DESTINATION: PORTSMOUTH, NEW HAMPSHIRE
(also read Winter Destination: Portsmouth, New Hampshire )
On May 6, 2012, the Sunday after my husband and I left for a month’s sojourn in Heuvelton, New York, the newspaper published an article titled Road Trip! Destination: Portsmouth, N.H.1
Because we hadn’t stopped our newspaper subscription while we were away I had many newspapers piled up. I didn’t read the article until well into June.
Had we stopped the newspaper delivery I never would have read the article.
Each Road Trip! article attempts to inform readers of attractions at a selected travel destination. This article, then, was an attempt to introduce readers to Portsmouth.
It begins by stating that It would be a mistake not to include a visit to Portsmouth, N.H., when planning a road trip to Boston or Maine. I wholeheartedly agree.
There were several attractions the article didn’t mention. One was the Memorial Bridge.
Due to the fact that Monte and I postponed our 2012 visit to New England I will miss taking this walk. Recent engineering reports deemed the bridge, which carried twelve thousand vehicles a day, unsafe. A new bridge will be built after the current bridge is demolished. Until it is demolished it will be open to pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The lift span, which raises to allow boats passage up the river, will also continue in operation.2
Having spent my first eleven years in Portsmouth I recall the times our car was lined up during the time the span was raised to allow boats to pass through the bridge.
For those persons lucky enough to visit Portsmouth might I suggest one activity? A walk across the bridge. On the other side is Warren’s Restaurant, established in 1940, which seats 250 customers. It’s a great place to stop for respite before returning to Portsmouth across the bridge. One note about the restaurant: it is partly owned by a native of Fayette County, Pennsylvania.
I include this bridge walk even though it exists only for a limited-time. Hopefully some of you visiting Portsmouth will enjoy the walk that I am missing.
STRAWBERY BANKE MUSEUM 730000
This living museum is named after the original Portsmouth settlement, Strawbery Banke. The town renamed Portsmouth in 1653 was also known as the Puddle Dock.
The museum is a living tribute to history dating back to 1630 when English settler Captain Walter Neal chose the site to settle. This oldest neighborhood in New Hampshire features forty-two houses. Ten, showing how the homes were once furnished, are open to the public. Others are used as artisan shops.4
In 1973 Monte and I took our children, then eighteen months and two years old, New England. Joined by my uncle and aunt, Jack and Dorothy Briskay, we watched a house being moved downriver to Strawbery Banke. I cannot identify which one it was, but we spent a relaxing afternoon watching it float down the Piscataqua River and being dismounted on the riverbank.
Daughter Sandy, 1973
29 SPRING STREET
This site is not featured on the RoadTrip! list. It was my grandparent’s house, the house where I spent the early half of my childhood. The windows edged in stained glass squares remain on the house, and the outside has changed little. A former owner gave me a house tour, taking me down memory lane. I could tell her that once there was a second floor kitchen. The apple tree was brought down by a hurricane, and our pet cocker spaniel is buried under the house addition (constructed during the time I lived there).
Today Prescott Park is ten acres of flower acres of flower gardens, walkways, seating, docking and grassy areas. During the summer it is the location of Free concerts by regional and national entertainers, theater, festivals, dance and children’s events.
I recall how it was as a child. It was the location of the local swimming pool, where we had a bird’s eye view of the harbor and a mysterious and massive building across the river from Portsmouth…a U.S. Navy prison, abandoned since the 1970s as too expensive to rebuild or to tear down.5
PORTSMOUTH HARBOUR TRAIL
The waterfront and downtown unfold as visitors learn about early settlers and their homes.
George Washington described the three-time state Governor John Langdon House on Pleasant Street, as “the finest house in Portsmouth.” It was built in 1784 by Langdon, a signer of the Constitution and first president of the senate.
The elegant three-story Moffatt-Ladd House and Gardens on Market Street once was the residence of William Whipple, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
WHIPPLE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
This is another site not on the Road Trip! list. Whipple Elementary School, named after William Whipple. It was my grade school. Today it is transformed into an eleven unit condo complex.
I recall attending classes and recesses on the playground of this elementary school. My third grade teacher was Mrs. Phelps.
