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New Hampshire: A Quirky Little State with a Lot to Offer

No one from outside the state knows quite what to make of New Hampshire; tucked up in the northeast region of the country between the more famously bucolic states of Vermont and Maine, it doesn’t really have an easily defined identity.

The state shows up once every four years on the national radar screen because of its first-in-the-nation presidential primary, though the Iowa caucuses have managed to steal a little of the Yankee state’s thunder in that regard. Everybody outside the state thought us native-born New Hampshirites were nuts when the Old Man in the Mountains, that wonderfully distinctive Great Stone Face in Franconia Notch, succumbed to centuries of erosion and the cold, and we mourned his passing as if he were a beloved family member – which he was, a sort of spiritual guardian watching over us protectively, now gone forever.

We show up on the news once in a while when some crackpot goes on a crime spree and then heads for Canada, generally right up the middle of the state on I93, and ends up getting caught somewhere around Colebrook. Other than those odd happenings, the state doesn’t really figure largely in the national consciousness.

Too bad. The little state has a lot to offer. An odd mixture of industrial and rural landscape, the mostly landlocked state boasts a ten-mile stretch of coastline featuring the carnival atmosphere, in the summer anyway, of Hampton Beach, and other more quiet beaches like Rye. Further inland, Manchester features a mixture of old brick factory buildings and more modern architecture, with spectacular mall shopping opportunities as well as more cultural offerings ranging from galleries to nightclubs and including the Verizon Wireless Arena, site of sports competition and other events, including bands on tour nationally. The city also boasts its own international airport, a sensible alternative to congested Logan in Boston. Nearby Nashua, the birthplace of the PC (personal computer), has Massachusetts-style residential and commercial sprawl, also with lots of places to shop, and an ever-growing housing market.

To the west, the Monadnock Region operates at a slower pace than the industrial center, but has its own thriving tourist trade, with plenty of bed-and-breakfasts, lakes for swimming and boating, covered bridges, and cultural events, from summer theatre to concerts on town commons. This area of New Hampshire has traditionally been a favorite for people with the means to “summer” in the region – the “summer people”, the vernacular calls them, or more recently, “flatlanders”.

Heading north, the traveler heads through Concord, the state capital, and within an hour comes to the Lakes region, with the largest lake, Winnepesaukee, a magnet for tourists. It and the surrounding smaller lakes, formed eons ago by glacial activity, offer a lively summer culture, with boating, fishing, swimming, and plenty of summer events. Further north still are the astonishing White Mountains, tall, jagged mountains reminiscent of the European Alps which stretch almost across the entire middle of the state from west to east. Popular in summer, they’re packed in the winter with skiers looking for challenging ski conditions. Some areas, like Waterville Valley, host ski events with Olympic caliber competitors; every so often, the state manages to produce an Olympic champion. From the mountains, past the presidential range and north of the town of Berlin, the land flattens out on its way to the Canadian border and Montreal.

And, of course, there’s Loudon, north of Concord, with its yearly motorcycle race, the oldest in the U.S.; for five days seemingly every highway and back road in the state teems with lines of motorheads, some on rice burners or Beamers, but mostly on Harleys, heading for the rally and then back home again, transforming the entire state into two kinds of people: the guys and gals on motorcycles and the rest of us who watch them ride by. The race takes place at what is now New Hampshire International Speedway, which in recent years has offered official NASCAR races throughout the racing season – a big story in itself.

Something for everyone, indeed. Maybe the reason New Hampshire doesn’t have a clear identity in the national psyche is that we have a lot of individual identities, distinct regions with their own flavor and a lively mix of people who manage to express their interests in an amazing variety of ways – all of which makes for an interesting visit to this little state.

Reference Box: Aldene Fredenburg is a freelance writer living in southwestern New Hampshire and frequently contributes to Tips and Topics. She has published numerous articles in local and regional publications on a wide range of topics, including business, education, the arts, and local events. Her feature articles include an interview with independent documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and a feature on prisoners at the New Hampshire State Prison in Concord. She may be reached at

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