Embracing the Gate City's Past
By Stacy Milbouer and Tom Long / Fiddlehead Contributing Editors
Nashua shares its name with the river that runs through it – apt given the Gate City has always gone with the flow.
It was work that drew successive waves of immigrants – French-Canadians, Irish, Greek, Italian, Polish, Lithuanian and most recently Latino, Southeast Asian and African – who have reinvigorated the city’s culture over the years.
The river is now the focus of yet another revival as former mills are transformed into living spaces, and a new 228-unit housing development rises along the waterfront.
Every Sunday the Nashua River is the centerpiece of a weekly farmers’ market as local growers sell fruit and vegetables on Main Street on a flower-decorated bridge above the river and around the corner on Water Street, next to the small, riverbank park called Le Parc de Notre Renaissance Francaise with a life-sized bronze statue of a millworker and her son who is reading a book – the first sculpture honoring the Franco-American culture.
Visitors to the park may take a walk past Clocktower Place and Cotton Mill – former brick mill buildings which have been transformed into trendy apartments.
Back Downtown, a river walk along the waterway is being constructed in segments. It will eventually create a 1.6-mile loop for walkers and bicyclists. Peddler’s Daughter Irish Pub has outdoor seating on one section already built. Uphill on the other side of Railroad Square, Riverwalk Café and Music Bar offers coffee and sandwiches as well as an eclectic array of music. Upcoming performers include the blues band 2120 South Michigan Avenue and jazz pianist Matt Savage and his ensemble.
But there’s a lot more to the city than falling water. From Library Hill and the obelisk and array of cannons saluting the soldiers and sailors of the Civil War though the eclectic array of brownstones and granite edifices downtown, there’s a lot going on if you know where to look.
The Hunt Memorial Building, a gothic romantic brick structure built in 1903, was the city library for many years. It now is the venue for special events and the setting for Santa Claus during the city’s iconic Winter Stroll each year. The current library opened in 1973 on Court Street on a hill overlooking the river and is a cultural lodestone with concerts, art shows, free movies and other cultural activities and an impressive collection of books, film and music. The little park out back has a great view of the falls below.
Maestro Jonathan McPhee and Symphony NH perform at the Keefe Auditorium, a 1,200-seat classical revival hall at Elm Street Junior High School that is an acoustical gem and the largest hall in the state. The Peacock Players children’s theater has served as a springboard for several performers with national careers. They perform at the Court Street Theater, a former firehouse and a Frisbee toss from the public library.
The city’s SummerFun series has a strong lineup of outdoor shows at Greeley Park (see sidebar), a weekly Bach’s Lunch series of noon classical concerts at the Nashua Public Library and Pics in the Park movies on Friday nights at Greeley Park.
Rivier University isn’t just a school, it’s a center of culture and community education in the city.
Watch a ballgame at historic Holman Stadium, built 80 years ago and now the home of the Nashua Silver Knights. But it was once home to a Brooklyn Dodgers’ farm team and that’s where history comes in. In1946 it became home base for the first racially integrated team in America. Among those players was pitcher Don Newcombe, and Hall-of-Famer catcher Roy Campanella. A mural commemorating those players can be seen on the east side of the Maynard & Lesieur Building on West Hollis Street.
In addition to the numerous murals around the city, many of which were created by Positive Street Art (see sidebar), Nashua is all about the arts and crafts. The Nashua Area Art Association runs ArtHub, a collaborative gallery and work space on the bottom floor of 30 Temple Street – formerly Indian Head Plaza.
Maison de L’Art Gallery on East Pearl Street features the work of Nashua impressionist, Monique Sakellarios. A few blocks away in the mill yard, the Picker Collaborative Artists sometimes have open houses at their collective studio, and the city has an open house ArtWalk of studio and galleries on Oct. 14 and 15.
Main Street is the home of League of NH Craftsmen Nashua Fine Craft Gallery and Twill Fabric & Yarn, which is not just a retail spot for fabric artists and crafters, but also a gathering place for needle craft lovers from near and far.
