Loving Littleton and the Glory of the Granite State

Teresa Murphy

,
Michael Anderson

Physician's Money Digest, April30 2004, Volume 11, Issue 8

The 100 Best Small Towns in America

It's a small state, although the vast ManchesterAirport–essentially created by the success ofSouthwest Airlines–belies New Hampshire's size.It's a proud state, and its motto, "Live Free orDie," seems eerily prescient in today's world. Its capital,Concord, is home to only 40,000 souls. Farther north,the town of 6000 that was acclaimed the "Ninth BestSmall Town in America" by Norman Crampton in hisbook (HungryMinds, Inc; 1996) and won a National Trust 2003Great American Main Street Award, bears the self-effacingname of Littleton.

Main Street Charm

This little town is full of big surprises. A 90-minutedrive from Concord, but closer to Canada than its capital,it may have some flinty Yankees going about theirfrugal lives in the Granite State, but those met on thestreet are breezy individuals proud to know their towncaptivates those who come looking.

Guinness Book ofWorld Records

The award-winning main street offers a free bookletand walking tour map of the 22 historic sites foundalong this former 1820 stagecoach road. The street islined with alluring shop doorways–and what visitorwith kids could ignore the candy store's 112-foot-longcandy counter with 800 candy jars? Chutters (603-444-5787; www.chutters.com) boasts the "World's LongestCandy Counter," according to the . Behind it on the fast-flowingAmmonoosuc River rises the Littleton Grist Mill.Erected in 1797, the mill is the oldest commercial structurein New Hampshire north of the state capital. It'sfound down Mill Street, of course–there's nothingcomplicated about Littleton.

The narrow river descends 235 feet on its rapid journeythrough town–more than the 183-foot drop ofNiagara Falls, as locals like to point out. All braggingaside, Main Street is a short walk, keeping with the conceptof a little town in a small state. It's a half-hour strollalong a street anchored in typical New England fashionwith high-spired churches at both ends: the 1833 FirstCongregational to the west, and the Methodist Church,erected 18 years later, at the east end of Main.

Luxurious Lodgings

The Great Lie

To show Yankees have other interests, a local worthynamed Jack Eames built–next to the MethodistChurch–the bowling alley and movie theater that sawthe world premier of starring BetteDavis. The actress came in person in 1941 for the event,which was hosted by Eames at the historic 1850Thayers Inn he had acquired in 1927.

Town historian Jim McIntosh explains that whilemany railroad hotels languished as the rails pushed fartheron to the next town, Littleton was the terminus ofthe White Mountain Line for almost 20 years–fromthe locomotives' arrival in 1853 until the rails reachedLancaster, NH, in 1870. "With the trains came a clientelemore sophisticated than muddy teamsters anddrovers–namely, commercial travelers and equallynovel vacationers," McIntosh says.

National Register of Historic Places.

Guests at the Thayers Inn (800-634-8179; www.thayersinn.com) have included President Ulysses S.Grant, who addressed a crowd from its balcony, andHarry K. Thaw, who was held in the Inn for 30 daysduring a hearing to determine if the millionaire playboyhad murdered architect Sandford White. The Inn is listedin the

Despite the charm of Thayers, most visitors todaycome to stay at another historic hotel, the MountainView Grand (www.mountainviewgrand.com). Theydrive past the Pollyanna statue (author EleanorHodgman Porter lived here), past the bicuspid sign ofthe village dentist, and past the array of antique gasolinepumps and oil company signs to arrive 10 mileslater in Whitefield, NH, at one of the last survivingwooden railroad destination hotels in America. Withthe slogan, "A Haven for Presidents and Movie Stars,"the simple country inn grew to become a prime summerresort in the White Mountains. Several summersof slow business forced the owners to close the hotel in1986, and it was slated for demolition in 1998. However,Massachusetts businessman Kevin Craffeybought it and spent $20 million to restore this greatold dame to its former glory.