top of page

Celebrating Small Towns!

The Spirit of Community…

‘Karen and Jay share thoughts on the core values that make our small towns so very special’

We love small towns!  These are the wonderful places that form the backbone of America.  They are the main streets where every shop is owned by a local family, and there is a feeling of delight each time you walk through the door.  These are warm, caring communities where you know your neighbors, you care about their families – and they care about you.  There is a community spirit, a community pride, and a sense that these are the places we can truly call home.  And this is precisely why we created the Sunshine Initiative, along with our non-profit Small Town Turnaround organization – to revitalize and regenerate the positive energy that radiates and emanates throughout these wonderful small-town communities.


I grew up in a small town, known as the ‘Sunshine Town,’ Newport, New Hampshire.  Located in the western part of the state, Newport embodies this spirit of community in every possible way.  We cheer for our Newport High School Tiger athletes.  We attend Town Meeting, and we congregate at the Salt Hill Pub.  We love our Winter Carnival, the oldest winter carnival in the nation, and we go all out to welcome guests at our annual Apple Pie Fest on the Newport town common every August.  And these are just a few of the truly ‘Newport’ things that make our town special and unique.


The truth is that every town has its unique aspects, and in a sense, its own ‘story.’  And growing up in a small town or living in one as an adult, you cannot help but pick up the essential elements that define the community.  And, as you do, you develop a deep identity and a feeling of mutual respect and togetherness with others in the community.  It’s really something special.

You are more than simply a number – in a small town, you are a valued member of the community – in a word, you are ‘special.’


With this in mind, we are dedicating this edition of the Sunshine Report – to a celebration of our small towns - in New Hampshire and across our great nation.  The more that we can foster a feeling of respect for the individual, the stronger our sense of community.  The greater our civility, the stronger our bonds are to one another.  And not surprisingly, these values form the core of the experiences we find in our small towns.

Community at its Core - “Our Town”

In a memorable scene that is played out time and again on high school stages all across the land, the Stage Manager slowly walks out and says to the audience, “This play is called ‘Our Town.’ The name of the town is Grover’s Corners, NH – just across the Massachusetts line: latitude 42 degrees 40 minutes; longitude 70 degrees 37 minutes. The day is May 7, 1901. The time is just before dawn.”  By the way, it is commonly believed that this play was modeled after the wonderful town of Peterborough, New Hampshire.

This 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama written by Thornton Wilder has since become an American classic. Edward Albee has described it as, “the greatest American play ever written!“ And, I’m sure it brings back memories for many of our readers, whether you were actually in it or as I still fondly remember seeing my kids on stage playing various characters.

"Our Town" is a poignant exploration of life, love, and the human experience within the small town of Grover's Corners. Set in the early 20th century, the play delves deep into the intimate fabric of community life, emphasizing the profound interconnectedness of its inhabitants. Through the lens of Grover's Corners, Wilder masterfully depicts the intricate social dynamics and personal relationships that characterize small-town existence.

Central to the play's narrative is the portrayal of small towns as bastions of personal connection and social cohesion. In Grover's Corners, everyone knows everyone else, and daily interactions are imbued with familiarity and warmth. From the casual exchanges at the local soda fountain to the communal gatherings at the church, the residents of the town are deeply intertwined in each other's lives. Wilder emphasizes the importance of these interpersonal bonds, highlighting how they provide solace, support, and a sense of belonging in the midst of life's trials and tribulations.

Moreover, "Our Town" delves into the intrinsic value of community rituals and traditions in small-town settings. Whether it's the annual choir practice, the town picnic, or the solemn rituals surrounding life's milestones like weddings and funerals, these communal events serve as linchpins that bind the residents together. Through these shared experiences, Wilder underscores the collective identity forged within the confines of a small town, where individuals find solidarity in their shared history and shared destiny.

In addition to its thematic exploration of small-town life, "Our Town" has inspired numerous Thornton Wilder Societies around the world. These societies, comprised of admirers and scholars of Wilder's work, aim to celebrate his literary legacy, and promote the continued appreciation of his plays, including "Our Town." Through conferences, readings, and educational initiatives, these societies foster a deeper understanding of Wilder's insights into human nature and the enduring relevance of his portrayals of small-town America.

"Our Town" stands as a timeless testament to the enduring significance of small towns as vibrant hubs of personal connection and social cohesion. Thornton Wilder's masterful depiction of life in Grover's Corners resonates with audiences across generations, underscoring the universal truths embedded within the intimate intricacies of community life. Moreover, the proliferation of Thornton Wilder Societies underscores the enduring impact of his work, ensuring that his profound reflections on the human condition continue to inspire and enlighten audiences around the world.

