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Out & About: Hear the history with a Norwich podcast tour

  • The Pompanoosuc Schoolhouse is one of the stops on the Norwich Historical Society's podcast tour of the town's schoolhouse. (Norwich Historical Society photograph) Norwich Historical Society photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/11/2020 9:28:29 PM
Modified: 4/11/2020 9:28:27 PM

The Norwich Historical Society had been working on its podcast series for months when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

But the timing has worked out because the podcasts, which mirror the nonprofit organization’s walking tours, are a good fit for social distancing.

“We have been doing walking tours every summer which are wildly popular and overly subscribed,” said Sarah Rooker, director of the Norwich Historical Society. “I thought doing podcasts would allow us to increase the accessibility of these landscape tours.”

The first podcast, which focuses on Norwich’s schoolhouses, officially launches next Sunday. People can currently listen to it on the nonprofit organization’s website,, It is narrated by retired Norwich educators Milton Frye and Wendy Thompson.

All three podcasts will be available on Google Play Music and Apple Podcasts. Maps can be downloaded on the historical society’s website. The tours take about an hour to complete.

“When you drive around your community and you hear stories, you become more connected to your place and to your home, and I think people are searching for that right now,” Rooker said. “I wanted people to have something to look forward to, something new to do in the spring.”

In addition to the history of each building, the schoolhouse podcast includes cultural details from the time period. In Norwich’s 1865 superintendent report, for example, it was noted that all schools except for one in town were taught by women. They earned 60% of what male teachers earned and were not allowed to be married.

“I really wanted to have the podcast not just be straightforward history, but to include stories that would interest families as well as adults,” Rooker said.

The tour starts at the Norwich Historical Society and leads listeners to six different schoolhouses, ending at Marion Cross School. After driving to each spot, people play the part of the podcast corresponding to the stop, then pause it before driving to the next schoolhouse, where they can restart to listen to the next description. The podcast tours have the stamp of approval from the Norwich Police Department, Rooker said.

Rooker worked on the schoolhouse podcast with guidance from CATV at its White River Junction studio. Since that studio is now closed to the public, Rooker has had to improvise for the remaining two podcasts. For one on early settlements, for example, she has asked participants to record their versions and email them to her so that she can compile them together.

“It won’t have the same polish, but I think it’ll be quite as charming, and I really like that the community has been so engaged in putting them together,” Rooker said.

Norwich resident Emily Zea, a student at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, will work on creating comics to accompany each podcast.

“It’s fun to work on something like this with a group of people,” Zea said. “We all love our hometowns. It’s nice to dig a little deeper.”

She’s particularly enjoyed learning about the Strafford Turnpike.

“The idea of such a main road being traveled by sled in the winter became such a great image of something that would be common for people during that time,” Zea said. “We worry about a little bit of ice on the road. Imagine trying to ride your sled.”

Rooker said she has noticed an uptick in people contacting the Norwich Historical Society to assist with research they are doing or for volunteer opportunities. For example, there are groups of high school students and senior citizens working on transcribing old letters and diaries from their homes

“I think cultural organizations in the Upper Valley do have a role to play during all this,” Rooker said. “Our mission has always been creating a sense of place. Our mission is even more clearer to me as I continue to get these requests during COVID-19.”

Podcast schedule

April 19: “Norwich Schoolhouse Driving Tour”: Narrated by two former Norwich educators.

May 3: “Norwich Early Settlement Driving Tour”: Narrated by Norwich residents who live in the homes and neighborhoods on the tour.

May 17: “Rivers and Mills Driving Tour”: Explore the geology and history of the Connecticut River, Blood Brook and Ompompanoosuc River. Learn about how the climate and humans have shaped this river valley.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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