After taking a breather from the publication of his latest book, Smuttynose Murders, and spending some time on the Isle of Shoals, local historian, J. Dennis Robinson returns to the pages of TMS Architects’ blog, with a piece on Dover’s Woodman Museum. There is still time to visit this wonderful piece of New Hampshire history before school vacation ends!
We could spend all day talking about the three elegant brick homes that make up the Woodman Museum in Dover. They include the Christie House (1819), the Hale House (1813), and the Keefe House (1825). All three are stuffed full of fascinating artifacts, documents, and artwork. But we don’t have all day.
This blog is just big enough to mention the fourth building that makes up the wondrous Woodman campus. When locals talk about “that Damm Garrison,” they are referring to the William Damm House that once stood at the original Dover settlement, about three miles from the current downtown. It was moved a century ago.
We should remember that, for the first half century of New Hampshire settlement by Europeans, the new arrivals lived peacefully among Native Americans. The Indians had been here at least 12,000 years. It took a few generations for the “people of the Dawnland” to realize that, despite treaties and promises, that they were being marginalized, discriminated against, pushed out of their homeland, imprisoned, enslaved and killed. But that’s a story for another day.
By the end of the 17th century, there were a dozen protective wooden garrisons in the Dover region. By the 20th century, only one had survived. It was moved about three miles slowly by horses for the opening of the Woodman Museum. In 1916, when the museum was dedicated, the brick buildings were still empty. Today they are chock-a-block full of treasures, from a 10-foot polar bear to Abraham Lincoln’s saddle.
But my message here today is simple. If you have never been inside the old garrison, you owe it to yourself — and especially to your kids — to visit. The garrison is covered by a protective wooden portico, but you can go inside for less than the price of a pizza. And once inside you will experience the space that our colonial founders inhabited. Smell the wood. Imagine the dim light. See their rough-hewn tools and appliances. Walk across the wide wooden boards of the first forests. Go up the ladder-thin stairway and stand in the sleeping area. Imagine yourself in a wild world, fearful of wolves, bears, bobcats, and other unseen enemies. Imagine the closeness and security inside the log fort, once surrounded by a tall palisade.
This isn’t something you can imagine. It’s one of those experiences that activates all the senses. You have to be there. The William Damm Garrison is among the “must-do” experiences in a tiny seacoast overflowing with dozens of historic sites. So, time to get started.
VISIT THE MUSEUM: Tell them you saw this at the TMS Architects blog. Dennis Robinson is editor and owner of the popular website SeacoastNH.comand author of 12 books about history. His latest release is MYSTERY ON THE ISLES OF SHOALS: Case Closed on the Smuttynose Island Ax Murders of 1873. You can follow his history postings on Facebook. His newest website is www.SmuttynoseMurders.com