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Exeter is a town rich in history. Buildings and sites within the town date to many important points throughout the past of the seacoast area, New Hampshire, and the country as a whole.
The town was founded in 1638 by Reverend John Wheelwright and has been an important location in the New England region ever since. Exeter served as the revolutionary war capital of New Hampshire. Few people know of Exeter's importance as a seaport in the late 1600's and early to late 1700's.
Exeter is home to many parks and has plenty of green space for outdoor activity. Important institutions, like Philips Exeter Academy, Swasey Parkway, the Ladd Gilman House, Folsom Tavern, and the American Independence Museum, are great places to see while in the area. Any visit to Exeter should include a stop at some of these locations. Some sites are public while others are privately owned or not for profits. Below are some highlights of public buildings and sites within Exeter.
The Exeter Town Office building at 10 Front Street was built in 1892 to be records offices for Rockingham County. A new county building was built in 1964 on Hampton Road (now owned by Brooks Properties, known as 1 Hampton Road). In 1966 the Town purchased the records building from the County, and all of the Town Offices were moved from the lower level of the Town Hall to the 10 Front Street address, where they still are today. In front of the building there is a granite marker that was dedicated on Memorial Day 1974. A monument in front of the Town Offices is dedicated to the five branches of the military: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard.
The Exeter Town Hall was built in 1855, and remains one of the Town's most iconic buildings. The lower level was used as the Police Station until 1979, and was also occupied by the Town Offices until 1966. District Court was also once there, having moved out of the building in February 2005. The main hall is still used for public meetings, plays, and is commonly rented by civic groups and others as an "open forum" throughout the year. The Statue of Lady Justice that is on top of the cupola was put there in 1855 when the building was built. In 1917 the Statue was brought down for repairs after a bad storm. The Statue stayed there until it was severely damaged by "Hurricane Bob" in August 1991. This time the statue was replaced, with no changes, in July 1992. The Town Hall is located at 9 Front Street.
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.
The Exeter Public Library was built in 1987 on land donated to the Town by the Milliken Company. Prior to the new building the Library was located at 47 Front Street (that building is now leased from the Town by the Exeter Historical Society). The Library is part of Founder's Park, which was created in 1988 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Town of Exeter (1638-1988). A stop at Founder's Park to view the Great Dam and take a rest on its benches is always a great stop in the Exeter Downtown area.
The Exeter Historical Society was founded in 1928. It is now located at 47 Front Street, the only yellow brick building in the area. The Historical Society has a museum and a library for all to see and enjoy. The building was originally built as the Public Library in 1893. It has also been a Civil War Memorial for the community. Many important pieces from Exeter's history are on display here, including Native American artifacts and pieces from President Lincoln's visit to the Town in 1860. The Historical Society has many entertaining and educational programs and displays throughout the year.
The Exeter Parks & Recreation building at 32 Court Street was built in 1845 as the Court Street School. In 1959 it became the Community Center housing the Recreation Department, as it still does today. The Parks and Recreation Department offers programs and activities throughout the year for all ages. Concerts, athletic camps, and other activities that are great for kids and fun for adults too are part of the Parks and Recreation mission.
The Exeter Senior Citizen Center opened in May 1985. The building was previously used by the Exeter Fire Department from 1927 to 1979. The left part of the Senior Center building is the Exeter Fire Department Museum. Inside is an 1873 Eagle Steamer that was retired from service in the 1940's. It has since been refurbished and is shown many times during the year at parades and other events.
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.
A new performance Pavilion was completed on the Parkway in 2007. The Pavilion is used for the annual Parks and Recreation summer concerts and other events. The park is the perfect place for outdoor activity. Jogging, picnics, walking, or just enjoying the fresh air.
Gilman Park on Bell Avenue was a gift to the Town of Exeter from Daniel Gilman in 1891. At the park there are 2 baseball/softball fields, a basketball court, a playground and a boat ramp.
The cannons at Gilman Park were offered to the Town for decorative purposes by the United States Naval Department in 1897. The gift came with a restriction: in case of need the cannons could be recalled by the government. To date, they never have.
Gilman Park was acquired by the Town in 2012 and now is held in a conservation easement by the Southeast Land Trust. Tucked away on Bell Avenue and linked to PEA, Gilman Park offers a quiet space to walk, play catch, or just enjoy nature.
The land for the Gale Park War Memorial & Park at the corner of Linden Street & Front Street was donated to the Town of Exeter by Alice Gale Hobson, in memory of her father, General Stephen H. Gale. The statue was created by one of Exeter's most famous residents, Daniel Chester French. The Park & War Memorial was dedicated on July 4, 1922.
The Powder House was built in 1771. It is located at Duck Point, and can be seen across the river from Swasey Parkway. On December 17, 1812, the State Legislature passed a resolution empowering the Governor to purchase a supply of powder, lead and flints for the use of the State. (The War of 1812) Half of this material was to be stored in Exeter, and the Governor was authorized to "procure some suitable magazines, or safe place of deposit - for the safe keeping of the public stores aforesaid". It is also thought that a number of barrels were stored in the Powder House and used at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The Powder House still stands today and was refurbished in 1999.
The American Independence Museum is an part of Exeter's history and the history of the United States. One of the original printings of the Declaration of Independence was found in Exeter and is now held at the Museum. They also hold two original drafts of the U.S. Constitution. The Museum grounds include the Ladd-Gilman House, which holds many important artifacts from when Exeter was New Hampshire's State Capital during the Revolutionary War. The Folsom Tavern also resides on the Museum's premises. The Tavern was visited by President Washington in 1789 when he toured New England. The Museum holds a festival each year typically on the third Saturday in July. The Festival includes a revolutionary battle re-enactment on Swasey Parkway, a variety of period crafts and historical re-enactments in the Folsom Tavern. In 2012, Red Hook Breweries partnered with the Museum to introduce "American Independence Ale" in a limited edition.
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.
Featuring two state of the art ice rinks, batting cages, and an arcade, the Rinks are a great place to visit, free skate, watch hockey, or have a birthday party. All year round ice skating is available along with party packages.
The Academy was established in 1781 by John and Elizabeth Philips. This prestigious college preparatory school has been an important part of Exeter since its founding. The grounds of the Academy house many impressive buildings, some of which are over 100 years old. Also on the grounds is the Phillips Exeter Trail. A 30-mile loop beginning and ending at the school, passing through several small towns along the way. The PEA gymnasium has 2 hockey rinks, a swiming pool, basketball, tennis, and squash courts. The PEA grounds also feature a state of the art track and a football stadium. PEA's famous library was designed by Louis Kahn.
The Exeter Country Club was founded in 1889. This reasonably priced nine-hole golf course is available for both members and the public so call or schedule a tee-time online. Special twilight rates are also available.
The Exeter Sportsman's Club was created in 1878 and was established to promote the conservation of fish and game, to stimulate interest in the shooting sports, and to foster a high standard of sportsmanship among members and fellow sportsmen. For more information on the Sportsman Club, Click Here
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