Museum showcases town’s past

The Rye Historical Society has always made an effort to preserve the history of its town, and in 2002 the doors were opened to the town museum. Now the museum is open to the public on Saturdays from May to October from 10 a.m. to noon, and year-round most Wednesdays from 3 to 5 p.m. The museum can also be opened at any point year-round at the request of any curious individuals by contacting the Rye Historical Society ahead of time.

“It’s a wonderful little museum … and right now it has the chronological history of Rye on one side and thematic history on the other side, but it really is the tip of the iceberg,” said Alex Herlihy, president of the Rye Historical Society and son of the society’s founder, Jessie Herlihy. “People shouldn’t be shy — just call or write and we’ll open it up for you. People get in there and they realize that history has so many different facets and it’s so multi-layered and it’s so complicated. We try to deal with all history; we don’t want to sanitize anything.”

Prior to the opening of the museum, the library had acted as the repository for any gifts, artifacts and important historical town memorabilia. This, as well as the town’s bicentennial celebration in the 1970s, resulted in the creation of the Rye Historical Society in 1976, according to the Historical Society’s website.

The Historical Society began collaboration to cordon off a section of the library as a section for the preservation of various town artifacts in the “MacDonald Room,” which then acted as the museum up until 1997 when the five-year moving process to 10 Olde Parish Road first began to provide the Historical Society a building of its own to showcase the historically significant memorabilia accumulated throughout the town’s history.

This moving process, financially provided solely through donations to the Society over the years, gave birth to the History of Rye NH Town Museum, according to Herlihy.

Herlihy and the Rye Historical Society have already begun preparations for the town’s 400-year anniversary coming up in 2023.

“We will be honoring the native people and the 400 years of European settlement here and we’ve started that process already this year with a couple programs,” said Herlihy.
Thursday, Sept. 13, will mark the beginning of a new program regarding Rye’s Sunken Forest and the history of the Atlantic Cable.

“This town has been at the crossroads of American history since the beginning. When you think about people coming from Europe, Portsmouth and Rye are highly intertwined in their history, as well as New Castle, so these three communities are very tight,” said Herlihy. “The first successful international telegraph came here and we have a piece of the cable back from 1874. Rye is very well-known by people from all over the United States and Europe and beyond. Rye history is American history.”

Herlihy pushes the idea of the Rye Town Museum being a place of self-exploration, urging the value of the museum not being a place in which guests will be talked at, and that he would rather have the museum be a place for self-guided tours.

“The staff are there to answer questions if you have any or engage in conversation if you would like but we let guests go about their business because there’s a lot to take in,” he said. “There’s layers and layers beyond what’s up on the wall.”

Admittance to the museum is free of charge, but donations are accepted. For more information about the Rye Town Museum or to plan your visit, go to or call Alex Herlihy at 603-997-6742.

— Andrew Clay


*Featured photo provided by Alex Herlihy of the Rye Historical Society

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