Book Review: New Hampshire Then & Now
by Rebecca Rule
Through December 2006, the exhibition “New Hampshire Then and Now” will be
on view in Concord at the New Hampshire Historical Society’s Park Street library.
Peter Randall’s new book by the same title catalogues the exhibit -- and stands on
its own as fascinating look at how our state has changed over the last century and
a half, and -- even more fascinating -- how it has stayed the same.
This is Randall’s third book of New Hampshire photographs. He has been
publishing his photographs and words about our landscape and history since
1974, producing thirteen books on his own, and many more by others through his
publishing house. He documents us. And in New Hampshire Then and Now he
documents transformation as well as continuity. The photographs are paired. The
photograph of the Acworth Church flanked by the school and town house c. 1900
looks almost exactly the same as in 2005. Randall writes:
"For Acworth and many other small towns, time seemed to stop. As older
residents died and their children moved away, the villages changed little for
nearly a century. A few farmers held on, but others died or left. A walk in woods
divided by stonewalls tells the story of long-abandoned hayfields and nearby
As I looked at the church and compared my planned photograph with one taken
perhaps a hundred years ago, I marveled at how little has changed in the view.
There are not many places where you can see this. There are no ugly power lines
or traffic lights, and the town house still needs to be painted: no vinyl siding here.
Even today, there is only one paved road into town; if you want to go north to
Unity, take the dirt road next to the school."
Will Acworth be like this forever, Randall wonders. Even in Acworth the
population is creeping up. It doubled between 1950 and 2000 to nearly nine
Randall acknowledges the population deluge that has flooded Hillsborough,
Rockingham, and Merrimack Counties. But he chooses not to show the fast food
restaurants and orange-roofed Home Depots where cows once grazed. No
panoramas of strip malls in this book. We see them every day, and we know they
aren’t pretty. We enjoy their convenience, and we know they symbolize what we
have lost. Randall doesn’t have to remind us of that sad truth. Instead, he
illustrates a few ways in which the more things change, the more they stay the
same. The two photos of Milford’s Union Square, 1940 and 2004, show the same
gazebo, different varieties of trees (the elms long gone), same church, similar store
fronts, dirt paths newly paved with brick, new models of cars, wooden benches
replaced by granite, and old folks -- then and now -- relaxing on those benches,
taking a load off, taking a little sun. Instead of the horse-drawn stage coach pulled
up in front of Fred Keyser’s store in North Sutton c. 1900, a 2003 photo shows a
sporty red sedan, the Gulf sign over the gas pump, and a banner advertising
Korean take out.
Besides these traditional -- same place, different time -- juxtapositions, he
translates then into now with pairings that illustrate what something has become.
Here’s a photo of workers in the finishing room of the W.S. & R.W. Pillsbury Shoe
Shop, West Derry, 1899. The women, wearing long dresses with high collars,
voluminous aprons, pose between shelves lined with shoes and an untidy work
bench. Here’s Paul Mathews, proprietor of the Cordwainer Shop in Deerfield,
2005. In the foreground, three pairs of finished shoes; all around lie the tools of his
trade, shoe forms, pliers, knives. He’s slicing into a piece of red leather. The
"By age 17, Paul was designing shoes for his father’s custom shoe business.
Cordwainer shoes all have round toes and low heels and the correct fit for health
and comfort. Shoe styles that Paul designed in the 1930s are the same popular
ones he makes today. At age 87, Paul still travels the country to participate in fine
juried craft shows. Paul’s wife and daughter make the shoes alongside him in the
shop, which is attached to his country farmhouse. "
In another creative leap, a picture of the blacksmith shop at Abbot-Downing
Company, Concord, c. 1880, where parts for Concord Coaches are being fabricated
is matched with the assembly line at Segway Company, Bedford, 2005. Besides
swivel chairs, mirrors and men in white jackets, a Concord barbershop, c. 1898,
boasts an ornate potbelly stove and a sleeping terrier. Compare this with the
interior of The Clip Joint in Portsmouth, 2005, where the clients are men and boys,
the barbers are women, and the razors electric.
Randall’s collection represents the whole state, top to bottom, side to side. He
includes images of a dark Victorian parlor in Alton, 1890, and its sunny 2005
counterpart. Raking hay by hand in Barnstead in the 40s looks some different from
haying with a Case International tractor at one of the last dairy farms in East
Colebrook. Teddy Roosevelt campaigns in Concord in 1912. John Kerry, Joe
Lieberman, Wesley Clark and John Edwards campaign in Portsmouth in 2004. In
Cornish, the same people seem to have attended both the 1947 and 2004 town
meetings -- different styles of clothing, same hard chairs and serious faces.
Randall takes readers from the lakes to the sea and from the Isles of Shoals to
Franconia Notch for the saddest pairing of all: Cannon Mountain with the Old
Man; Cannon Mountain without.
About the author
Rebecca Rule is a humorist, author and storyteller, who is the author of two
collections of short fiction, including The Best Revenge, winner of the NH Writers
Project award for fiction.
|Book Review: New
Hampshire Then and Now
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