Take a trip back through time to the village of Hillsborough Center. It stands in peace and dignity, as it has stood for almost three hundred years.If you approach the village from downtown Hillsborough you will come up a rise in the road which will transport you to an earlier time as you pass two beautiful old farms looking as they did a century ago.
Another mile or so brings you into the Center. Here thirteen colonial houses stand almost unchanged around a triangle. Two churches grace the common, a Congregational church, still used for services and music in the summer; and a Methodist church, built in 1863, which stands empty after the last Methodist died many years ago. The old schoolhouse, the pound, the Center Club and the cemetery complete the village today.
The schoolhouse, with its wood stove, desks and chairs, stands as if waiting for the children to arrive. Just past the schoolhouse is the pound, a safe haven for a cow or sheep missing from the fold. Across the street from the schoolhouse the Center Club with its stage and kitchen saw many a Christmas show and play put on by the villagers in the past. Today it still hosts an occasional wedding reception, meetings, and Art & Craft Fairs. Take a quiet walk through the old cemetery with stones hailing back to pre-revolutionary days.
A quiet walk into history would also bring you to a tavern. The Tavern of the Rising Sun, as the owner Joseph Wilder Jr. called it, was in the house he built in 1815 to the right of the Methodist church. A sign still exists dated 1816, the year he opened the tavern; on one side an eagle with the date, on the other a rising sun and the name J. Wilder.
Joseph’s son Barrett and daughter Anne were the last to run the tavern until Barrett wandered south where his Yankee views just before the Civil War may have caused his death. He was buried in Arkansas. Joseph Wilder’s brother, James built a house across the street from the tavern. Barrett and James were coopers and had a small shop between the house that James built and the house that is now Wellsweep Gallery. Here they made butter boxes or firkins. They transported these to Boston on a long pung sleigh which was sometimes borrowed to transport the children to school. The Wilders also ran a tannery on the other side of the Gallery building. The tannery is now transformed into a home. In later years James’s house was also the post office,. The owner, Elizabeth Nelson, was the postmistress.
In recent years the Center has become a gathering place for artists. Sissi Shattuck, a fine artist trained in her home country of Austria, lives with her husband, Gilman Shattuck, in the original Shattuck homestead. Sissi returns to Austria each year to exhibit her art and visit her family and friends.
Jonathan Gibson continues to operate Gibson Pewter, founded by his father, Raymond Gibson in 1966, in the 200 year old barn where he apprenticed as a young boy. Jonathan is a recognized authority on antique pewter. He is also a member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen and recognized as one of America’s 200 top traditional craftsmen.
The Gallery at Well Sweep, located in a rustic barn just across the street from Sissi Shattuck, displays the work of localartists and craftsmen as well as art from across the country.
Today the Center retains its sense of peace and timelessness. When the church bell rings on Sunday mornings in the summer it’s not difficult to imagine the women in their long skirts and bonnets and men in black suits and hats strolling toward the church or clattering up Center Road in their carriages.
*Note: Historic information from Lisabel Gay’s book, Legends of Center Folks.
written by Jane Pinel
Photo credit: Bob Lint