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The Dartmouth
May 24, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Town and Gown: Community Reactions to Hanover’s Top Small College Town Nomination

One writer talks to students, residents and business owners about Hanover’s recent nomination as a top small college town by USA Today.


As I walked down Main Street this week, I found comfort in the familiar sights of the neighborhood: residents walking their dogs, parents chasing after rambunctious children and, of course, fellow Dartmouth students making emergency CVS runs, devouring a toasted bagel at The Works or scouting out a study spot at Starbucks. 

Hanover has a certain familiar small-town, “Gilmore Girls”-esque charm that attracts flocks of tourists, families and potential students alike. It then comes as no surprise that Hanover was recently nominated by USA Today as one of the 20 best small college towns in the country. In light of the nomination — and because USA Today is releasing its final rankings today — I spoke with students, residents and business owners about what makes Hanover so special.

Resident Renée Sullivan moved to Hanover with her husband in 2015, largely because of the town’s proximity to outdoor activities.

“One of the special things about Hanover is having that recreation at your fingertips when our world is so digitally connected,” Sullivan said. “It’s hard to disconnect [digitally] without having [recreation] access.”

Kamama Eidson ’24 also cited the beauty of the outdoors as a major benefit of living in Hanover.

“I like … how much nature is in Hanover,” they said. “It was one of the reasons why I wanted to go [to Dartmouth].”

On top of its proximity to the outdoors, Dartmouth’s location within the Upper Valley makes Hanover a much richer and livelier place than it would be otherwise, according to Sullivan.

“I think Hanover would not be the gem in the Upper Valley that it is without Dartmouth,” she said.

Dartmouth contributes a “culture aspect” to the town by bringing in performance events — such as music and theater productions — as well as activities on the Green, Sullivan said. She added that these events “add a different level of vibrancy than what a small town could do on [its] own.”

For instance, Sullivan said she enjoys attending Dartmouth hockey games alongside other town residents, to cheer the players on even if she doesn’t know them individually.

Mike McCabe, who has co-owned Red Kite Candy in Hanover for the past 14 years, echoed Sullivan’s views on the town’s connectedness to the College, explaining that “Hanover and Dartmouth are very inextricably linked.” 

McCabe added that Red Kite has benefited as a business from Dartmouth’s location in Hanover. He believes that businesses like Red Kite also benefit the Dartmouth community in return, as they lend Hanover some of its charm.

“I think people view [Red Kite] as an asset to the Town and the College because everyone wants their own thing that makes their place special,” he said. “We’re one little piece of that, or at least I’d like to think that we are.”

While Sullivan and her husband have previously lived in Cambridge and Palo Alto, Calif., these towns had less “mixing” with Harvard University and Stanford University, respectively, than Hanover does with Dartmouth, she said. 

According to Hanover Parks and Recreation events and media program manager Hannah Falcone, a good small college town like Hanover has a “back and forth relationship of the college interacting with the town and the town, simultaneously, interacting with the college.”

Sullivan added that the concentration of highly-educated residents in Hanover is another possible reason for the town’s high regard.

“The conversations that you can have with people are just really deep and rich because of that,” she said.

McCabe echoed that sentiment, adding that he appreciates the “combination of … being able to be in nature” while also being surrounded by “people that are highly educated.” 

Eidson, who grew up in the small college town of Tahlequah, Okla. — where Northeastern State University is located — said that Hanover is far safer than their hometown. 

“Safety is a big thing,” Eidson said. “I want to have the opportunity to walk around alone … [Tahlequah] was not a place where I could walk around alone.”

Some of Hanover’s safety may be due to its diversity as a college town, according to Eidson. 

“I am of the opinion that a more diverse place is safer,” they said. 

Of course, living in a small college town also has its drawbacks. Although the town as a whole may be more diverse due to Dartmouth’s student population, Hanover residents themselves tend to lack diversity, Eidson added.

Moreover, Sullivan said the town can be expensive to live in, and it can be difficult to find healthcare and childcare at times — though she noted that might be a national rather than Hanover-specific problem.

“The things that are … not doing well in Hanover probably aren’t … doing well in the nation,” she said. 

Hanover is by no means a perfect college town. New Hampshire’s winter weather brings chills to both students and residents, and the small size of the town can make it feel stifling at times. Yet, despite its flaws, the attributes highlighted by students, residents and business owners demonstrate why the accolade of top small college town might be deserved.