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Small NH museums cater to niche segments of the population


Travelers and tourists flock to New Hampshire for the state's intense natural beauty and its wealth of year-round recreation. But history buffs, art aficionados and amateur scientists who like exhibits and artifacts as much as hiking trails also have plenty to see and do at the state's many galleries and museums.

The Granite State is home to national treasures such as Manchester's Currier Museum of Art, Canterbury's Shaker Village and the McAuliffe-Sheppard Discovery Center in Concord. But New Hampshire also has a collection of smaller museums with unique exhibits presented in original and personal ways.

Wolfeboro's Libby Museum, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, is a well known natural history museum that is, in some ways, a model for New Hampshire's smaller, specialized museums.

Located on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee, the Libby Museum showcases the collection of Henry Libby, a dentist with a love for local flora, fauna and things odd and unusual. Although the Libby Museum is packed with mounted fish, bears, birds and all sorts of other wildlife, other items including a pair of preserved mummy hands, balls of solidified cow hair and a fingernail several inches long give the Libby Museum a Ripley's-Believe-It or-Not edge that has entertained generations of visitors.

Although the town of Wolfeboro now runs the Libby Museum, Henry Libby's interests and passions were the driving force.

The New Hampshire Telephone Museum in Warner has a similar history.

"My dad was the one who started the collection," said museum president Paul Violette. "He knew there would be nothing left if he didn't start to save them."

Violette's father, Alderic "Dick" Violette, had 50 years of experience in the telephone business and he knew how to amass a collection that would tell the story of the telephone and modern communication.

Today, the Telephone Museum has about 700 telephones from all different eras on display, along with booths, tools, equipment and switchboards.

"We try to show what a real personal service telephones were when we had operators," said Violette.

Located at 22 E. Main St. in a 200-year-old building that was donated to house the collection, the Telephone Museum is a nonprofit organization and a full-time job for Violette, who retired from his own career in the telephone industry 10 years ago. Violette said he does everything from answering questions from visitors to building repairs and maintenance.

And while the museum started small, it is now open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for 10 months of the year.

Violette continues to add new items and exhibits to the collection and each year, more and more visitors make their way to Warner to visit the museum.

Roger Hartmann is another small museum keeper who turned his hobby into a collection that the public can now enjoy.

Hartmann runs the Hartmann Model Railroad and Toy Museum on Route 16, about four miles north of North Conway. Hartmann began building model railroads as a kid growing up in Switzerland. As an adult, he became an avid model railroad builder and collector.

He launched the museum, which includes outdoor models, a small ride on a train as well as a hobby shop.

"It took 50,000 hours to build our museum," said Hartmann, who explained that a lot of time and thought goes into the details of model train layouts.

The Mt. Kearsage Indian Museum on Highlawn Road in Warner is also the result of its founder's lifelong interest.

As a kid growing up in Rhode Island, Charles "Bud" Thompson was inspired by Grand Chief Sachem Silverstar, who visited Thompson's second-grade class to talk about Native American history and culture.

The message stuck and Thompson became a lifelong student of Native American culture and thought.

The Mt. Kearsage Indian Museum opened 20 years ago in a renovated horse barn and now offers a wide range of exhibits and artifacts that reflect 20,000 years of Native American culture.

Lynn Clark, the museum's executive director, said about 10,000 visitors, including many school groups, visit the museum each year.

David Wright, a Korean War vet who grew up around Worcester, Mass., started collecting and restoring vintage World War II vehicles during the '50s and '60s. With more than 50 trucks, tanks and jeeps, Wright offered his vehicles to different communities and organizations for parades and traveling exhibits. But Wright wanted a permanent home for his vehicles and World War II memorabilia, a museum that would preserve the experience of the greatest generation for future generations.

Wright bought eight acres in Wolfeboro on the Smith River and in 1994 opened the Wright Museum to tell the story of World War II from both the battlefield and the home front.

The Wright Museum is open May through October, Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.


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