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Why History Matters

History is Exciting!

‘Karen and Jay share thoughts on why history matters’

History provides context. But history is more than context. It informs us of our very being, our fabric. Where we came from, who we are - and it inspires us each with a vision for what is possible. There is a deep human yearning to know about our past. We see ourselves as part of an unfolding story. Needing to understand the past in order to write the continuation of our story.

There’s a familiar quote warning us that those who don’t remember history are condemned to repeat it. But even if this weren’t true, I believe we’d still be drawn to study history. We are deeply curious about where we have come from as a people – but perhaps even more so, as individuals. The popularity of ’23 and Me’ and give convincing proof that we are highly motivated to delve into our past in a search for connectedness – and in a way, for ‘meaning.’

Perhaps you can identify with an experience I had while growing up and that I truly treasure. Finding a fascination and a comfort in spending time with my grandfather and grandmother – listening to their stories. Hearing them tell me how they grew up, what the times were like back then, the struggles, as well as the proud accomplishments. And, about our relatives, their stories, how we were connected to them, the extended family, and the people my grandparents had come to know along the way. For me, and perhaps for you, these conversations helped set a context for my world and established a sense of history that could not have been replicated in any way.

Today, we often rush from one urgency to another. Every fad or new technology seems to tell us that all has begun anew. But the truth is that human nature endures. So very many of life’s experiences do repeat themselves, over and over again, throughout the years. The keen student of history understands this and appreciates the recurring nature of things. You can begin to see patterns, a rhythm – and even feel the ability to predict.

This is why history matters. It presents the reality of today – based upon the accurate recounting of the past. There are those elements of history that make us feel uncomfortable and we would wish to change. But, thought about differently, they provide us with the energy and the motivation to do better as we go forward, to create positive change and advancement in the future. At the same time, there are those elements of history that make us proud, that are noble, that inspire us, that serve as models or examples of what can be achieved – the great potential that lies within each one of us.

So, the next time, you have an opportunity to learn a bit more about the past, I urge you to take the time to absorb it, study it and most of all ask yourself how it relates to you, your life, and the world you have come to know. Let it inspire you to reach the full potential of your being. History truly does matter.

If These Walls Could Talk!

As you may know, in New Hampshire, our Historical Societies and Historical Districts along with our museums are integral to the fabric of our Granite State character. They preserve the past and all the stories which have helped shape and define our current communities.

The Sunshine Initiative is working in towns and cities throughout the Granite State, and we recognize the importance of their unique as well as collective histories. So, here’s an exciting way to really get to know our New Hampshire communities and especially their rich past and context. Please check out the incredible resources below and ‘click on the links.’ We’d encourage you to visit their websites and if you’re so inclined get involved - you might really enjoy it!

  • Larry and Jackie Cote manage an incredible gem - the Newport Historical Society & Museum which has just concluded its Magical History Tours for the season. The Tours will resume in the spring. You might ask, “What is the Magical History Tour?” it turns out that several members of the Board of Directors envisioned a bus tour around Newport from the south end of Town to North Newport. The Tour begins at the Historical Society Museum on Central Street and continues south to Pollards Mills stopping for a tour of the Little Red Schoolhouse with information provided by the Reprisal Chapter of the DAR. The tour continues to Unity Road, the oldest section of Newport, following Pine Street to North Newport stopping at the residence of Dr. Arthur Walsh, built by the Sibley family, through the Corbin Covered Bridge ending at the Museum. The Tour is narrated covering interesting points along the way. Each seat has a Chrome Book with dozens of old photos of the sites discussed. Seating is limited to 12 people. The Tour takes about two hours and is free; however, donations are accepted.

  • Jeff Barraclough is the Executive Director of the Manchester Historic Association. For over 125 years, its mission and focus has been to collect, preserve, and share the history of Manchester. Manchester has a rich and fascinating story, and the Association works to tell that story through exhibits at the Millyard Museum, educational programs for both youth and adults, and by making their archives accessible through the Manchester Research Center. The Association takes an all-encompassing view and believes it is important to tell the stories of all of Manchester's people, from the city's founding leaders to the immigrant mill workers who made Manchester their home. It is only by understanding our past and where we came from that we can fully understand and appreciate who we are as a community today.

  • Karen Thorndike is President of the Meredith Historical Society. They actively work to follow their mission to preserve and promote Meredith’s unique history by engaging the public from the elementary school level on through adult focused programs. The museum has been considerably upgraded to include a Timeline of the town’s history along a main wall of the building and is available in a printed booklet. Rotating displays of significant people and events are annually presented. Each fall the third graders enjoy a walking history tour of Main Street with docents stationed at several locations. When fourth graders study NH history the “Traveling Trunk” is delivered to the school, which is full of items and clothing used on farms in the early 1900’s. A free monthly lecture series is well attended by 70 to 90 adults at the Community Center with varying topics of local and statewide interest.

  • Meredith is surrounded by lakes and since important events also occurred on the lakes and islands, in September two successful Historical Boat Tours were “launched” off Meredith's shoreline. This was so successful it will likely become an annual event.

