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Out and About: Strawberry Banke

Updated: Jun 27, 2022

A few weeks ago, I had the great opportunity of accompanying my daughter and her class on a field trip to Strawberry Banke in Portsmouth. As a non-native Granite Stater, I had never been there before, and was excited to visit a new place! It was very fun to walk around and learn about NH history and the way our community has adapted to changing times and environmental needs. Here are some highlights.

My daughter's teacher explained that this grassy field used to be a waterway, and boats would come right up to the homes.

Strawberry Banke is a historical museum created through a combination of old houses and businesses that were moved onto the campus in their mostly original condition. Rather than showcasing exhibits in one main area, you walk around the property and wander in and out of various buildings. We toured a governor's mansion, grocery store from WWII, a simple home from the 50s and a Jewish immigrant home from the early 20th century, among others. It was actually really fun to play "what do we still use today?" and find older items that have stayed the test of time. Many of the homes are also "hands-on" and the kids really enjoyed being able to look and touch some of the recreated artifacts. Other homes had character actors who took time to explain the historical period and create the mood for the visitor. You never knew whom or what you'd encounter and it was fun to explore!

An old fashioned bulk store from WWII! The goal was to cut down on packaging to preserve materials for the war. Our goals have changed -today we are looking to reduce waste - but the idea remains the same.

The gardens were also very interesting. We wandered inside the greenhouse and learned about various plants that were grown for medicinal use. There were chickens to visit and an apple orchard through which to meander. There was a victory garden, and we talked about what those are and the appeal of growing and eating food right out of your yard. The indoor/outdoor rhythm of the place was really wonderful. We even saw some of the old Portsmouth water pipes, which used to be fashioned through wood (versus today's metal). It was interesting to learn about the creation of the modern-day municipal water system and how technology has advanced over time.

My favorite part of the tour was visiting the Abenaki wigwam that the museum recently built last year. I had taught a group of NH fourth graders about Abenaki culture, tradition and its place in NH today. Strawberry Banke acknowledged that their museum was missing this integral part of NH history and rectified that problem by adding the wigwam to stand among the other houses. The kids really enjoyed walking inside of the structure and admiring its handcrafted nature and white birch bark materials. You can see the video and learn about the process here.

When done, the students loved running around on the main lawn (in fact, it was encouraged!) and then some friends and I took a walk into Portsmouth. It was one of those perfect days where the kids put their feet the water, we enjoyed an early dinner al fresco, treated ourselves to delicious local candy, stretched our legs and were home by bedtime. If you're looking for an outdoor adventure this summer (or fall!) that will appeal to kids of all ages, I really recommend this trip. There is something for everyone - history buffs, kids who like to look and touch, and people who enjoy delicious food and browsing in small towns. Happy exploring!

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