Peterborough, New Hampshire, is set apart by a vibrant creative community invigorating inherited New England traditions.
This article originally appeared in our October 2015 print issue.
Craft is an ingrained value here, visible in everything from the historical society’s collection of eighteenth-century American furniture (well worth a look) to the Sharon Arts Center, which features dozens of local artists working across media and styles. Since 1907, leading artists have been coming to the exclusive, secluded MacDowell Colony on the outskirts of town. More recently, Michael Chabon and Jeffrey Eugenides wrote parts of their Pulitzer Prize-winning novels there.
Peterborough is an essential destination for literature and music, with plenty of readings and concerts throughout the year.The Toadstool Bookshop provides the kind of immersive browsing experience of books and records that online shopping will never rival. Start a conversation with manager Eric Gagne, who runs the music department; organizes the Thing in the Spring music festival; and tours with his own band, Footings. Gagne has encyclopedic knowledge and says he is “sincerely interested in knowing customers’ tastes and connecting them to artists that they may not know about, but will absolutely love.”
For live music, Harlow’s Pub is a local mainstay with universal appeal. The patio is ideal for seasonal beers during the day, while night brings a steady stream of musicians for weekly bluegrass jams and open mikes. Harlow’s is easily one of the best stages between Boston and Burlington, Vermont, and hosts an impressive array of regional and national acts on weekends, including a recent appearance by members of the band Morphine and an ever-growing roster of innovative groups drawing from genres like psych pop, indie rock, Americana and folk, jam, funk, jazz, and even world music.
Like the town itself, Peterborough’s secondhand shops fit precisely between the everyday and the pretentious. The Melamine Cup (six miles toward Jaffrey on Route 202) specializes in midcentury modern furniture and home goods, with a particularly good selection of barware—perfect for dressing up vintage cocktails in period vessels.
In town, the group shop Bowerbird & Friends cultivates a modern farmhouse aesthetic with industrial touches. Several pieces of folk art, especially the “tramp art” made by itinerant travelers, collapse the distinction between high art and handmade function. “A younger generation is returning to New England heritage but bringing fresh eyes,” says store owner Katherine Forrest. “When they come in, they respond with inspiration and surprise—there is a sense of discovery, but also recognition and familiarity.