There’s also music on the street in Nashua. Literally. Brightly decorated pianos have been installed on Main Street. Great American Downtown partnered with North Main Music for the project. To check out all the city’s events sponsored by Great American Downtown including Taste of Downtown, the Annual Chocolate Stroll, the Winter Stroll and the Nu Muse Festival, to name a few, check out downtownnashua.org/live/our-programs.
Let’s talk shopping. On Main Street alone you have Snap! It’s Vintage consignment and antique store; New England Railroad, a real old-fashioned model railway store; Castro’s Back Room, where cigar smokers rule; and Dick Avard’s Haberdashery, where sharp-dressed men have been fitted out for as long as we can remember. Fresh is a casual chic, women’s boutique.
Pompanoosuc Mills sells Vermont-made wooden and upholstered furniture made to order for every room of the house. Wingate’s Pharmacy has been around for more than a century and is the rare drug store that compounds prescriptions on the premises. DesignWares has boutique clothing, jewelry, gifts, cards and wedding invitations.
Cardin Jeweler has been a purveyor of gems and fine jewelry for generations and Scontsas Fine Jewelry and Home Décor has been at it for a long time, too. The Scontsas family has been a fixture on Main Street since the early 1900s.
Around the corner on West Pearl Street is Fortin and Gage Flowers and Gifts, a flower shop with extras and a downtown mainstay for generations, and newer businesses like Tangled Roots Herbal, an herbal and metaphysical retail store. There is also a remnant of the city’s working-class roots – a genuine cobbler’s shop in Gary’s Boot ‘n Shoe Repair on Factory Street.
And SOE (Save Our Earth) on West Pearl is one of several vintage/re-sale stores downtown. There’s also Lucky Dog Thrift Shop on Elm Street, which benefits local families experiencing veterinary emergencies, and the Grey Nuns Thrift Shop on Marshall Street
On East Pearl Street is the downtown institution, Crosby Bakery. The bakery has been providing hermits, apple pie, Parker House rolls and other baked good since 1947. They also make their own baked beans and gorton – a French Canadian pâté-like spread made with pork, onion and spices – reflective of the city’s Franco roots.
Nashua has not one but two bagel bakeries, which produce authentic, door-stop-sized New York bagels. Bagel Alley off Main Street is the granddaddy having been a downtown fixture for decades and Whata Bagel on East Hollis Street, is the new kid on the block.
There are a lot of nooks and crannies off Main Street, “a lot of ins and outs and what have yous” as Jeffrey “the Dude” Lebowski might say. Sohn Tailors on Factory Street is an old-fashioned tailor shop, but it’s also where the proprietor’s life-sized angelic sculptures hang from the ceiling.
On East Hollis Street, a historic marker indicates the former site of Nashua Iron and Steel Works where, in 1861, iron port stoppers were forged for the turrets of the U.S.S. Monitor, the Civil War ironclad. The bronze relief was installed in 1931 in what is now a parking lot. Down the road is Dolly Shakers Bar and Grille, a popular local music venue.
For 15 years, Collins Brothers Chowder Company on Temple Street has been a known secret to Nashuans. Think of them as the opposite of Jerry Seinfeld’s “soup Nazi.” On any given day when they’re open, hungry customers queue up for hot quarts and cups of homemade chowder, Italian wedding soup or any of the other dozen or so soups to go on the menu.
Headlines on East Hollis Street is a head shop circa 1960s with all that that entails. La Mexicana Bakery on West Pearl Street offers genuine south-of-the-border confections like peinetas (pineapple filled bread), queso (cream cheese croissant) and nino envueleto (strawberry jelly rolled in coconut). And Carniceria Zapopan is a Mexican butcher on Water Street.
Thirsty? Martha’s Exchange on Main Street is the state’s first brewpub and serves its own brews as well as a wide-ranging menu of food. Thirsty Turtle on Temple Street is said to be a great place to nurse a pint and The Flight Center of Main Street offers a chance to sample small potions from a wide range of craft brews.
Hungry? Nashua is a foodie’s heaven with an impressive variety of domestic and ethnic cuisine.
