Sunday, August 14, 2011

In My Footsteps: Trip 122: Portsmouth, New Hampshire

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 122:  Portsmouth, New Hampshire
May 25, 2011

            There are some cities and towns that I have visited where I have had to look hard to find beautiful and historic places and things.  Then there are others that practically scream history from the moment I arrive; Portsmouth, New Hampshire is one such place.  For me it seems like the moment I cross the border into New Hampshire it is like stepping into an entirely different world.  On this day it went from being cloudy and gray in Massachusetts to immediately sunny when I entered New Hampshire.  The rolling green hills I saw once I got off the highway in Exeter made me realize this was going to be a really fun day.
The Memorial Bridge leading to Badger Island.
            Upon entering historic Portsmouth the first spot I headed for was an old brick building called the Warner House which was originally built in 1716.  It is the oldest brick mansion in New England but it was also being worked on at the time.  This meant that standing and staring at it was a little pointless.  However, since I had paid the parking meter I had ample time to walk around Daniel St. which is really close to the Piscataqua River.  It is here that the Memorial Bridge leads drivers out to Badger Island in Kittery, Maine.  I found it really cool that Maine was so nearby.
            The next place I visited blew me away, and I must confess that it was not even on my agenda during my trip.  I happened upon Prescott Park, named for long-time resident Josie Prescott, while parking my car across the street from the Strawberry Banke Museum.  The museum was put on hold once I saw what lay at the end of a brick walkway.
Prescott Park
            I could hear the splashing of water and walked in on a simply stunning garden scene.  It reminded me immediately of the rose garden at Lynch Park in Beverly, Massachusetts.  That was one of my favorite places I had been to so experiencing a bit of déjà vu at Prescott Park was most welcomed. 
            It was such a beautiful and relaxing spot that I hardly knew where to start taking photos.  I made my way around the small rectangular garden lined with trees and round brick water fountains wanting to stay there as long as I could.  This area known as the ‘formal garden’ has been said to give the feeling of a ‘park within a park’ and that is true; it is like its own world.  I walked around this area some more and then ventured out into the rest of Prescott Park which overlooks the Piscataqua River.  There are also art shows and concerts on the grass at Prescott Park during the summer months where many well known artists and musicians come to play.  I recommend taking a lot of time here to enjoy the scenery.
Entrance to Fort Constitution
            Once I was done falling in love with Prescott Park I went to find another of my favorite things, a lighthouse.  I actually found two.  Portsmouth Harbor Light is located on the ground of the Coast Guard station but can be seen from the neighboring Fort Constitution.  This ‘setback’ actually made it even more fun as I got to visit another historical spot while viewing the lighthouse.
            Fort Constitution was originally known as Fort William and Mary until the land was given to the United States by New Hampshire in 1791.  It was repaired and renamed.  I found it neat that in order to get to the fort grounds you must go through the Coast Guard area.  To accomplish this there is a blue line that you must walk to get there, anything else is off limits to civilians.
            Portsmouth Harbor Light is one of the oldest stations in the country.  Established in 1771 it was the tenth of eleven lighthouse stations built prior to the American Revolution.  That one was wooden; the current lighthouse was erected in 1878.  There are plenty of views of this lighthouse though the walls and buildings of the Coast Guard station block a clear shot for photography.  That did not deter me as I found a way, a dangerous way, to get a clear shot.
Portsmouth Harbor Light with Whaleback Light on the left.
            It just so happens that you can get an unobstructed view of Portsmouth Harbor Light by hanging out of one of the small windows of Fort Constitution which sit at ground level.  The problem is that there is nothing to hang onto and it is a nearly twenty foot drop to the rocks below.  This is why I would never suggest any traveler attempt the same; just enjoy the safer view with the buildings and wall in the way.
            Located to the left of Portsmouth Harbor Light from Fort Constitution is Whaleback Lighthouse which sits across the border in Kittery, Maine.  I got a second look at this far off lighthouse when I visited Fort Stark located south of Fort Constitution.  It is one of seven forts that were built to protect Portsmouth.  Fort Stark was built in the time between 1890-1920 however no shots were ever fired in anger from this site.  I got a cool sneak peak inside the Battery Hays building since one of the three sets of metal doors was opened.  There was nothing of consequence inside but it was still neat to see inside.
Battery Hays building at Fort Stark
            From atop the Battery Hays building I was able to get a great view of the boats sitting in the marina near the Wentworth By the Sea Hotel & Spa, one of the last remaining Gilded Age hotels.  The ‘Gilded Age’ being the time of the late-19th century.  When I turned around I got another view of the previously mentioned Whaleback Lighthouse, it was a magnificent area but then again everything I saw in Portsmouth was magnificent.
            As soon as you enter the borders of Portsmouth you know you have arrived somewhere special.  A simple walk along the historic streets near the Piscataqua River will give you the feel while visiting Fort Constitution and Fort Stark make the historical significance quite apparent.  Of course stopping to relax and maybe enjoy lunch at Prescott Park might be my favorite way to enjoy Portsmouth, but everyone can decide for themselves.  Have fun and happy traveling!

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Directions:  Prescott Park:  From I-95 N take Exit 3 for Rt. 33; turn right, follow 1.8 mi., continue onto Middle St., follow .8 mi., turn right onto State St.  Turn right onto Atkinson St., take 1st left onto Court St., turn right onto Marcy St.  Park will be on the left.
            Portsmouth Harbor Light:  From I-95 N take Exit 3 for Rt. 33; turn right, follow 1.8 mi., continue onto Middle St., follow .8 mi., turn right onto State St.  Turn right onto Pleasant St., continue onto Marcy St.  Slight left onto NH 1-B South, follow 2 mi., turn left onto Wentworth Rd., slight right onto Sullivan Ln.
            Fort Stark:  From I-95 N take Exit 3 for Rt. 33; turn right, follow 1.8 mi., continue onto Middle St., follow .6 mi., turn right onto Miller Ave., continue onto Sagamore Ave.  Turn left onto NH 1-B, follow 1.8 mi., turn right onto Wild Rose Ln., follow to the fort. 

References:  Warner
            City of
            Portsmouth Historical Society