For Holmest, Derry is the treasure chest of never ending history
For Holmes, who is working on his seventh book of local history, being a historian in Derry is like being in paradise.
"There is more history here per square foot than any place else in the country," Holmes said, adding that the history of the town extends much deeper than big names such as Robert Frost and Alan Shepard.
"The history is so deep with other people that I can keep writing for the rest of my life and for two or three lifetimes after that," said the retired Pelham history teacher.
In addition to working on his latest book, a biography of Robert Frost's years in Derry from 1900-1911, Holmes is bringing his deep knowledge of local history directly to the citizens of Derry.
While many towns bestow the title of town historian on a longtime local resident, Holmes may be one of the few town historians who actually keeps office hours for the public in the Town Hall.
Holmes has an office in the Derry Municipal Center next to the town clerk's office with office hours from 8 a.m. to noon on Mondays and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays. Holmes said he is also available by appointment.
"Anyone from any town can come in and get advice on genealogy or the history of their house or try to get a photo," Holmes said.
Aside from his deep knowledge of the town, he said he also has access to every book covering the history of Derry and Londonderry as well as thousands of historical photographs.
Holmes said he always offers his services free of charge as a way to pay back the community.
After stepping down from the town's heritage commission several years ago to let some fresh faces on board, Holmes was approached by Town Administrator John Anderson and Police Chief Ed Garone about using his historical knowledge as an asset for the town.
"They sat down with me in my living room and asked what they could do to get me back into the town's history," said Holmes. "I said there was not a town historian with office hours, so we shook on it, and it was done."
In addition to the office hours, Holmes said he is available to speak to any groups that are interested. Recently, he has spoken to the Derry Rotary Club, the Red Hat Society, and was a guest on New Hampshire Public Radio expounding upon Derry as the first place potatoes were grown in America.
Holmes does not lack for projects pushing the importance of local history. He said he is working with the state on establishing a Robert Frost trail to help bring tourism to the region.
"Derry has a great location and tremendous history," said Holmes. "We have marketed it as being close to Route 93, but now is the time to market its history. Derry has a signer of the Declaration of Independence; it's where the first potato was grown in America; and it is the site of the first all-girls school in America."
Whether working on his newspaper columns, his biography of Frost, or analyzing the 1900 Derry census to provide a snapshot of the town at the turn of the century, Holmes said he is doing what he loves.
"Not a day goes by where I don't learn something incredible about Derry," he said.
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