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November 10. 2012 11:57PM

Preserving history: A challenge in Exeter

America's history is decreasingly preserved in the hearts and minds of Americans and increasingly in museums, whose floors are seldom trodden by the sneakers of anyone young enough to use them for their intended athletic purposes.

One such museum sits beautifully in Exeter, but for how long no one knows.

Exeter is famous for its colonial-era houses. The American Independence Museum owns two of them, 1721 Ladd-Gilman House and the neighboring Folsom Tavern. Among the former residents of the Ladd-Gilman House was John Taylor Gilman, who, before rising to the governorship of New Hampshire, had the distinction of reading the Declaration of Independence to the people of Exeter, then the state capital. The signature of his brother Nicholas can be found on the U.S. Constitution.

The Folsom Tavern was a center of revolutionary activity in New Hampshire's colonial capital.

Were these buildings in Boston, they would be visited by tens of thousands of tourists from all over the world.

Tucked away in little Exeter, they were lovingly preserved by musuem staffers who saw too few visitors and who will see no more; they were laid off this month. The museum spent this year losing so much money that its board of governors has closed it until a new plan for its continued operation can be devised.

This lovely little museum sits directly across the street from busy shops frequented by locals and tourists. Few probably know that just paces away is a portal back to colonial America.

Among the museum's artifacts is a Dunlap Broadside of the Declaration of Independence, printed in Philadelphia on the night of July 4, 1776, for distribution to the colonies. It is one of only 26 left in existence.

Colonial properties in New Hampshire can draw traffic and money. Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth is the best example. But attracting both is a huge challenge even in this tourist-heavy state. The board of The American Independence Museum has made clear that new ideas and strategies are needed.

The museum website is www.independencemuseum.org. Perhaps you could lend a hand. You know, like people used to do back in the old days.


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