Lebanon, New Hampshire, chartered in 1761, was settled by folks traveling up the Connecticut River from Lebanon, Connecticut—hence the name. It’s been a mill town, a railroad town, and a tannery town. As you can see, Lebanon has a strong working-class history.
Photo credit: Doug Kerr
Indeed, as recently as the 1970s, fumes from the E.Cummings Tannery still hung in the air and toxic pollutants spilled directly into the Mascoma River, which flows through the center of town.
Lebanon has experienced hard times. The commercial heart of the city was virtually destroyed by fire in 1964. When Interstate 89 was mapped out, it bypassed the downtown, leaving it just far enough off the beaten path to set it back economically. No one drove through downtown anymore. The city center floundered for decades.
And yet, today, Lebanon is one of the most vibrant cities in the region. The Mascoma River runs clean, and apartments sit on the site of the old tannery. The railroad has become the Northern Rail Trail and, in place of woolen mills, Lebanon has Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center as a major employer.
But, you ask: What is there to do in Lebanon? Let’s find out.
- Live Theater and Music. If you like the performing arts, then you have to become familiar with the Lebanon Opera House. In the 1960s, the historic structure had devolved into a second-rate movie house, but a community campaign in the 1970s restored the theater to its former glory. Now, the Lebanon Opera House offers annual productions, including past performances of Beauty and the Beast, Kiss Me, Kate, Madame Butterfly, and Swan Lake by the Russian Grand Ballet.
- Visual Arts. Nothing exemplifies change in Lebanon like AVA Gallery and Art Center. Located at 11 Bank Street, AVA took over the ramshackle building that used to house the H.W. Carter and Sons factory, a family-owned business that made dungarees and overalls and employed 175 people until it closed in 1985. Now it’s home to a nonprofit community art center that hosts exhibits, gallery talks, and art classes for all ages.
- Get Healthy. We’ll only call this place by its full name once: Carter Community Building Association Witherell Recreation Center. More familiarly, it’s the CCBA. Located at the edge of downtown, the CCBA has an indoor swimming pool, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, fitness equipment, tennis courts, a playground, and a gymnasium. They offer recreational opportunities for all ages and, depending on where you work, you might be eligible for a corporate discount. The CCBA also sits adjacent to the Northern Rail Trail, which you can walk on (or bike, or ski, or snowmobile on) for miles.
- Eat and Drink and Shop. After fire raged through downtown in 1964, Main Street disappeared and was replaced with a pedestrian mall. Now the mall is lined with restaurants and shops. Various cuisines are represented among the mall’s restaurants, including Italian, Irish, Chinese, and Japanese. There’s also a local diner, and shops selling sporting goods and Asian products. Around the corner from the mall, you can find a cupcake shop, a home décor store, a summer ice cream stand, and a sandwich shop. But check in often. New places are cropping up all the time.
Check your knowledge of Lebanon, New Hampshire with this fun quiz! How well do you know your history?