Of the three “must do” tours for Portsmouth, this is the one you should do if you only have time for one. You’ll spend about half your tour time exploring Strawbery Banke, a living museum with costumed role players. You’ll get a map at the visitor center which will guide you through the museum.
The rest of your tour time, after a short foray into the Point of Graves Burial Ground, Portsmouth’s oldest known cemetery, will be winding your way through the beautiful riverside Prescott Park. Follow the lines on the map so that you can take in these key spots in the park:
- The Trial Gardens
- 18th century Sheafe Warehouse
- The formal garden
- Outdoor performing arts area
- Neptune Statue
- Portsmouth Love Wall
- Liberty Pole
Strawbery Banke, a living museum with constumed role players, is one of Portsmouth’s most significant cultural and historical attractions. Nestled in the former Puddle Dock neighborhood of Portsmouth’s historic South End, this outdoor living history museum vividly portrays the daily lives of Portsmouth residents from the 17th to the 20th century.
Originally established as an outpost in the late 1600s, the Puddle Dock neighborhood witnessed a fascinating evolution from a thriving port to a waterfront filled with bars, bordellos, and later transforming into a vibrant working-class immigrant community. In the 1950s, Strawbery Banke Inc. saved numerous buildings from eminent domain, forming the museum as a testament to the rich history and diverse residents of the neighborhood.
Explore over 30 meticulously restored buildings, including homes and shops. Wander through the historical gardens, witness craft demonstrations, and immerse yourself in special exhibits showcasing the cultural heritage of the region.
The museum hosts a variety of captivating events throughout the year, such as reenactments, garden tours, music performances, and craft fairs, an added bonus to your ramble if your timing is right.
Point of Graves Burial Ground
Another of Portsmouth’s historic cemeteries is the Point of Graves Burial Ground, right next to Prescott Park.
The oldest known cemetery in Portsmouth, buried here are the Wentworth and Vaughan families and other prominent families dating to the late 17th century.
The graves are rich with artistic carvings and worth a bit of exploration, which is easy as it’s a small graveyard. But be careful – it is said to be haunted!
Prescott Park is a picturesque 10-acre waterfront oasis along the Piscataqua River across Marcy Street from Strawbery Banke. Once the site of the ignoble Long Wharf where Africans were auctioned off as slaves (yes, here in the north, sadly), it’s now known for its flower gardens, fountains, sculptures, and green spaces. Its central location in the South End makes it a popular spot for leisurely strolls, picnics and simply enjoying the views from a bench.
The park began its life in the 1930s when two sisters, Josie and Sarah Prescott, both public school teachers, decided to use their inheritance to create an attractive space that was free and accessible to all. Purchasing a series of rundown properties along the river, they went about transforming the then seedy area into an oasis enjoyed by both Portsmouth’s residents and visitors. Willed to the city in 1954, it is now well maintained by the Parks & Greenery Division of the Department of Public Works.
The park stretches along the Piscataqua River and includes some renowned Trial Gardens and a formal garden that is undoubtedly the most delightful spot in the park. Other highlights include the 18th century Sheafe Warehouse, the Neptune Fountain, the Portsmouth Love Wall and the Liberty Pole. The The current pole dates to 1899, but the original was erected in 1766 in protest of the stamp act.
Adding to the park’s allure are the outdoor productions of Broadway plays, concerts and movies throughout the summer, thanks to the efforts of the Prescott Park Arts Festival, a not-for-profit organization. PPAF honors the Prescott sisters’ vision by offering quality artistic entertainment accessible to all. Using a modest suggested donation model, anyone can enjoy the events. Rent a blanket, bring your own, or reserve a prime spot.