Dover's Woodman Museum celebrates 100 years

Union Leader Correspondent
May 01. 2016 11:54PM
Curator Thom Hindle and Executive Director Wes LaFountain talk about the 100 year anniversary of The Woodman Institute Museum in Dover. Celebrations are scheduled all season long. (KIMBERLEY HAAS)

DOVER — The Woodman Institute Museum, home of the only remaining Colonial-era garrison house in New Hampshire, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

In 1915, Annie Woodman bequeathed $100,000 to create an institution in Dover that would promote the study of local and natural history, as well as art. Hearing the news, Ellen Rounds had four men and a horse move the William Damm garrison house from Back River Road to Central Avenue, where trustees also acquired the homes of Charles Woodman and John Parker Hale. Since its opening in 1916, the museum has grown exponentially due to the donations of individuals and organizations who want to share their precious items with the public.

On Wednesday, longtime curator Thom Hindle showed off the museum’s treasures in The Woodman House, which include a lectern Abraham Lincoln used to give a two-hour campaign speech at Dover City Hall on March 2, 1860, many species of animals preserved by the art of taxidermy, firearms from as far back as the Civil War and a mineral exhibit with state-of-the-art, black-light technology.

Hindle remembers coming to the museum as a child, and sitting on the floor, checking out all of the display cases close-up. Today, he watches as the next generation does the same.

And it’s not just children who are fascinated by the variety of artifacts.

“We have this WOW factor, the Woodman Offers Wonders. We get so many ‘wows.’ They look at the Garrison House when we open the gate and ‘wow.’ They go upstairs and, ‘wow,’” Hindle said. “Throughout the whole museum, that’s what we hear. People have no idea what to expect, and when they get here they just could not imagine it. They leave with their heads just full of ‘wows. This is incredible.’”

Hindle said part of the fun of his job is taking in what people donate, which can be letters from a soldier one day, and an animal that was preserved another day. The animal collection includes the last cougar ever killed in New Hampshire — which was shot in Lee in 1853 — and a 10-foot polar bear killed by a Dover man near the Siberian coast in 1969.

The museum now owns four buildings. In the Damm house, built in 1675, there are over 800 items which illustrate what life was like in Colonial days.

Next door, in The Hale House, there are 40 glass cases which contain hundreds of items relating to Dover and the surrounding area.

Upstairs, there is a desk used by Andrew Peirce, Dover’s first mayor, in 1856, and a table where Rev. Jeremy Belknap wrote “A History of New Hampshire,” which was published in three volumes between 1784 and 1792. The work is considered to be the first modern history written by an American.

The Keefe House was purchased by the museum in 2006, and now houses an art gallery. Executive Director Wes LaFountain said he naturally gravitates to the artwork because of his background, and happily showed off black and white photos, which were painted to give them color before color photography was an available technology.

LaFountain, who worked in museums in Portland, Maine, and the University of New Hampshire, said lighting was specifically placed in the house to highlight pieces hanging on the walls, which adds to the displays.

“It presents art very well, in this whole house, really,” LaFountain said.

Groups can rent out The Keefe House for functions and gatherings, LaFountain said. Work is being done throughout the property to make the museum handicap accessible.

Trustee Dennis Ciotti said there will be events to celebrate the centennial anniversary throughout the summer. One of the major events will be a gala on July 23, held on the museum grounds, located at 182 Central Ave.

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