New Hampshire: A land where Yankee ingenuity and antiques still flourishes

By Susan Eberman – For Antique Trader

Canterbury Shaker Village became the seventh community of Shakers in America when it was established in 1792. A religious sect that broke away from the Quakers, they were called Shakers because of their use of vigorous dancing in their worship services. According to their founder, Mother Ann Lee, the Shakers devoted their “hands to work and hearts to God.” As aggressive entrepreneurs, they delved into many successful businesses and reinvested their earnings to encourage greater growth and productivity. The Shaker “brand” quickly became known for quality, integrity and reliability. They used their resources to meet social needs. At the height of their popularity in the 1850s, 300 people lived at the Canterbury compound and worked in more than 100 buildings on 1,000 acres.

The last Canterbury Shaker died in 1992, and this National Historic Landmark became an outdoor history museum. Several original buildings are nestled amid nature trails, gardens and ponds. Each structure is staffed with a skilled artisan who demonstrates the original activity that took place within that building. The 1792 Meetinghouse has two entrances. The one on the left was for men, and the one on the right was for women. Since celibacy was an important part of Shaker beliefs, the elders wanted to take no chances that young people of opposite sexes could socialize on their way to church.

Tour the largest building, the 56-room 1793 Dwelling House, to see a cooking area which still includes a Shaker-designed oven that could bake up to 60 loaves of bread at one time, and a dining area that seated 60 people. The 1816 Sisters’ Shop, which originally made items sold at the finest New England resorts, now includes workshops for sewing, needlecraft, weaving and basketry. Tour the 1848 Ministry Shop to learn more about the Shaker religion. The 1795 Laundry was expanded in 1907 to include a Shaker invention, a drying room with movable racks. The second floor was the sweater shop where in 1910 alone, 1,489 university athletic-team letter jackets were made for Dartmouth, Yale, Princeton and Harvard.

The 19th century Schoolhouse was the leading educational facility in Canterbury for several decades. Built in 1811, the Infirmary displays many original furnishings and bottles. The 1841 North Shop contains a print shop and a large collection of Shaker stoves. The Syrup Shop produced medicinal syrups, most notably a sarsaparilla concoction that won a gold ribbon at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.

Artisans in the 1806 Carpenters’ Shop demonstrate Shaker techniques for furniture making and oval-box construction, along with broom- and basket-making demonstrations. A motorized ice cream maker was invented in the Creamery, which is now the Family Activity Center. The 1825 Carriage House now houses the Museum Store and changing exhibits about Shaker life. The Horse Barn displays horse-drawn vehicles while the Garden Barn and Shed provide space for drying herbs and flowers.

Although the Currier Museum of Art is presently closed for major renovations, the museum-owned Zimmerman House remains open. The only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in New England that’s open for public tours, this Usonian-style (naturalist-themed) house was the home of Isadore and Lucille Zimmerman from 1950 until 1986.

Interactive exhibits tell the story of the Granite State at the Museum of New Hampshire History. Listen to a Native-American storyteller and learn about the Concord coach.

Established in 1623, Portsmouth became a prosperous maritime hub in the 18th century. The Wentworth-Gardner House, 1769, is often regarded as one of the finest Georgian houses in America. In 1915, this house was purchased by Wallace Nutting, who played a leading role in the Colonial Revival movement. Following extensive renovations, Nutting used the house as the backdrop for a series of now-famous photographs.

In 1918, Nutting sold the house to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. While experts at the Met were deciding whether they should strip the best interiors and install them in the museum or relocate the entire house to New York and set it up in the museum courtyard, a Portsmouth committee was formed to regain ownership of the house. In 1940, the local committee purchased the house, and an association was formed to manage it. It has been open for tours ever since that time.