As I walked to school and played around the town I didn’t recognize the significance of homes I passed by. The John Paul Jones house. The Warner house, built for Captain Archibald Macpheadris and his bride-to-be Sarah Wentworth, daughter of John Wentworth, New Hampshire’s Lieutenant Governor—the earliest extant brick urban mansion in New England, built in 1716-1718.6
There was the Rockingham Hotel—whose lions were always fun to climb on—and the Masonic temple.
Pleasant Street Cemetery
An 18th and 19th century cemetery located behind a narrow overgrown bit of wall next to the Mark Wentworth Home. The half-buried tomb near the parking lot belongs to an unknown resident.
Corner of South and Sagamore
The extensive area, set aside for town use in 1671 but not used until 1830, contains Auburn Cemetery, Cotton’s Cemetery, Harmony Grove Cemetery, Proprietors’ Burying Ground and Sagamore Cemetery.
Privately managed, it is the final resting place for the 1873 Smuttynose murder victims Karen and Anethe Christiansen. Ruth Blay, the last woman executed in New Hampshire, was hanged here at the highest point of the hill in 1758 for the crime of concealing the death of her stillborn child.
St. John’s Cemetery
Corner Bow and Chapel streets
It’s unusual site is at the highest point in the city center. The graves are actually above street level. The walled cemetery was established in 1732 when the original High Anglican Queen’s Chapel stood here. The church was the apex of high society in colonial New Hampshire. The location of the Wentworth family tomb.
Located adjacent to the North Cemetery on Maplewood Ave in Portsmouth, it was established in 1844.
African American Burying Ground
Court and Chestnut Streets
Town histories referred to a “Negro Burying Ground” in this area, but the exact location was unknown until recently. In October 2004 workers discovered 13 wooden coffins under the city streets. DNA testing proved the remains were indeed African American. The black cemetery was designated in 1705 for the town’s enslaved and free black population.
HARBOR AND ISLAND CRUISES
Portsmouth and the New Hampshire seacoast also are fascinating off-shore. Two companies offer a variety of excursions to the historic islands six miles off the coast, and harbor and lighthouse cruises.1
On a clear day the distant Isles of Shoals are visible from Wallis Sands Beach south of Portsmouth in Rye:
On our last visit Monte and I enjoyed the eight mile ocean cruise to Star Island, the second Pix 3774 left
largest of nine islands more than eight miles off shore. Perhaps on our next visit we can plan an overnight stay at the century-old Oceanic House (to do so one must be signed up for a conference…), founded on the spiritual ideals of Unitarian-Universalism and the United Church of Christ.
Monte and I spent a delightful day on the island, visiting Gosport Chapel, enjoying the ocean views and sounds, talking about the Smuttynose murders, and reading poems written by Celia Thaxter, who spent her entire life on these islands (her father, Thomas Laighton, was a lighthouse keeper).
WALLIS SANDS BEACH
Son Nolan and I draw in the wet sand in 1973
From childhood I always saw these islands in the distance from Wallis Sands Beach, my childhood ocean shore playground south of Portsmouth. We would drive or hop on a bus for the journey to the spot that was accented by giant rocks to climb on, pools of water hosting interesting creatures, white sand used to build castles or be buried in, waves to splash or body surf in, and wonderful sunset views.
SEACOAST SCIENCE CENTER
This is a year-round discovery center on the Atlantic Ocean…in neighboring Rye…in Odiorne Point State Park…(it) has local marine and history exhibits, tide-pool touch tank, a 330-acre park, walking tours, workshops and aquarium displays.
During one of our New England vacations a lobsterman caught a robin’s-egg blue lobster. It was taken to the Seacoast Science Center, where it lived for two years. It died just before our next visit.
Hampton Beach…where Monte and I spent time on our honeymoon.
The white-sand beach is what coastal New Hampshire is about. But watch for wet sand with bubbles in it. I stepped into this once and sank to my knees. Very quick-sand like. Fortunately Monte was close by and could lend me a hand.
I recall playing on the playground as a child. There is also the Turkish taffy—at least one store has the candy machines in its windows, and it’s fascinating watching the candy being pulled and stretched to perfection in any flavor you can imagine.
Shops, a concert stand, surfers, and white seaweed are enjoyments that surpass the frustration in finding a parking space.
Portsmouth has much more to offer visitors than is listed above or in the Road Trip! article. Certainly my perspective is colored by my childhood there. However, every other person I’ve spoken to who has no history in the city but has been there has spoken positively of their experience.
It’s a great place to visit. If you go, have fun. And think of me, yearning to be there with you.