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New England by Heart

New Castle Loop

Wentworth by the Sea - New Castle NH Postcard

This driving tour takes you over to the neighboring town of New Castle, which encompasses, you guessed it, New Castle Island, along with a smattering of other islands.

New Castle has a few notable places to visit, and I’ve incorporated them in the drive, along with a couple Portsmouth sites that require a vehicle.

Great Island Common is an optional stop. As of this writing, the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse and Fort Constitution are closed for repairs after storm damage, and Great Island Common affords you a view of it across the water, along with a distant view of Whaleback Lighthouse. It’s also a pleasant stop with great views and picnic areas, but there is a parking fee ($15 as of this writing, less for seniors, veterans, etc.), so you need to decide if it’s worth it for a quick stop. 

South Cemetery

South Cemetery

South Cemetery, logically located along South Street, is one of the oldest in Portsmouth, set aside for use in 1671, but not actually used as a cemetery until 1830. It’s a privately maintained cemetery, made up of five different burying grounds: Auburn Cemetery, Cotton’s Cemetery, Harmony Grove Cemetery, Proprietors’ Burying Ground and Sagamore Cemetery.

Wandering through the pleasant pathways amidst mature oaks and maples is a walk through history, with grave markers providing glimpses into the lives and dramas of notable figures from the city’s past. It’s the final resting place of Frank Jones (1832-1902), one time mayor of Portsmouth and successful brewer who rebuilt the Rockingham Hotel. His is the tallest tombstone, easily found in Harmony Grove.

Also here in eternal rest is Henry Clay Barnabee, who sang and acted his way through a string of successful comic operettas in the late 19th century. And let’s not forget poor Karen and Anethe Christiansen, the sisters who were murdered on Smuttynose Island in 1873.

While the burying grounds were not technically used as such until 1830, there was one person buried there in 1768 in what is now the Proprietor’s Burying Ground. As that year closed out, a gallows stood on the most elevated portion of the northwest corner. Ruth Blay was brought via cart and, before a crowd of hundreds with many shouting for her reprieve, she was hung for the crime of hiding her illegitimate stillborn baby. She was buried near the pond in an unmarked grave. It was the last execution in New Hampshire.

Little Harbor Chapel

Little Harbor Chapel

Little Harbor Chapel is a Georgian Revival UN-denominational seasonal Chapel established in 1902. Inside the chapel is a one-of-a-kind Hutchings-Votey pipe organ, no longer in use, but slated for restoration.

Opening the season of worship for the summer people is a tradition in July, and it hosts Sunday services throughout the summer by visiting clergy. It is also available for summer weddings, baptisms, memorials and cultural events.

Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion

Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion

The Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion is an 18th-century 40-room house and farm, the only original surviving residence of a Royal Governor in the United States. That venerable gentleman would be New Hampshire’s first Royal Governor, Benning Wentworth, who moved the seat of government and his extended household to this site in 1753.

Subsequently owned by J. Templeman Coolidge, a Boston native, from 1856 to 1945. It was transferred to the state of New Hampshire by the Coolidge family in 1954.

Built in a variety of architectural styles due to various additions over the years, the mansion provides a fascinating look into colonial-era life of the upper class. Managed by the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation, it’s open to the public for guided tours, as well as hosting art exhibitions and other cultural events.

Wentworth by the Sea

Wentworth by the Sea

Wentworth by the Sea is a historic seaside resort hotel in New Castle. Built in 1874 on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, it is one of the few remaining grand dames of the Gilded Age. You don’t need to stay here (yes, it’s pricey), but you will certainly want to park and wander the spaces, inside and out. Consider having lunch al fresco at Latitudes, so you can savor the setting. This is one beautiful hotel in a seaside setting that matches its grandeur.

From its founding in 1874, it has hosted numerous celebrities and dignitaries. U.S. President Chester A. Arthur was a frequent guest when he traveled from Washington to visit the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. in 1905, the Russian and Japanese delegations met her for discussions on ending the Russo-Japanese War. Today, it’s not unusual to see a plethora of yachts docked at Wentworth’s marina.

Needless to say, the hotel offers a variety of amenities, including a spa, two pools, a fitness center, an 18-hole championship golf course, tennis courts, boating and more. With two restaurants and a pool-side bar, there’s not any particular reason to leave the resort, but of course you wouldn’t want to miss out on Portsmouth.

Fort Stark Historic Site

Fort Stark State Historic Site

There are well preserved historic sites around New England. There are crumbling remains of historic sites that are also well preserved. And then there are remains that are more abandoned than preserved.

Fort Stark falls into the latter category, but in an odd sort of way. Amongst the spooky ruin of this former military fortification is a little museum with military artifacts and facts about the 22nd Coastal Artillery that was headquartered there to protect Portsmouth Harbor and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

The fort was constructed early in the 20th century and was used through WWII as an active military installation. It was then used for reserve training by the US Navy before being turned over to the state of New Hampshire, which now operates it as a historic site. 

Walking in and among the weedy and graffiti-ridden buildings and batteries is both eerie and moving. It’s the kind of place that makes you pause and appreciate the many men and women who have put their lives on hold and at risk to keep us safe.

Great Island Common

Great Island Common is a 32 acre seaside greenspace and beach, with views of two lighthouses (Whaleback Lighthouse and Plymouth Harbor Lighthouse). There’s even an art “frame” that you can pose by with the lighthouse in the background.  It’s owned and operated by the Town of New Castle and open to the public.

Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse & Fort Constitution

Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse & Fort Constitution

The Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse sits on a promontory of the island town of New Castle, amongst the remnants of Fort Constitution. It is owned by the US Coast Guard, which operates the navigational aids, and the buildings are maintained by the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation (ALF). The lighthouse historically guided ships into Portsmouth Harbor and the Piscataqua River.

The cast iron lighthouse was built in 1878, replacing its wooden 1804 predecessor, which in turn had replaced the 1771 shingled wooden tower, which was the first lighthouse north of Boston. The whitewashed lighthouse is 48 feet tall with a black lantern room and a fixed green signal that is visible for 12 nautical miles. The keeper’s house, currently housing Coast Guard offices, was built in 1872 and completes a picturesque setting with its red roof.

Fort Constitution was originally named Fort William and Mary. Paul Revere made more than one famous ride – in this case he rode into Portsmouth in December 1774 to warn of British plans to reinforce the fort. Needless to say, that was not going to happen on New Hampshire’s watch. With the king’s flag flying over the fort, and his garrison confronting them with muskets and artillery, some 400 colonists nevertheless prevailed, raiding the fort and making off with its supplies of gunpowder, the garrison captain, and the king’s flag. They secured the fort for good the next day. This all took place over four months before the famous Concord and Lexington events, and many consider it the first overt act of the Revolutionary War.

Visitors are free to wander about the fort, which is not staffed. It’s a great spot for a picnic. Tours of the lighthouse are provided seasonally on weekends. Check the website for dates and times. 

Note that as of this writing, the fort and lighthouse are closed due to storm damage. Be sure to check the website for updates.

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