On a sad note, we realize that not all things are timeless, and as I was researching this article, I found that the Board of Directors for the Thornton Wilder Center for the Arts in Peterborough, NH, back in 2020, posted on their Facebook page that as of December 31, they would be dissolving the organization. What a loss to the community. We need to remember to support our local arts, as they truly help weave the fabric of our communities into the stories that are passed down from generation to generation.

Because as Emily said in the play, “Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it -- every, every minute?”

Unique Small Towns and Communities – Southwestern New Hampshire

Throughout our state, we have some incredible small towns – real treasures.  In the heart of New Hampshire's picturesque landscape lie small towns, each nestled amidst rolling hills and serene lakes, boasting its own unique character and rich history. For a moment, let’s focus on just one area – the southwestern part of our state – and wow, some incredible gems! 

Starting with Keene, a vibrant community, and the filming location for the iconic movie "Jumanji," this great community stands out as a beacon of charm and cultural richness, drawing visitors from far and wide to its historic streets and bustling markets.

Venturing northwestward, one encounters Harrisville, a town steeped in history and known for its stunning scenery. Its quaint village center, adorned with centuries-old buildings and framed by the beauty of lakes and forests, has long been a haven for artists and writers seeking inspiration. Notably, it was here that Thornton Wilder found the muse for his timeless play "Our Town," capturing the essence of small-town life with poignant grace.

Further along the journey, Dublin unfolds, renowned for its breathtaking landscapes and deep agricultural roots. Nestled amidst verdant hills and crystal-clear lakes, Dublin proudly claims the honor of being the birthplace of the legendary Farmers' Almanac. Since its inception in 1818, this venerable publication has served as a trusted guide, reflecting the town's enduring connection to the rhythms of the earth and the cycles of the seasons.

In the southern reaches of the state lies Peterborough, a cultural hub steeped in history and artistic flair. Renowned as the birthplace of poet Marianne Moore, Peterborough boasts a thriving arts scene, with the acclaimed Peterborough Players theater company captivating audiences with stellar performances year after year.

These small towns, each with its own story to tell and its own unique contributions to New Hampshire's rich tapestry of history, culture, and natural beauty, collectively paint a vibrant portrait of the state's enduring spirit and timeless allure.

We will be featuring more of these lovely small towns and communities in future Sunshine Reports.  See the “New Feature” section in this week’s Sunshine Report where one of our Sunshine colleague’s shares their experience of growing up in Boscawen along with some very interesting facts about the town.

Positive Profile of the Week - Gene Chandler 

This week, I am excited to recognize a true icon in both local and state politics: Gene Chandler of Bartlett, New Hampshire. Gene truly defines what it means to step up and ensure that small towns are celebrated, valued and respected.  

For those involved in politics and who have had a chance to grace the halls of our state capital, then you must know Gene Chandler! Jokingly, Gene would say he is the other famous Gene Chandler, not the one who wrote "Duke of Earl." A graduate of New Hampshire College, now Southern New Hampshire University or SNHU, Gene has a long history of knowing pretty much everyone. Just ask him, and if you had a chance to work with him on a special election and went door-to-door, then you would know he truly knows everyone when he would tell you, "tell 'em Gene said ‘hi.” It’s those strong relationships that have led him down the road to success in elective office.

In the mid-1970s, Gene was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives, serving his town of Bartlett as well as surrounding communities, including Conway, New Hampshire. Over the years while serving in the legislature, Gene was seen as a go-to guy, someone you could depend on, and someone who would always stand up for small-town Granite State values. That is why he rose from committee chairman to policy leader to deputy majority leader, to assuming the gavel not once, but twice as New Hampshire Speaker of the House.

But it wasn’t just Gene’s commitment inside Concord that made an impact on the people he served. It was his dedication to town government and constituent service. Gene served as chairman of the Bartlett Board of Selectmen and as chairman of the Carroll County delegation. On top of all that, Gene served on commissions, including forestry, wildlife protection, and the preservation of New Hampshire’s majestic White Mountains.

Where we live defines who we are and plays a large part in what we value. Gene Chandler truly is the iconic symbol of the White Mountain region. He cherishes everything around him and embraces the lifestyle with poise, honor, and dedication. I know how Gene Chandler has worked for his community, and it was a great honor to serve with him in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. I know many past state legislators feel that way as well, and that is why we are proud to recognize him as our Positive Profile of the Week.  It is also why I am personally grateful to know Gene and to honor him as a friend!  Gene, thank you for all you do!


