Situated in south central New Hampshire, Concord is one of America’s smallest state capitals. The compact city in the Granite State boasts a wide range of architectural styles from commercial brick architecture with elaborate cornices to grand Richardsonian, gold leafed domed state buildings, a thriving performing arts scene, world class museums, a growing population and small town friendliness.
The city is also home to the University of New Hampshire School of Law, the private preparatory school St. Paul’s and New Hampshire Technical Institute. Concord is comprised of the villages of Penacook, East Concord and West Concord. The town is around a 25-minute drive from Manchester airport, an hour drive from Boston and about four hours from New York City.
In 1659, the area’s first settlement was named Pennacook after the Indian name Pannukog, meaning crooked place. The town was incorporated in 1733 as Rumford, but the name was later changed to Concord in 1765. In 1790, when the first census was taken, the population was 1,747.
In 1807, lawyer Samuel Blodget opened a canal with a lock system to allow vessels passage around Amoskeag Falls downriver, connecting Concord with Boston by way of the Middlesex Canal.
The following year Concord was named the state capital, even though the town of Salisbury offered $7,000 for the honor. In 1816, construction on the state house began by architect Stuart Park. The Greek Revival-style building with a gold leafed dome is outfitted with smooth granite blocks that were cut and shaped by inmates of the local prison.
At the opening ceremonies two years later a huge gold-painted eagle was raised to the top of the dome as Governor William Plumer presided over a series of toasts, one of which was, “The American Eagle. May the shadow of his wings protect every acre of our united continent and the lightning of his eye flash terror and defeat through the ranks of our enemies.”
The building’s approximate cost was $82,000, a princely sum for that time. The structure was designed to house the General Court, the Governor and Council, the Secretary of State, the State Treasurer, and the State Library. Today it is the oldest state Capitol in which a legislature still meets in its original chambers.
Throughout the 18th century, Concord grew in prominence and the city became known primarily for furniture making and granite quarrying. In 1828, Lewis Downing joined J. Stephens Abbot to form Abbot-Downing Coaches. Their most famous coach was the Concord Coach, modeled after the coronation coach of King George III. The Abbott Downing Company employed thorough braces under their stagecoaches which gave the ride of the stagecoaches a swinging motion instead of the jolting up and down of spring suspension. Novelist and humorist Mark Twain once stated that the Concord Stagecoach was like a cradle on wheels.
Sometime during the 19th century, the city became a hub for the railroad industry, with Penacook, a textile manufacturing center using water power from the Contoocock River.
Today, the city is a center for health care and several insurance companies. It is also home to Concord Litho, one of the largest independently-owned commercial printing companies in the country.
What to Do
Concord is slowly becoming an artist-enclave. The Capitol Center for The Performing Arts features live music, dance and theater performances. The SNOB (somewhat north of Boston) Film Festival, started in 2002, and is a showcase for independent and local filmmakers to show their work. Downtown Concord is also home to half a dozen art galleries that displays fine art, crafts and special exhibits.
The Capital Region offers you enough things to do and see that you could easily spend a lifetime. Antiques, skiing, hiking, wildlife, canoeing, art galleries, museums, historic sites, walking tours, farms, orchards, golf, country fairs, community suppers, youth activities and four beautiful seasons are part of the many features that enhance the quality of life in the area. The successful turnaround of a fading Main Street into an active hub of community activities, commerce, politics and entertainment was the result of mutual support by the city, businesses and the community.
Other sites of interest include the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, a planetarium named after Christa McAuliffe, the Concord teacher who was killed during the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in1986. The center focuses on astronomy, aviation, earth and space sciences and features interactive exhibits. The Concord Museum, the DeCordova Museum and Gropius House, a museum that showcases 20th century Bauhaus architecture and landscape are also worth exploring. Besides McAuliffe, other notables born in Concord include San Francisco Giants’ baseball general manager Brian Sabean; Franklin Pierce, the 14th U.S. President; Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Church of Christ Scientist; and former baseball pitcher Bob Tewksbury.
Slightly north of Concord you will find the well-preserved Canterbury Shaker Village, which was founded by the Shaker religious community around 1810. The village offers a rare glimpse into how Shakers lived over 200 years ago. Visitors can take a step back in time and visit 24 original buildings situated on a rolling hilltop, take a guided tour that will introduce the customs, inventions, furniture, architecture, and values of the society and watch crafts being made in the Shaker tradition and browse in the gift shop that carries Shaker reproduction furniture, an extensive collection of Shaker books, tapes and crafts.
Foodies won’t be disappointed in Concord’s culinary scene. Locals flock to the Barley House restaurant that serves up an impressive collection of local micro-brews and tasty pub food. The eatery was recently voted as having the best burger in New Hampshire. You’ll also find an Irish breakfast buffet, as well as a wide selection of restaurants dishing out fresh, local seafood, and ethnic fare such as Japanese, Italian and Mexican.
And if you’re in the mood to cook, the indoor winter farmer’s market is sure not to disappoint. In the sprawling market you can pick up pasture-raised chicken, duck, beef, venison and elk, raw milk, eggs, cheeses, nuts, homemade soaps from local farmers and artisans.
From food to culture to leisurely hikes, all year round, there’s plenty of activity in Concord, New Hampshire.
Christy Smith-Sloman is a staff writer and contributor to New England Condominium.