtown.”
The Tory Readers series, a fundraiser for the Warner Historical Society, brings in a variety of authors, some local, to read from their works on two nights in July and two in August.
Now in its fourth year, the event gets its name from Tory Hill, the hill that goes up to Mt. Kearsarge, said Emma Bates of the Historical Society. There was a family of Tories that lived there during the revolution. A rock near their house looked like a face so it was called Tory Rock. The logo for the series uses that image.
“It’s held in the town hall, right in downtown Warner,” Bates said. “We get a lot of support from local businesses, and a lot of volunteers help us out with decorating, food and ticket sales.
“We have a dessert reception downstairs where you can get your book signed,, she said, and the room is decorated like a garden party.
“We’re averaging about a hundred people per event now,” Bates said.
For information, see tory
(The Articulture event will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Old Meeting House, on the corner of Route 127 and Long Street in Webster. Amy Regan will play music from noon to 2 p.m. For information, go to