There’s Something About Derry
By Stacy Milbouer
Fiddlehead Contributing Editor
Derry is the quintessential New England town. But it’s also a living, growing place, which has adjusted to changing times and economies.
The former factory town was reinvigorated by the construction of Interstate 93 and easy access to Manchester and Boston. Restaurants now line downtown, three performance venues showcase national and local acts, and there are recreation options for everyone.
The state-of-the-art Stockbridge Theater at Pinkerton Academy seats 881 and hosts national and community events. The children’s program, “Pete the Cat,” the Pakistani contemporary fusion orchestra, “Sounds of Kolachi,” and the Canadian vocal group, The Tenors, are among the upcoming acts.
The new and improved Tupelo Music Hall, which recently moved to 10 A Street in Derry from its home in Londonderry, hosts national and international acts and plans land big-name acts in the new venue. Coming up – Blue Oyster Cult and Melissa Etheridge.
The Derry Opera House, or Adams Memorial Building, is a brick Colonial revival structure built in 1908. The 350-seat theater underwent a $1.5 million renovation in 2001and is used by local performers and theater groups.
But what’s a night at the theater without dinner out? No problem there. Within a couple miles’ radius of the Opera House, one can sample a variety of ethnic and American fine and family dining.
On Broadway alone you can nosh on tapas at Drae; dine on braccioletini chicken in the former railroad-depot-turned-restaurant, Sabatino’s North; down one of the best burgers at The Halligan Tavern; or pair wines and craft beers with upscale offerings such as truffle fingerling pan frites or escargots vol au vent at Cask and Vine. And if you like your food to go, Rig A’ Tony’s Italian Take-Out on Broadway offers homemade Italian meals on the run.
For those with more traditional taste, Broadway also offers C & K Restaurant, which has been serving up classics like broiled pork chops with applesauce, prime rib and chicken cordon bleu for more than 35 years. And poodle skirts and diner décor are part of MaryAnn’s Diner’s retro appeal. The landmark “Happy Days”–style restaurant has been a campaign stop for stumping presidential candidates and celebrities since it opened in 1989. It’s easy to understand why: Big windows with great views of Broadway, glass bricks and chrome and period music playing all day.
Take a turn east on Crystal Avenue and head to other locally owned eateries like the Derry Diner, the Cali-Tex-Mex restaurant California Grille and, at Hood Commons, Amphora – a contemporary Greek restaurant with a huge local and out-of-town following.
For a comfort food fix right off the Derry Traffic Circle, you’ll find the town’s two iconic seafood eateries, one of which – Clam Haven – has been a food stand mainstay in this town for more than 64 years. This authentic clam shack is a throwback to the days of Sunday drives with the lure of a clam roll and cold frappes as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Service is window only. Opening day for this season is Wednesday, March 15 at 11 a.m. For many Derry residents, Clam Haven’s opening for the season is the unofficial start of summer, even if it is still technically winter.
Not far away is the Lobster Claw II. Open year-round and founded in 1986, it’s located right off the Derry traffic circle. It, too, offers New England seafood as well as ice cream. There are to-go windows as well as seated dining inside and umbrella-covered picnic tables outside. There’s also a fish market that sells fresh shucked oysters and live lobsters as well as other seafood.
But for many no meal is complete without an adult beverage to accompany it.
Derry has oenophiles and beer mavens covered. Appolo Vineyards on Lawrence Road has wine-tasting events, vineyard tours and wine-tasting appointments. And Spacetown is home to two breweries, Kelsen Brewery Company on North High Street and the Rockingham Brewing Company. For coffee and teetotalers, Derry has two hip cafés, the Grind Rail Trail Café on Broadway and the Coffee Factory at Hood Commons.
Winter weather doesn’t slow down recreation in Derry. The SportsZone Indoor Sport Complex on A Street allows for recreation and sports competition year-round no matter what the weather. The air-conditioned 95,000-square-foot facility has a climbing wall, batting cages, basketball, volleyball and dodgeball courts and other sport accommodations.
In the warm weather months, Derry has three golf courses from which to choose: Hoodkroft Country Club, Brookstone Golf Course and Hidden Valley RV and Golf Park.
Look up. The vision of a giant, yellow happy face hovering in the sky isn’t all that unusual in Derry. It’s a smiley face hot air balloon. High 5 Ballooning has been giving hot air balloon rides with hovering birds’ eye views and elegant champagne landing picnics for 18 years. By the way, the name of that happy-faced yellow balloon is High Five Jr.
Derry also has some less lofty attractions. You have to love the fact that while driving east on Route 28 past the seafood shacks, a giant turkey and pink elephant look out over the highway. They are left over from what was an outdoor flea market. On 28 you will eventually cross West Running Brook, and the spot where more than a hundred years ago, poultry farmer and poet Robert Frost came upon a neighbor mending his stone wall, inspiring what would become one of the most famous American poems – “Mending Walls.”
For devotees of American poetry, the Frost Farm is a kind of literary mecca. Open to the public, the 1884 simple clapboard farm house was home to the poet, his wife, Elinor, and their four children from 1900 to 1911 and was just 12 miles away from his childhood home in Lawrence, Mass. The family went there so Frost could write and raise Wyandotte chickens on the 30-acre lot. They were tough years. They had no electricity or running water.
But it’s where Frost found inspiration. In addition to inspiring “Mending Wall” and “West Running Brook,” his time in Derry produced many of the poems that appeared in his 1915 collection, “North of Boston.” In a letter written in 1952, Frost wrote: “I might say the core of all my writing was probably the five free years I had there on the farm down the road a mile or two from Derry village toward Lawrence. The only thing we had was time and seclusion.”
A visit to the farm includes tours, exhibits, walking trails and poetry readings.
Another trove of local history can be found at the Derry History Museum in the Adams Memorial Opera House on West Broadway, which holds artifacts from the town’s roots – from the Nutfield settlement in 1719 right through Derry’s deep connection with hometown hero, Alan Shepard, the first American in space.
For those whose idea of recreation is shopping therapy, there are some big box stores in town. But local gems include The Happy Hippy on Manchester Road, with incense, peasant blouses and tapestries galore; or over on Broadway, the Yarn and Fiber Company, Derry Depot Antiques and Daren’s Music Center/Smash Music, to name a few.
Finally, while working as a poultry farmer, Robert Frost would have more than appreciated the Derry Feed & Supply Store on Martin Street and the Blue Seal shop on Crystal Avenue. While there is plenty of chicken gear and horse products, you don’t have to be a big animal owner to dig the funky selection in these shops. There’s plenty for Fido and Whiskers and there is even equipment to tap your maple trees for syrup.
And this summer a new Derry Homegrown Farm and Artisan Market is scheduled to take place weekly downtown. In addition to fresh produce, products and crafts, organizers are hoping for live entertainment and children’s activities.