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Restoration work begins at American Independence Museum

After months of planning, major restoration work has begun at the American Independence Museum that will “transform its one acre campus,” according to Executive Director Emma Bray.

“It’s not just the aesthetics of our property, but some of the actual nuts and bolts of our Ladd-Gilman House,” she noted.

These “nuts and bolts” include concrete skirt removal around the Ladd-Gilman House (c.1721), repointing the foundation and replacement of rotten sills at its front.

“We will move to the drainage and re-grading portion of the work in August, weather-permitting,” said Bray, who said one outcome from this portion of the project will be quite noticeable.

“There will be a new path from Governors Lane and the brick patio of Ladd-Gilman House to Folsom Tavern [on Water Street],” she explained. “There will also be substantial improvements to the front yard between the caretaker’s cottage and gift shop entrance.”

That entire area, Bray noted, will be lowered to provide for a 6″ foundation reveal, which she described as “best practice in historic house preservation.” 

“Currently, our sill line for that portion of the house sits below grade, which contributes to our issues of water in the basement and rot for those clapboards below grade,” she said. “The front yard space will also be lowered, yard drains installed and entry pathways re-laid.”

In addition to $80,000 grant from the NH Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP), the project is funded by the Lewis Family Foundation, Samuel P. Hunt Foundation, William W. Treat Foundation, and private donors.

“We received a tremendous amount of support for this project, which is critical for the museum’s future and our ability to best care for our collection,” she said.

The museum’s collection includes one of only 26 surviving copies of the Dunlap Broadside of the Declaration of Independence and two rare drafts of the U.S. Constitution.

According to Bray, the project began in mid July with the removal of several trees, one of which included a dying ash located adjacent to People’s United Bank staff parking lot. 

“The removal of this and other trees were important for many reasons, but done so only after careful consideration and consultation,” said Bray.

In looking ahead, Ozzie Ayscue, president of the museum’s Board of Governors, said the project “puts a literal foundation under the 1721 Ladd-Gilman House and American Independence Museum collection.”

“We feel like we have a solid new platform for launching diverse experiential programs for an expanding community,” he said.

Bray agreed and added, “We are but stewards of this property, so it is very gratifying to prepare for the future, especially as we look to the Ladd-Gilman’s 300th anniversary in 2021.”

Even with the financial support received so far, Bray said it is clear more funding will be needed to successfully accomplish all aspects of the project.

“It is important we take this opportunity to do all we can right now to ensure the integrity of the Ladd-Gilman House and our collection, so future generations may enjoy it far into the future,” she added. “This is an exciting moment for the museum and the Town of Exeter.”

The Provident Bank to sponsor Free Admission Day

Sponsored by The Provident Bank, the American Independence Museum will offer free admission on Tuesday, August 6 to residents of Brentwood, East Kingston, Exeter, Kensington, Newfields, and Stratham as well as town employees and teachers with valid ID.  

According to museum Executive Director Emma Bray, the first SAU 16 Free Admission Day sponsored by The Provident Bank  in July proved quite successful.

“We had the best Tuesday of the year,” she said. “We are working to eliminate any financial barrier whatsoever for people to visit us, so this partnership has been wonderful…We also hope these days will be used by educators and teachers, so they may better utilize us as a resource during the school year.” 

The museum’s collection includes one of only 26 surviving copies of the Dunlap Broadside of the Declaration of Independence and two rare drafts of the U.S. Constitution.

“Our tour guides can take you on a virtual trip through Exeter and the nation,” she said. “History can be pretty fun.”

To learn more about Free Admission Day, or the museum , visit

Kids welcome at Exeter Hospital’s Revolutionary Story Time!

Presented by Exeter Hospital, Revolutionary Story Time! turns Folsom Tavern at the American Independence Museum into a place for kids, ages 3 to 5, the first Thursday of each month, April through December.

At the next Revolutionary Story Time! on Thursday, August 1 from 2 to 4 pm, museum Executive Director Emma Bray said families and caregivers can expect everything from story-telling to live music.

“We have a colonial re-enactor who really engages with the kids,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

After the initial 30 minute story time, families are invited to “stay and play” for parent-supervised playtime, which includes imaginary play, colonial games and period dress-up.

“Kids and families can play outside on our lawn, too,” added Bray. “This is a great way to spend the afternoon and then walk right over to the Farmers’ Market afterwards on Swasey Parkway.”

Due to the historical nature of the Tavern, strollers are not encouraged, as the building is not handicapped accessible. Reservations are accepted but not required. 

Home to a world-class collection of 3,000 historic artifacts, the museum welcomes more than 5,000 visitors annually and distinguishes itself with educational school programs and events that make history fun and relevant.

American Independence Festival puts a spotlight on Exeter

Revolutionary capital of New Hampshire, Exeter boasts a rich history that is often overlooked, which serves as a source of motivation for Florence Ruffner, longtime sponsor of the annual American Independence Festival.

“I take every opportunity I can to promote this beautiful, vibrant town, which is why I believe in this festival,” said Ruffner.

Scheduled to take place on Saturday, July 13 throughout downtown Exeter, the festival celebrates the town’s historic roots, many of which run through both 18th century structures of the American Independence Museum, which serves as host.

Recently presenting the museum with a $1,500 check as the festival’s George Washington parade sponsor, Ruffner said she has fulfilled many roles at the nonprofit institution through the years.

“I have served on the board, I’ve purchased a legacy step, been a sponsor through Ruffner Real Estate, and now serve as an ambassador,” she said. “I love the museum and appreciate how it brings people to our town.”

Featuring live music, beer, food trucks, games for kids, traditional artisans, art and craft fair, and colonial battle re-enactments, the 29th Annual American Independence Festival is expected to attract 4,000 attendees.

“It’s a huge day for us and the town,” said museum executive Director Emma Bray, who said festival attendees can also view an original copy of a Dunlap Broadside printing of the Declaration of Independence.

“It’s here for just one day as are two original working drafts of the US Constitution,” she added. “We really appreciate Florence and the role all our sponsors play in helping us put a spotlight on a town with an incredible history–and the festival is a chance to experience it.”

In addition to Ruffner Real Estate, other major festival financial supporters include presenting sponsor Newburyport Bank, New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, RiverWoods Exeter, and Exeter Hospital

Tickets for the festival are available online until 3 pm on Friday, July 12 and “at the door” on the day of the event on Saturday, July 13. To learn more about the American Independence Festival or museum, a National Historic Landmark Property, visit