New Feature – ‘Your Town’

The Sunshine Report has always started with a video, two articles, a positive profile of a local hero, ending with positive quotes, all based on the theme of the week.

Going forward, with the ‘New and Improved’ Sunshine Report, we are adding a ‘Positive Profile of a Small Town.’ This is where we are looking for guest articles. What’s special about the small town you live in or grew up in? Send us your article, and if it’s chosen, we will feature Your Town in an upcoming Sunshine Report. This publication goes out to tens of thousands of readers weekly, with no advertising. One of our American Sunshine Movement’s colleagues is writing the first ‘Your Town’ profile this week about the town he grew up in, Boscawen, NH…enjoy!  Here it is – immediately below.’


Daniel Webster once said, “When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization.” This quote is fitting for Boscawen, NH, where the great statesman set up his first law practice in 1805. Where one of the prominent farms in the center of town once thrived, a new generation has opened an art gallery and artist studio. Several decades after the famous Senator and Secretary of State had spent time there, a young man named Levi Morton would teach school, at only 16 years old, in the town which was named after Admiral Edward Boscawen. Morton would go on to become a businessman, U.S. Senator, and Vice President of the United States. In more recent history, the Marshall family has been an integral part of the community for several decades. Aside from a farm, they also owned a firearms store and florist shop next door to each other for many years. As a teenager, I recall a few of us jokingly saying, “Look, it’s Guns and Roses”.


The matriarch of the family, Agnes Marshall, a recipient of the Boston Post Cane, recently passed away at 102 years old. She left an indelible mark on her hometown and generations of family, friends, fellow residents, and customers from all over.


Across the street, in what was called Adam’s Clam Bar in the 1950s, Alan’s of Boscawen has been known far and wide as the go-to spot for both seafood and all-American food for many decades. There are several other families whose businesses were once an integral part of Boscawen’s fabric. Steenbeke and Sons was a family-run building supply company with branches as far north as Plymouth and south to Salem. It’s hard to find anyone in town who didn’t either work for or shop there at one time. McKerley Nursing Homes started from a single location in Boscawen and grew to be the largest family-owned chain of nursing homes in NH prior to selling to Genesis Healthcare.


One of my fondest memories, as many other locals can attest, was to visit Danny Carey and his wife and kids at Carey’s Market. This was both the local butcher shop and small market that some locals remember going to with a note from their parents allowing them to buy cigarettes, in a much different time in our history. Next door was Bradley’s Pizza, which for many years, operated out of an old firehouse. Egounis’s market was similar to Carey’s and just a few miles up the road.


The Elmwood Lodge Motor Inn, though different owners, is still a landmark in town. The Black Forest Nursery started in 1976 in the back of a pickup truck and has since expanded to several

acres of land. Still the same family though the patriarch sadly passed recently. Rest in peace Mr. Towle. You and your family created something amazing that has stood the test of time and then some. The Kenney family owned a couple of businesses in town, the Colby’s are still operating a Christmas tree farm and a large sawmill as they have for many decades. I actually worked in the sawmill many years ago.


The Silvers have owned farms in one part of town for many years and the Crete family, with their Currier and Ives worthy Highway View farm in another. From the Hannah Dustin memorial in the south part of town to the State Forest Nursery in the north and State Veterans Cemetery in between, Boscawen is rich in history. The 35-foot-tall statue of Hannah was the first monument erected in the United States for a woman.


Finally, Moses Gerrish Farmer, for whom part of the town is known by his middle name, was born here. He was a prolific inventor who, like Daniel Webster, gave much credit to God. So much so, he didn’t take much credit for himself for his inventions. For example, at age 39, Moses lived at 11 Pearl St in Salem, MA, and using his patented incandescent bulbs that he later sold to Edison, lit his parlor. It was the first house in the world to be lit by electricity.


If you enjoyed this inaugural ‘Your Town’ article, please consider sending us a similar style story and / or asking your local historical society to write one - they may already have one ready to go and we’re sure they would like a little spotlight on themselves as well as the town! 

Quotes of the Week:  Celebrating Small Towns!

"Small towns are the soul of America." - Paul Wellstone


"Small towns are where you hear the real stories." - John Darnielle


"In small towns, everyone knows everyone, and that's their business." - Laura Dern


"Small towns make up the best stories." - Candice Bergen


"The strength of a nation depends on the character of its small towns." - Howard Dean


bottom of page