The first time I visited Manchester, the largest city in New Hampshire (pop. 110,000), was back in 2006 when hubby and I came up from NYC to attend our first PorcFest, which you should do too! It was a Sunday, it was dreary out, and Elm Street, the main downtown drag, was depressing as all get-out with boarded up buildings and “Going Out of Business” signs. I hated it. I actually teared up, saying to Louis, “Please don’t ask me to live here.” At the time, I was still ambivalent about the whole “Move to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project and work towards ‘Liberty in Our Lifetime’” thing--how life has changed!--and Manchester was not doing Louis’s pitch any favors.
Fast forward a decade: 10 PorcFests, 20,000 signers, and one Trigger the Move later, and I’m happy to report: I love it here! Manchester's economy has improved and downtown is now vibrant, sporting restaurants and shops like Dancing Lion Chocolates that even take bitcoin! Last fall, we bought a house--our first ever--in Manchester. Why the Queen City rather than anywhere else in this gorgeous state? Here are a few of my reasons:
Biggest City (And Affordable Too)
Once the romanticism of “living in the country” in the Upper Valley wore off, I had to admit I’m a city girl at heart. I like a buzz around me. I like having food delivered to my door on a Tuesday night. I missed falafels. Country living had its pros--I can now single-handedly harvest a turkey should the need ever arise--but I needed more.
Manchester isn’t a metropolis like New York and San Francisco, where I’ve lived in the past, but it has enough oomph to make me not miss those places, and conveniences that are hard to find in bigger cities. I can leave my house and visit 3 or 4 stops on Elm Street, park at each, do my do, and be back home within 30 minutes.
Manchester-Boston Regional Airport is only 10 minutes away and easy on travellers--imagine slightly less annoying TSA agents, if such a thing can exist. And yet, right here in the city, I have half an acre of land, and plan to get some chickens. Perhaps some of that country living rubbed off after all?
Getting from Manchester to Boston takes about an hour, depending on the time of day. The FreeCoast and beaches are only 40 minutes away. The Upper Valley and Lakes Region are both about an hour or so. Keene, to the west, is about an hour-and-a-half away. The North Country, home to PorcFest is approximately 2 hours, but the stunning drive through the Notch makes it seem like mere minutes. If you’re craving that big city vibe, Montreal and New York City are only a 4.5 hour drive. And if you want to take advantage of all the increasingly hard-to-keep-up-with porcupine events across the state, Manchester puts you in the heart of everything and makes communing with your community a breeze.
We stopped by the Currier Museum on our second trip to scope out more of our future home state, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. I’m an art museum snob, having visited some of the best across the globe, and I was not holding my breath. But the Currier delivers. Picasso, Matisse, O'Keeffe and other well-known artists are represented in the permanent collection. On exhibition, I’ve seen Samurai weapons, Maxfield Parrish, M.C. Escher, and will be checking out Killer Heels this week. There’s also the quaint and quirky Zimmerman House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright house open to visitors in New England. Manchester also boasts a downtown art school, the Institute of Art, the SEE Science Center, the Palace Theatre,and the city hosts open art studio tours periodically during the year.
Very Large Concentration of Porcupines
On any given day, if I’m out and about in Manchester, I will run into another porcupine. Sometimes, when you’re not looking your shiniest, you almost wish this weren’t the case, and yet, I always find it delightful and inspiring. I catch myself saying, “We’re everywhere.”
The Quill, a private, membership-based club in West Manchester also graciously opens its doors to the FSP for new movers parties, event planning sessions, activist and sign-making events, and the like. At other times, they host potlucks, dances, kid programs, film screenings, classes and training, and provide a general social spot for members to gather.
Porcupines also get together for events like Community Market Day where people trade, barter, and sell goods, the monthly Merrimack Valley Porcupine meeting often takes place at porcupine-owned Murphy's Taproom, there's a weekly Friday downtown lunch get together, and the world's longest running Bitcoin meetup meets weekly in Manchester as well.
I love city living, but I also like getting my groove on with nature. Having easily accessible trails and parks is a plus. My dog, Nellie, is high energy and requires at least 40 minutes of daily exercise. Taking urban hikes in different Manchester neighborhoods is fine, but I especially love Livingston Park at Dorrs Pond which is like Manchester’s very own Central Park, the open trails around Lake Massabesic, Rock Rimmon, and the rail trail and paths down by the Piscataquog River on the West Side where Nellie can ramble off leash.
Regardless of where you ultimately settle in the Free State, you will be spending a lot of time in Manchester. I recommend to new movers that they consider first renting in Manchester before purchasing a home or making more permanent plans. This gives you an opportunity to learn more about the different areas in the state, and to decide what you are looking for and really need. Who knows? Maybe, like me, you will fall in love with the Queen City!
Carla Gericke (JD, MFA) is an advocate of liberty specializing in localized voluntarism, self-determination, and how responsible human action can lead to peace and prosperity. She is president emeritus of the Free State Project, and lives in New Hampshire with thousands of fellow freedom fighters. In 2014, Carla won a landmark court case affirming the 1st Amendment right to film police encounters. She has appeared on WMUR, CNN, and Fox News, been featured in GQ and Playboy, been quoted in The Economist, and has discussed libertarianism on the BBC. She has visited more than 40 countries, hiked to the base camp of the 10th highest mountain in the world, lost a shoe in a taxi more than once, had her passport stolen in Goa, got kidnapped in Vietnam, and has noshed on more “mystery meat” street food than she cares to admit. Carla once spent an entire summer while working as in-house counsel at Logitech eating tuna fish sandwiches with Doug Engelbart (the Mother Of All Demos dude), she worked on Apple’s acquisition of Steve Job’s NeXT, and bought her first Bitcoin for $6. Carla co-hosts the Told You So podcast, and co-chairs Manch Talk TV. She serves on several non-profit boards, follows a Keto lifestyle (read about her transformation), practices yoga and shooting, and plays a mean game of Scrabble. Carla enjoys cooking, gardening, painting, reading, and watching documentary films. She has twice run for New Hampshire state Senate, garnering 42% of the vote in 2018 against an 11-term incumbent, and believes in 2020, third time will be the charm! Carla’s first book, The Ecstatic Pessimist, a collection of award-winning short stories, flashes fiction pieces, speeches, and essays about the Free State Project is now available on Kindle with the paperback coming out soon! Carla is organizing PorcFest, The Throwback! Buy your $25 tickets today and join us in the White Mountains, June 22-28.