Historic Exeter

Town of Exeter New Hampshire Official Website

Exeter has a rich history that dates back to 1638 when it was founded, over 130 years before the American Revolution! Many areas of the town are significant to both New Hampshire and American History. 

Exeter Historical Society

The Exeter Historical Society is dedicated to the study of local history; the gathering and preservation of records, traditions and other historic material concerning Exeter and related towns. The Historical Society has many program and meetings held throughout the year. Refreshments, 7 pm, Program, 7:30 pm unless otherwise noted.  Programs are held at 47 Front Street, Exeter.  Website: www.exeterhistory.org.

The Swasey Parkway

Swasey Parkway was a gift to the Town of Exeter from Ambrose Swasey in November 1931.  The Parkway follows the Squamscott River and is lined with trees and park benches for all to enjoy.  It is one of Exeter's most important destination areas.

A new Pavilion was completed on the Parkway in 2007. Today, the Pavilion is used for Parks and Recreation summer concerts on Thursday nights (seasonal) and other events. The park is the perfect place for outdoor activity. Jogging, picnics, walking, or just enjoying the fresh air.  You will often see PEA scullers practicing in the Squamscott River adjacent to the Parkway.

American Independence Museum

Discover the stories behind America’s revolutionary past and how they relate to your experiences today by visiting the American Independence Museum. Located in historic Exeter, New Hampshire, the museum features stories of the brave men and women who overcame their uncertainties about freedom from Great Britain and established our country. While it is known for its July 21st Independence Festival, the American Independence Museum has programs and events planned throughout the year.

For a list of the Museum's events and schedule, Click Here.

Gilman Garrison House Water Street 

Built in 1709, the Gilman Garrison House was the home to the original Gilman family. Owners of Exeter's first sawmills, the Gilman family constructed a beautiful building and continually added on to the original building throughout the eighteenth century. The building was restored by William Dudley in 1966 and was transformed into a regional history museum. The site is currently owned by Historic New England and tours of the Gilman Garrison House are conducted on a periodic basis. For more information please visit their website.

The Great Dam

The Great Dam got its name from the nearby Great Falls. These Falls and the Dam had played an extremely important role in the History of Exeter. The Falls were a one of the reasons Reverend Wheelwright came to Exeter along the Squamscott and Exeter Rivers. The river was a means of transport and the Great Falls would help provide power for Exeter's budding industrial center. The exact construction date of Exeter's first dam have been lost to history, but it is assumed that in the late 1640s Edward Gilman had built the dam to help power the many mills located along the river. The dam remained in operation for nearly 200 years.

The Great Dam's central location within Exeter was no mere coincidence. It is a testament to the structure's impact on the development of the Town and its economy. In 1827, seven members of the Town formed the Exeter Manufacturing Company and the Exeter Mill and Water Power Company. This company comprised all the owners of Exeter's Mills and they planned on building a new dam that was completed sometime before 1831. These companies later merged in 1861 to become Exeter's largest employer.

While many of New England's mills moved to the South after the Civil War, the Exeter Manufacturing Company was able to avoid this fate. In fact, is was able to expand and was one of the three largest firms in New Hampshire well into the 20th Century. They were able to accomplish this by diversifying into bleaches. The Company was so successful that an off shoot of it became the Exeter Handkerchief Factory in 1934, which is still in operation today.

The continued influence of the Exeter Manufacturing Company is linked to the Great Dam because of their close relationship. The dam's water allowed for supplemental power production, even as the industry moved into coal and oil power, and the companies influence led to continued reinvestment in the dam. In 1914, the Exeter Manufacturing company built the next Great Dam. This relationship is what preserved Exeter's downtown area while other mill town's suffered during the late 19th and early 20th century. By 1952, the Company employed 450 people and had over $18 million in sales. Despite this success, the manager at the time, Hervey Kent Jr., was unable to appoint a successor. He sold the company to Miliken Manufacturing in 1966. Under the new management and with support from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department improvements were once again made to the dam. A fish ladder was added to improve the migratory patterns of diadromous fish.

The Miliken Manufacturing Company and its rights to the dam fell onto hard times in the late 1970s. By 1981, The Miliken Manufacturing Company sold its factories to the Nike Company. However, they donated their water flowage rights, the Pickpocket Dam, and the Great Dam to the Town of Exeter. In 2014, Exeter residents voted to support a 1.7 million dollar bond issue that will result in the removal of the Great Dam and a return to pre-dam river conditions.  The Great Dam was removed in 2016.

The Bandstand 

The Bandstand that is located at the intersection of Water & Front Streets was a gift to the Town of Exeter from Ambrose Swasey in 1916.  It replaced a wooden bandstand that was in the same location that was built in 1895.

The Exeter Brass Band was founded in 1847 and has held summer concerts in the Bandstand since then.  The Brass Band still plays there each Monday night in July.  Brass band concerts are recorded and show periodically on community access channel 98.

The Bandstand remains the hub of Downtown Exeter and the Historic District. Many of the town's most pleasant structures are located within a stones throw of this location.


Click any thumbnail image to view a slideshow

Squamscott River
Downtown Exeter
American Independence Museum
Downtown Exeter, NH