This is the blog post that has taken me longest to write of all my summer travels this year. There is a mixture of elation, wonder, and sadness that runs right through this place and my soul. It is hard not to superlative the place, hard not to pigeonhole it, but easy to wonder what will happen in this beautiful historic city.
Franklin is under 2 hours from Boston, even less from my metrowest home. A lovely outing for a weekend or longer. It is a city with population of 8600 (more or less, according to wikipedia) and the smallest of New Hampshire’s 13 cities. Per capita median income falls somewhere in the $22,000 range (again wikipedia). It has risen and fallen with the fortunes of the river-hugging brick mills, the last of which closed in 1970. Mostly fallen in this century though there are signs of hope:
A group of residents is cleaning up the river to bring new tourists to the area through a whitewater park called Mill City Park. A bookstore opened in 2015, sadly closed in 2016, but the idea is there to bring back the downtown. Mills are being converted to low-income housing by the end of this year.
My blog is not supposed to be political, and I’d like to keep it that way. I will say, however, that while New England is heavily Democratic-leaning, I can now understand where some of the angry Trump voters come from. I can’t say I agree with their beliefs (we followed a giant Confederate flag waving from a pole stuck in a pickup truck for several miles) but I would say a week in the territory made me understand it a bit better. This place has few jobs, swallowed hope, and a gorgeous old downtown now filled with pawn shops and empty storefronts. The former opera house turned library and town offices was partially funded by one of the old barons himself: Andrew Carnegie. The place rings with ghosts and old money lost long ago.
But rather than depress you all with these thoughts, let me tell you about what to love about this town. An old rail trail along the river with abandoned bridges and rushing water. Another long rail trail that follows the path from New York to Montreal–the place we stayed at backed onto it, and the original owner was the veterinarian of FDR’s dog Bella. Bella would stay there sometimes when FDR chugged on through on the presidential train. The place echoes with history–it is the birthplace of Daniel Webster (you can still visit his childhood home along the rail trail) and was named for Benjamin Franklin.
Not only that but the range of outdoor adventures is literally endless. Take a walk in the old evergreen woods that line every road and lake. Bring your bicycle because the Northern Rail Trail runs 58 miles through woods and along rivers. Mt. Kearsarge (to be covered separately) is one of the best family hikes I have ever had. For those looking for more challenge, a half hour in the car takes you to the White Mountains. Lakes to kayak on, swim in, play on. The Polar Caves (see my blog on that one). Red newts on lake walks, small frogs in mysterious circles (actually a train-turnaround but awesomely spooky on a foggy morning). Mini golf and lobster rolls. Friendly, helpful people. A love of dogs that allows you to bring your animal just about anywhere (lunch at a Caribbean restaurant called Cataleya’s in New London netted us an outdoor table with a view of the beautiful old town green).
We so loved the area around Webster Lake that we briefly looked at the real estate listings. A neighbor to our VRBO told us about where to look, how they found their place. It is a city I would love to see come back vibrantly, hosting tourists of the outdoors, and lovers of history. It’s got everything ready: let’s go!