Longtime resident paints a picture of lost treasures in Pembroke


Monitor columnist

Published: 08-26-2023 2:00 PM

Lianne Keary’s son turns 18 this year, and that tells her a lot.

It tells her that the photos she used to publish Pembroke’s version of the popular Acadia Images of America series were used 18 years ago, because she was pregnant when she pieced those two scrapbooks together, and her son turns 18 this year.

Fast forward 18 years, and Ayn Whytemare, the president of the Pembroke Historical Society, would love to get her hands on those old photos – depicting the Suncook Valley in simpler times.

She’s currently involved in the arduous process of creating an Historical Society Museum that, in a concise, visitor-friendly manner, would explain to residents where they came from and where they may be heading.

And she’s building a website, to be  launched this weekend if everything goes as planned, that will also document the past. She’d like to use those photos for that as well. Some are more than 100 years old.

The problem is, Keary borrowed the pictures way back when, from a man named Charles Mitchell, who died three years ago. The scrapbooks were never recovered, and in fact were an afterthought until Whytemare announced recently that she’s creating the museum and website.

Keary insists she returned the books to Mitchell. No one blamed him for misplacing them.

“I brought them back the next day,” she said. “What has happened to these photos since then, I don’t know. I just don’t know how many people have or had access. Maybe someone brought it home and did not bring it back.”

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Keary, Whytemare and Mitchell hold key positions in Pembroke’s historical landscape, serving as rewind buttons to make sure residents learn about the streets, cars, fashion and businesses from so long ago.

Keary graduated from Pembroke Academy, before moving to Penacook. Mitchell served on many boards and committees, including the Pembroke Historical Society, the Pembroke School Board, the Pine Haven Boys’ Center and the Pembroke Town Library.

Meanwhile, Whytemare is the lone individual among the trio still in Pembroke. Members of her family lived in town nearly 300 years ago, before Pembroke was Pembroke. The homestead was built on land granted to the family in 1738.

She’s heading this project more or less by default, moving up from the society’s vice chair slot because of her love for her hometown and the unique energy level she brings to the table.

“The goal,” Whytemare said, “is to help someone who does not know anything about the town to look at the exhibits and in a half-hour have an idea of what the town is all about.”

She traveled around the state, doing research in small towns to see how other historical societies evolved.

“I learned what you want to do and what you don’t want to do,” Whytemare said. ”

She’s limiting the museum and website to items and photos directly connected to the area that possess historical significance, saying, “We have become clearer of what we want. If someone comes in with a bunch of old National Geographics, we’ll have to say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ ”

The website and museum will have scanned photos, but they are not as sharp as the originals.

“Ayn sent me an email last spring asking for help,” Keary said. “I just tried to help as much as I could.”

Meanwhile, Whytemare is so desperate to locate the photos that she posted a message on Facebook seeking help.

“Status of the Pembroke Historical Society. To an outsider, it looks like not much is happening,” Whytemare wrote. “In reality, we are in the middle of a major effort to get a museum up and running. To top it off, two important sources of old original pictures have gone missing in the last few years.”

The historical society, located behind the old schoolhouse, near the Town Hall, is a small room filled with unpacked boxes. Whytemare and other volunteers have yet to roll up their sleeves to bring order to the building.

But the website is nearly ready to go, and Whytemare says the show will go on, with or without Mitchell’s pictures.

“The bottom line is we are an historical society and we want to preserve history,” Whytemare said. “We want everyone to have access. If people are hoarding the photos and don’t want to show them, how does that help?”