Celebrating the Arts and History in Downtown Concord
By: Emily McMaster, GSA Communications Director and Leadership Greater Concord Class of 2022 Participant
*Cover photo courtesy of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce
This year, I have the privilege of participating in the Leadership Greater Concord Class of 2022. Once a month, we get together with our class to learn about Concord, focused on a new theme each session. In September 2021, our theme of the month was History, Arts, Culture & Community. It was an eye opening experience in all that Concord has to offer, seen through the eyes of someone who often takes for granted everything that we have here. Although I’ve lived in the Concord area my entire life, it turns out that I had so much more to learn!
In preparation for the day, our homework was to read through “A Walking Tour of Historic Downtown Concord, NH,” which is published by the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce. What a comprehensive downtown tour! I have walked all over downtown Concord, but I had hardly paid attention to the blue signs attached to many buildings. As it turns out, these signs indicate the downtown walking tour, which is informative and rich in history. I learned so much just from reading through the booklet, and I was so excited to experience the tour in person.
We were given the opportunity to participate in an abbreviated tour of downtown, which included going behind the scenes at many historical sites. How many times have I walked past a historical building without realizing its story? Or stopped to consider what is upstairs?
I find it fascinating to consider how many hotels were once in the downtown area. We visited Endicott, which is now apartment buildings, created in 2013. It was built as a hotel in 1894. There is also the Eagle Hotel, which operated until 1961 and boasted visits from well-known guests and presidents.
Another building that stuck out to me was the Odd Fellows building, built in 1888, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever realized what the building was used for. Located on Pleasant Street, with IOOF on the facade of the building, we admired the large arched windows. We were treated to a visit inside, where the third story used to be the meeting place for the Odd Fellows. We were surprised to enter a gym with a basketball court on the third floor.
I also remember visiting the Children’s Museum Exhibit of the NH Historical Society as a 4th grader. What a pleasure it was to visit the site as an adult – to the current office building. We climbed the fire tower in the middle of their office for a beautiful view of downtown. Now when I drive by that building, I notice the fire tower, which I have honestly never noticed from its exterior!
We also visited the NH Historical Society – a grandiose building from the outside, with a majestic staircase in the foyer area leading up to the exhibits. I am ashamed to say I have never been there…but I was very impressed with the variety of resources and exhibits.
As a musician and theater person, I was looking forward to visiting the theaters around Concord. The Concord City Auditorium is completely volunteer-run, and we were greeted by a very knowledgeable volunteer who shared her expertise on the history of the building. We paused our day for a lunch at the Concord Community Music School, a school that is near and dear to my heart. After growing up visiting the school weekly for piano and flute lessons, it was a privilege to return and hear about the ways in which the school contributes to the community through music. We ate delicious food from the Concord Food Coop (the cookies were amazing!), and then we enjoyed a performance by a woman who immigrated to Concord from Nepal.
After lunch, we continued our theater tour at the Capital Center for the Arts, which was also a trip back through time for me, reminiscing about my time spent dancing as a child for Concord Dance Academy. Walking through the attached Kimball House was a treat – a historical house, with lots of stories behind those walls. Our tour guide shared with us some information about weddings taking place at the theater, with a cocktail hour in the Kimball House – what a neat idea for a venue! We learned about some possible ghost stories in the theater, and we had a great vantage point of what it feels like to perform on the stage, looking out at the seats.
Our next stop was next door to the Bank of NH Stage, which is a relatively new theater downtown. I had attended a Concord Young Professionals networking event there, but it was great to return to see the venue. I am excited to attend some shows there in the future.
Our last stop of the day was Phenix Hall, which I have often passed by and wondered about the interior. Entering the building felt like a passage through time. We enjoyed a social hour on the main floor area, learning about the plans for the theater. It makes me so happy to see historic locations repurposed and revitalized. It will be wonderful to see the future unfold for this little theater.
Overall, this day was an amazing experience. Not only did it bring back great music and arts memories, but I learned so much about the history of downtown Concord and all that the city has to offer for the arts. I look forward to sharing what I learned with friends, as well as my Granite State Ambassador volunteers who welcome visitors to NH.