  • Tara Shore plays a key role with both the Laconia Historic District Commission and Laconia Historical & Museum Society. She tells us that in simple direct terms a historic district is established and exists to preserve and protect the distinctive historic character of structures for public benefit in a city or town. However, much like all things of historic nature, there is always more to the story

  • Bob Griffin is President of the Rochester NH Historical Society & Museum which is a member-supported organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the history of the Town Of Rochester. To continue this mission, Bob and his team are currently digitizing all of their pictures and uploading them to the cloud. In addition, they produce and provide monthly videos about local history and host monthly programs at our museum.

Finally, an Historic District is not created to make it impossible to make changes in a city; but its purpose is to ensure that the change is appropriate and in keeping with the distinctive and notable character of the area. Historic District Commissions promote restoration, rehabilitation, and adaptive reuse instead of demolition to ensure that the elements of a city’s history, culture and heritage remain intact. These elements create the story of our communities and without them our story disappears. Please enjoy and cherish the rich history that makes our communities so very special.

NH’s Historical Markers – Those Little Gems Along the Way

Have you ever traveled through New Hampshire, seen one of our intriguing historic markers – and found yourself stopping to read every word on the sign? And then, thinking – wow, that’s really, cool. I’m so glad I stopped to take that in.

Not surprisingly, every community in New Hampshire has one or more special locations within its town or city limits – that is the spot upon which some unique story unfolded many years in the past. One of the ways to tell that story is through a historical marker. There are several types of markers around the state. One is the local kind in which many town governments and historical societies install and mandate signs to show visitors why a location is important. In Newport, for instance, there are several signs that give you a walking tour of the town providing details about the town's past, such as the trains that ran through the middle of town or those explaining the town's influence on the nation. Interestingly, in nearby Plainfield, there is one that honors the birthplace of Harry Thrasher, an accomplished artist who was the only person from the town to die in World War I.

There are also several organizations that highlight specific genres of history through markers, such as the Lafayette Trail, which identifies locations General Lafayette visited during his 1824-1825 farewell tour. There are several of these signs throughout New Hampshire, including one on the State House lawn in Concord, the Newport Common, the Greenland Green and one only several hundred yards from where we live in downtown Portsmouth.

Most notable are the very recognizable green, State historical markers. As of this year, plotted along the roadside, there are 277 makers throughout the State covering a wide range of topics, including the Betty and Barney Hill incident in Lincoln, where a possible UFO abduction occurred in 1961, or the home of the Molly Stark Cannon in New Boston, which was a cannon captured at the Battle of Bennington by General Stark and subsequently named “Old Molly” after his wife.

Anyone can request that a marker be produced by the New Hampshire Department of Historic Resources. There are strict criteria that must be met in order for approval, such as primary source proof and accuracy; however, there is a growing list waiting for their stories to be told.

As you travel the state, take a moment from time to time to enjoy these great historical gems. I’m sure you’ll come away with an enhanced appreciation for the rich and remarkable history that makes the Granite State so very special.

Positive Profile of the Week: Terry Pfaff - The Keeper of Buildings and Stories

This week, we are delighted to highlight a longtime friend and selfless public servant, Terry Pfaff. Terry serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the General Court, the New Hampshire State Legislature. This bipartisan position was created by leadership of both chambers of the legislature and there was no better choice than Terry. A former State Representative and Chief of Staff to several Republican Speakers, Terry Pfaff has brought an unparalleled commitment and passion to preserving the legacy and decorum of the People’s House.

In his role of Chief Operating Officer, Terry has led the efforts in the State Capital's recent and massive renovation and restoration projects. In one of my conversations with Terry, I learned something quite remarkable - the discovery of a stained-glass window – complete with an official state seal – that was ‘uncovered’ during the restoration project. From the maintenance records, they found that the window was plastered over during the mid-1900’s as a way to save money. Today, thanks to Terry and his team, the historically valuable stained-glass window shines brightly in the State House and radiates history.

Recently, Terry also had the opportunity to oversee our State Capitol’s Bicentennial Celebration. This series of events recognized the great history and significant events that have taken place within the walls of one of the oldest state houses in the country.

Visiting the New Hampshire State House is such an amazing opportunity, and I encourage everyone to do so. One of the people who is ensuring the history, the beauty, and the splendor of this great building is our profile of the week, the Honorable Terry Pfaff.

Terry does an outstanding job. To do so very well what he does, it takes a person passionate about preservation and someone who won't stop fighting for what is best. Without a doubt Terry Pfaff is that person. His efforts have been and continue to be a source of inspiration. Thank you, Terry, for preserving our history and all that you do to make our State Capitol and New Hampshire such a special place.

Quotes of the Week: Why History Matters

“History is who we are and why we are the way we are.”

David McCullough

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.”

Michael Crichton

“History is a race between education and catastrophe.”

H.G. Wells

“In history, a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind.”

Edmund Burke

“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.”

James Baldwin


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