Why Lebanon, NH, Is the Best Small Town in America

This quintessential New England community might just be the perfect small town

By Matt Carmichael on Mon, 06/01/2015 - 04:40
In big cities you have to seek out these special parks that are oasis in the middle of a lot of sprawl. Here most places are available for people to go and explore.

Paul Coats
Recreation Director

“Close your eyes and picture a New England town green.” That’s how Lebanon’s Recreation Director Paul Coats began a virtual tour of his town, which tops Livability’s inaugural Top 100 Best Small Towns ranking. The city was also one of our Top 10 Small Towns in 2014.

There are thousands and thousands of small towns throughout the U.S. Many would argue that while our metropolises are the economic heart of our nation, our small towns are where you find our soul. Livability’s editors have traveled many a blue highway and kicked up a lot of dust in our rental cars headed on letter-named county roads with paper maps to backup our GPS units. We’ve walked into many a diner where we were clearly a stranger as we entered, but left with new friends and promises to visit again. But we can’t visit them all. We take a data-driven approach to find great places, and when our algorithms pop places like Lebanon to the top of a list, we know we’ve done our work well. 

[[{"fid":"15989","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_byline[und][0][value]":"","field_byline[und][0][format]":"filtered_html","field_description[und][0][value]":"Lebanon, NH City Hall\r\nphoto by Ellentk via Flickr","field_place_ref[und][0][target_id]":"Lebanon (51595)"},"type":"media","attributes":{"class":"media-element file-default"}}]]

As Coats paints the picture for us, it’s easy to imagine the families picnicking and children dancing around the bandstand during one of many free concerts on the green. City Hall shares a building with the Opera House at one end of the green. Restaurants like Salt Hill Pub and Three Tomatoes line another side. Neighborhoods surround this district providing walkable access to this town's center. And just a couple of blocks away, residents can ski at Storrs Hill.

“Winters are tough up here,” Coats says, “but I think most people embrace it.” The skiing and snowshoeing in town are just part of the draw. The mix of mountains, rivers, biking and hiking trails in this four-season climate mean that there are always seasonal opportunities to take advantage of the spectacular natural amenities.

Lebanon is more than just a pretty place to visit. The city is a cultural and business hub as well. This discussion starts with its proximity to Dartmouth College. Having an Ivy League school in neighboring Hanover means there’s a constant influx of young adults and cultural draws for the region. Alongside that comes the economic stability of having solid institutions like Lebanon’s Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the area’s largest employer. Not many other cities this size can boast a diversified economy with a range of headquarters in everything from aerospace to biotech to ski equipment.

All of this in an area with few fences, engaged residents who volunteer within their community, a highly-rated school system, good wages, low unemployment and the small-town, everybody-knows-your-name vibe that many crave.

Small towns aren’t for everyone, but if you’re looking for somewhere to escape from big-city life, Lebanon is a great place to start your search.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Carmichael is a contributing editor and former editor-in-chief of Livability.com. He is a recognized authority on demographics, consumer trends, economic development and best places to live. He a...

Our Latest Rankings