MT’s Local Kitchen and Wine Bar and Surf are upscale eateries on opposite sides of Main Street, both owned by foodie entrepreneur Michael Buckley. Codex on Elm Street is a replica of a 1920s speakeasy with a secret entrance. Once inside there’s dim lighting, vintage décor and comfy settees and craft cocktails. Fody’s Great American Tavern in Railroad Square is housed in one of the city’s oldest brick buildings (circa 1833) and is a popular dining, live entertainment and trivia night venue.
Stella Blue on East Pearl Street is an intimate tapas and martini bar. Also on East Pearl is Taj India, an upscale Indian restaurant with a bountiful buffet Thursday to Sunday. Don’t forget to try the chicken tikka.
Brazilian cuisine doesn’t’ get any better than Sabor Brasil on Canal Street, which also features a plentiful buffet.
Mexican food is represented by El Colima, California Burritos, Margarita’s and Casa Mezcal Mexican Grill. San Francisco Kitchen features California/Asian cuisine as well as sushi. Southeast Asian is represented with Thai food at the Giant of Siam and Vietnamese Sandwich Shop is known for their banh mis and Vietnamese cuisine, especially pho, which is also the star at Thanh Thanh 3 on Simon Street. Shira Kiku on Broad Street features a Korean menu.
For good old American barbecue, there’s Riverside Barbecue on Main Street with specialties like the Pig Pile sandwich and the Burnt Ends platter. City Room Café on West Pearl Street has great sandwiches and Main Street Gyro has souvlaki and more.
A little more afield is the Temple Street Diner out near the railroad tracks near the Merrimack River. Lunch is sometimes accompanied by the rumble of a train rocking by.
Favorite breakfast and lunch spots include Joanne’s Kitchen and Coffee Shop (an original railroad diner car inside which has been modified on the outside) and Norton’s Classic Cafe – both on Main Street and both with a retro feel. The iconic orange and white 1950s edifice that houses Poor Pierre’s on the corner of Main and Lakes streets, has been dishing up bacon and eggs for nearly 50 years. There’s also Roland’s Restaurant on Kinsley Street where locals with Quebec roots can order their breakfast, lunch or early dinner in their native tongue to veteran, bilingual waitress Denise.
Got kids? You’ll have no problem getting them to behave while eating their pancakes and looking out on to the runway at the Midfield Café at the Nashua Airport.
And, in addition to the Riverwalk Café, Nashua has two other bakery/cafés that serve as the Gate City’s third places – where people gather for coffee, pastries and company. JajaBelle’s Pastry and Coffee Shop on Main Street (see sidebar) and Bonhoeffer’s Café & Espresso on Franklin Street.
Get away from downtown and discover YouYou Japanese Bistro on Broad Street. Their spider roll and sushi are to die for. At Pig Tale Restaurant on Amherst Street the shrimp and grits are a favorite and at Cucina Toscana, also on Amherst Street, the lunches are a bargain and the clams casino are the real thing.
In South Nashua, Pizzico is an Italian restaurant with homemade pasta hidden on a hill behind some strip malls. La Carreta Mexican Restaurant attracts a devoted following craving authentic tamales, fajitas and a really good Margarita.
And if you’re more the make-it-yourself type, don’t miss Jeannotte’s Market a few blocks from Greeley Park, known for its excellent meats, wide assortment of whoopie pies and the best Italian subs around. Grab one and bring it to a picnic at Greeley Park (see sidebar).
Want to know more about the Gate City’s history from its origin to its evolution into a mill town and eventually a manufacturing and technological center? Head over to the Nashua Historical Society’s Florence H. Speare Memorial Museum and the Abbot-Spalding House on Abbott Street. The current exhibit at the museum is the history of Nashua hospitals from the 19th century until today.
Away from downtown, kids get a kick out of a visit to the Nashua National Fish Hatchery on Broad Street where you can peek in on tanks filled with salmon and shad.
Those who like their adventure more on the extreme side might want to head to South Nashua to try indoor skydiving, surfing, boogie boarding, rock climbing and the Fishpipe indoor water ride at SkyVenture and SurfsUp.
Looking for your adventure in a more natural setting? Head over to Mine Falls Park, 325 acres of forest, wetlands and fields crisscrossed with walking trails along the river and canals that once fueled the city’s textile mills.