Published: October 20, 2015
By Rick Russack
CHESTER, N.H. — Six hundred wonders of contemporary folk art line the main streets and back roads of Chester, a small town less than 15 miles southeast of Manchester. Each year, for the entire month of October, residents display the scarecrows they create according to their own wishes and abilities. Many of the figures represent historical and literary personages. Others are simply whimsical. George Washington stands guard over a cemetery where Revolutionary War soldiers are buried. Ben Franklin flies his kite. Humpty Dumpty sits on a wall. Edgar Allen Poe carries a copy of “The Raven,” while a bird perches on his shoulder.
The figures shown here inhabit Routes 102 and 121, where three properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places — the Chester Village Cemetery, Chester Congregational and Baptist Church, and Stevens Memorial Hall — may be found. Chester is possibly the only town in New Hampshire with listed properties occupying three of four intersecting corners.
The event is a fundraiser for the Chester Historical Society. Jackie Brown instigated the project six years ago. Each year, the historical society sells scarecrow kits for $20. Each kit includes a painted burlap face and sticks to help the figure stand. No two faces are alike. Only 100 kits are made each year, but the scarecrow population keeps growing as residents add to their collections. The historical society is already sold out of next year’s kits.
Home to the Dunlap family of cabinetmakers, the quintessential New England village of Chester features many stately Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century residences. Railroads bypassed the town later in the Nineteenth Century, and the lack of new development helped preserve the town’s appearance. Sculptor Daniel Chester French summered in town and, as the story goes, liked it so well he took the town’s name as his middle name.
Benjamin Brown French was Commissioner of Public Building during the Lincoln years and was a close friend of the President. He stood next to Lincoln when he delivered the Gettysburg Address and built the podium used at Lincoln’s funeral. That podium has been used at all presidential funerals since. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, who died when the Lusitania was torpedoed in 1915, owned six houses in the center of town. The list could go on.
Historic charm and New England ingenuity make Chester a winning fall destination. Jackie Brown, Sylvia Anderson and Diane Methot do most of the work creating the scarecrow kits. When asked if she had a title in the town, Brown responded, “No. My husband, Don Brown, is president of the historical society and I’m just the woman behind him.” Lucky for Chester.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm