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Henniker, New Hampshire: The Only Henniker on Earth

Downtown Henniker NH, a great New England small townHenniker, New Hampshire feels like the ultimate hometown.

by Eric Hurwitz. Page updated on 11/16/16.
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Driving into Henniker, N.H., it was love at first sight.

Fixated on the "Henniker Pharmacy/Beer, Wine Groceries" sign with the old-time Coca Cola logo, Henniker immediately felt like a warm safe place that many other communities abandoned a long time ago in the name of faceless commercial, residential and industrial development. Stopping by the St. George Cafe (clearly, a popular breakfast and lunch spot), the staff and owner greeted us like old friends while a parade of locals visited for a "warm hello," a cup of coffee, homemade muffins, some conversation and to read the newspaper.  Once the owner found out we were from the southwest suburbs of Boston, she told us that she once lived there, too, and grew tired of the traffic, large public school classroom sizes, and other suburban overgrowth challenges.  The family "made the move" to Henniker (with a population just over 4,000) and is now "so, so happy" to be in this small town. She mentioned the neighborly feel, good schools with small classroom sizes, and not nearly as much traffic as the daily congestion in and around Boston. "I love it here!" said the owner.

It's easy to understand why Henniker is a special New England travel destination. Best known as home of Pat's Peak ski area and New England College, Henniker (just west of the state capital of Concord) somehow feels more a like a well-established, Mayberry RFD-like community than just a ski vacation destination or college town. Walking through the well-defined downtown district, I did not see the presence of overpriced ski shops, nor trendy local college hangout bars blasting out loud rock music.  Maybe those scenes were somewhere in town, but my focus was on the Henniker Community Park and Center with a nice expanse of land and gazebo, the flow of the scenic Contoocook River, the Edna Dean Proctor stone double-arch bridge above the river, the well-kept large Colonial homes, and the architectural brick beauty of the 1903 Tucker Free Library and the Henniker Community School.  Adding further to the town's wonderful New England ambiance: the historical, old white building combo of the Congregational Church and Historical Society Museum, as well as the view of a lighted up Pat's Peak from Main St.

The downtown also features several niche shops (quilts, day spa, as well as art, boutique and gift shops) and restaurants. We stopped by Daniel's Restaurant and Pub (30 Main St.), a quaint, appealing dining spot serving steaks, chicken, seafood, pasta, soups, salads, sandwiches and homemade desserts. It's one of those made-for-New-Hampshire dining spots that has a rustic feel while, fortunately, not feeling "rusty."  The "new" old look of the restaurant is quite inviting with everything up-to-date, but without losing any of the retro rural feel -- or pieces of the building. The atmosphere is especially pleasant with gleaming wood floors, wall sconces, hanging lanterns and plant baskets, an aquarium, wooden windows, candles at each dining table and a brick wall in the cozy bar area. With a grand view of the Contoocook River  from our table, we feasted on a delicious oversized Caesar salad; chicken pot pie with a perfectly-formed flaky crust, the right amount of salt (most chicken pies are oversalted), and creamed spinach (and carrot fries on the side);  and a terrific rueben with homemade sauerkraut. 

After dining, we drove through town and took in the sweet feeling of the small town night. The air was fresh, the old front-porch homes looked tailor-made for us, and the lights at Pat's Peak looked like Emerald City. What a beautiful scene in this jewel of a town!

Henniker bills itself as "The Only Henniker on Earth."  While the slogan refers to the name of the town, it could be said that the catch phrase implies that Henniker is also a one-of-a-kind community. Henniker is just that, a town that feels like home and innately promotes a sense of place and a feeling of well being. We'll certainly be back soon to explore more of this "real" New England town!

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