Oh, New Hampshire, why have you forsaken me? All I want to do is love you and be happy in your confines, yet this year you seem to have it out for me. Thrice this year I’ve visited and thrice you chuckle while slapping me with gloomy, rainy weather.
Aw fine, I can’t stay mad at ya. Even though gray and fog shrouded the town of Exeter during my visit, at least the rain eventually stopped and it was warm enough for me to comfortably trek everywhere.
Most people I talk with about Exeter haven’t heard of the little town, but those who have typically know it because of the famed Phillips Exeter Academy. It’s one of oldest secondary schools in the U.S. and has been attended by the likes of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, novelist Dan Brown, President Franklin Pierce and Abraham Lincoln’s son, Robert. I enjoyed walking through the small campus and seeing the teens milling around as teens do, apparently oblivious to the hundreds of years of history they’re in the midst of, and contributing to. Despite the wealth and prestige surrounding the school, the students looked incredibly average by most standards. Girls whispered to each other about some boys and the boys threw things at the girls. Normal teen stuff, not behavior one might expect of tiny geniuses. (Note: Do NOT tell any of the parents I said their genius children appeared “average” or I’m sure they’ll try to bite me, as overprotective parents do.)
One of the things I like about Exeter is that it’s full of rich history but doesn’t push it on visitors. There are historic signs quietly standing by and announcing points of interest, but I feel like they don’t overwhelm visitors and smack them in the face with every minuscule occurrence that ever happened within the town’s borders.
Historic buildings and museums dot the town but visitors must go inside to learn more; people dressed in period clothing and speaking in Old English do not spill out into the streets. There aren’t buses full of people snapping photos and listening to an overly enthusiastic tour guide explain how Exeter was the state capital during the Revolutionary War.
I’ve been to other places that trumpet their history so aggressively it almost overshadows modern life and how current residents go about their day-to-day lives. Exeter, by comparison, is like that unassuming shy guy in the corner. So mysterious you’re inexplicably drawn in and want to go up to him and ask, “Hey, what’s your deal? Tell me about you.”
A surprise piece of more modern history presented itself when I was wandering from shop to shop. I put down my head when a short gust of wind blew through and spotted something in the sidewalk:
An old Woolworth’s marker! I looked up at the building next to this sidewalk and saw no signs of it having been a Woolworth’s, just the new boutique stores. It’s cool how the marker remains intact even though the sidewalk around it clearly has been repaired and patched numerous times. Thank goodness for that sudden wind gust or I might have walked right over this gem!
One of my favorite sites is the Exeter River that cuts through town. The river itself is lovely, with its rocks and plants and mini-waterfall.
But add to that a gorgeous boardwalk surrounded by trees and waterfront buildings, and it becomes even more picturesque. Wandering along the river is a calming experience, even when the weather turns gloomy.
Exeter proves a place doesn’t have to be big, bustling and in your face to leave a lasting impression. Sometimes the small, the serene, the simple can be the most memorable. And as always, a plethora of maple syrup and dark beer doesn’t hurt.