If you love small museums and have a taste for the offbeat, visiting the Libby Museum in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region is for you!

I love an offbeat museum

You know me, Dear Reader, and you know how much I love an offbeat museum. Therefore, it might surprise you to learn that one sat under my very nose for decades. I’m talking about the Libby Museum of Natural History in Wolfeboro in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region.

The Libby Museum of Natural History—offbeat and local

Here at the Libby you’ll find taxidermy—a lot of it, both local and decidedly not local—as well as collections you might expect in a natural history museum, and some that you most definitely would not. The creation of Dr. Henry Forrest Libby, a dentist, the Libby Museum opens up each summer to the delight of those who darken its doors. It certainly delighted me.

The Libby Museum is for you if you enjoy small, local museums, particularly offbeat ones. It’s a perfect rainy-day activity for when you’re visiting Wolfeboro and the Lakes Region.

The Libby Museum of Natural History

I put the Libby on my Summer Bucket List

On the main road to Wolfeboro, you’ll find the Libby Museum across from the lake. I’d driven past it countless times, and I’d heard that the museum was a trip. Somehow or other, though, I’d never actually walked inside. Determined to rectify this error, I added it to one of my Summer Bucket Lists (here’s my latest list) and made it happen.

The Libby Museum delighted me

Dear Reader, if you’re into this kind of offbeat thing, you know my delight. After finding parking across the street in the museum’s designated spaces, I walked in and bought my ticket from the museum’s director. There were a couple of people strolling around.

About the Libby Museum of Natural History

Taxidermy galore

There is SO much taxidermy, ranging from animals found in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire to a polar bear and an alligator. Some of the animals are arranged in naturalized settings. The taxidermy exhibits reflect a nineteenth-century interest in taxidermy as a way to preserve and exhibit the natural world in an artistic way.

Unlike Froggyland in Split, Croatia, say, taxidermy at the Libby isn’t presented in a humorous way, but rather in the interest of science. There’s also skeletons in glass cabinets. Other cabinets have shells and eggs, some from recent times, and others prehistoric.

Half taxidermy and skeletons and half other artifacts

About half of the Libby Museum features the taxidermy and skeletons and the other half has historic artifacts from New England and around the world. The Libby’s collection includes pieces donated by members of the community since the museum’s founding, as well as original artifacts.

Other exhibits

There’s a display of Dr. Libby, the museum’s founder’s boat. An antique fan collection. An area for kids to learn about the animals in the museum.

And two mummy hands. From two different people (they’re both right hands). Those are a bit problematic, as are some other artifacts in the museum. They are very much reflective of the time in which the Libby opened. It

Oh, and there are also Dr. Libby’s dental instruments on display. You know, because they were just going to lie around otherwise.

The overall effect is delightful and a curious window into the not-so-distant past of museums.

Situating the Libby Museum in its historic context

The Libby Museum of Natural History, “takes its inspiration from Germany’s sixteenth-century ‘Wunderkammer’ (curiosity cabinets),” declares its website. It also belongs to a nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century desire to educate the public by opening up private collections as museums.

Rich people didn’t always shoot weird rockets into space

The very rich in American society did not always spend their time trying to outdo each other with interesting looking rocket ships flying into space. The very wealthy in the early twentieth century built museums and libraries and endowed the arts. You get examples like the Isabella Stweart Gardner Museum arts, where Gardner, a wealthy woman who began to collect art and then decided to create a unique museum to open her collection up to the public.

Interest in curio cabinets wasn’t confined to the rich

It wasn’t always the super-rich who made these museums, though, and not everyone had as exquisite a collection. Dr. Libby, however, had an interesting collection, and I, for one, am delighted that he decided to open up to the public.

Dr. Henry Forrest Libby

A dentist from Boston who went to what is now Brewster Academy in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, Dr. Henry Forrest Libby (1850–1933) started collecting artifacts to reflect his interest in natural history in middle age. As he collected, Dr. Libby developed a desire to spark the imagination and inspire study of the natural world.

Together with his wife, Hattie E. Horne, they set about to open a museum in Wolfeboro to house the collection. Libby expressed his vision of natural history museums as follows:

A museum of Natural History should be a place for study, but if the specimens are not studied, it should, at any rate, be a place to flash before the eyes certain awakening influences: a spot where the mystery and drama of life, up from lost ages, may somehow make its appeal to the imagination and from imagination to curious investigation

I have to say, Dear Reader, I found this vision relevant to me and my pursuit of wonder that I share with you here on Wonder & Sundry. Though perhaps not as much taxidermy.

Gypsum labels and a Cambridge connection

If you visited the Glass Flowers exhibition at Harvard’s Museum of Natural History (I lived right up the street) in years past, you might have noticed the labeling on gypsum board. Dr. Libby developed those labels, which were thought not to discolor or otherwise decay with time. You can find original labels throughout the Libby Museum (originals are hand lettered and marked with a distinctive plant motif). While a marked improvement over what was available at the time, gypsum has alas not proved as durable as hoped.

The Libby is in need of restoration

While the building that houses the Libby Museum of Natural History is on the National Register of Historic Places, it is in need of repairs to preserve its collections and to become more accessible. An attempt to raise the money through a combination of private and public funds in 2023 came up short of the 60% vote required. Hopefully these repairs can be made in the future.

Given the Libby Museum of Natural History’s uniqueness, I very much hope that they manage to secure the required funding. Unique museums like this belong in the world.

Plan your visit to the Libby Museum of Natural History!

You’re going to have a fun and educational visit to the Libby Museum of Natural History. Here’s how to visit.

Admission and parking

  • The Libby Museum is open seasonally, six days a week from June 1 through Labor Day (closed Mondays), and weekends through Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Confirm on the website, as hours are subject to change.
  • Admission is $5. Credit cards are accepted with a small processing fee. Again, please confirm the entrance fee on the website, as it is subject to change.
  • You can park in front of the lake on the opposite side from the museum. Note that the site is a public boat launch. It’s a pretty spot—you could probably sneak a short little picnic there after your visit, but please be courteous to others who may wish to visit the Libby Museum.
  • Be careful crossing the road! It’s a busy road in the summer, and drivers do not always observe the speed limits.

How long to allow for the Libby Museum

You could breeze through the Libby in under an hour, but if you really want to explore its uniqueness, I’d give it more time. It really depends on your interest. This is an ideal rainy-day activity if you’re in the Lakes Region.

Solo travel and visiting the Libby Museum

I had a fine time visiting the Libby Museum solo, and I think you will, too. I wandered at my leisure, without having to think if a companion was having as much fun as I was having.

Accessibility

There are stairs leading up to the museum. The museum has attempted to raise funds for building upgrades, including accessibility features, but has yet to be successful.