Monday, July 16, 2018

Historic Portsmouth Harbor

This weekend we took a one and half hour tour of the historic harbor in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  I've taken cruises to the Isles of Shoals, and up the Piscataqua River from Portsmouth, but I'd never seen the sights of Portsmouth from the harbor.  It was a beautiful day, and the views were spectacular.

Our tour boat took off from Ceres Street, behind the businesses along Market Street.  This is the view of the restaurants along Bow Street, just around the corner.  The back decks were packed with happy people lunching and enjoying the waterfront. 

The new Sarah Long drawbridge was finished last year.  It looks brand new from downtown Portsmouth, and carries traffic and trains over to Kittery, Maine and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. 

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is actually located on Seavey Island in Kittery, Maine.  Submarines are repaired here, but are not visible to the public, even from boats in the harbor.  We could see the tail end of one, but it was covered with tarps. 

Many visitors to Portsmouth think this impressive building is an abandoned hotel.  However, it is located on Naval property on Seavey island.  It is the abandoned Naval prison.  There are lots of stories about the prisoners here, and one of the only true stories is that Humphrey Bogart was once an MP who was bringing a prisoner to this facility during WWII.  His prisoner tried to escape whilst changing trains in Boston, and attacked Bogart with his manacles.  This left Bogart with a mangled lip that was repaired by an Naval doctor, who botched the job and left him with a distinctive lisp.  Prisoner have been kept at Seavey Island since the War of 1812, but this prison building dates from 1905 and was known as the "Alcatraz of the East".  You can read the history of this prison at this Wikipedia LINK.  

I've blogged about Fort McClary before at this LINK.  It is an impressive spot to visit, with great views of the harbor and the Isles of Shoals.  Seeing it from the middle of the harbor was a treat. 

Fort Constitution is a New Hampshire State Park located at the tip of New Castle Island.  You can visit the fort and climb the lighthouse.  This was once known as Fort William and Mary before the American Revolution.  The British used to keep a large supply of gunpowder stored here.  One of the first acts of rebellion during the war was 14 December 1774 when the local people of Portsmouth stormed the fortress and confiscated the gunpowder.  The powder was distributed throughout the colony and used during the Revolutionary War. You can read more about the history of this historic site at Wikipedia at this LINK

This Life Saving Station on Wood Island dates from before the establishment of the US Coast Guard.  Men in wooden boats would row out and rescue crew and passengers from floundering ships.  It is being renovated into a museum that will only be accessible by boat.  Plans are to open it to the public in 2019.   You can read some of the history HERE. 

Whaleback Lighthouse is located at the mouth of the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth Harbor.  It is actually in the town of Kittery in the state of Maine.  During the "Perfect Storm" of 1991 the waves from the Atlantic were higher than this 70 foot lighthouse.  Lighthouse keepers used to row out here and do two week stints of duty on this rocky little island.   There is a good sketch of the history of this lighthouse at Wikipedia at this LINK

From the mouth of the harbor we could see the Isles of Shoals six miles out to sea.

Our tour boat went around New Castle into Little Harbor and past the historic Wentworth-by-the-Sea hotel.  This hotel was originally built in 1874, and hosted the 1905 Portsmouth Peace Treaty to end the Russian-Japanese War.  This treaty was hosted by President Theodore Roosevelt, and Japan gifted the American people the cherry trees that now line the Potomac Basin in Washington, D.C.  You can read more about this historic hotel HERE

In Little Harbor you can see the historic Wentworth-Coolidge mansion, built by the Royal Wentworth Governors who lived here before the American Revolution.  It is now a museum house open to the public, and there is a lilac festival here every spring.  The Wentworth family brought the first lilac cuttings to New England, and now the purple lilac is the New Hampshire state flower.  Residents of New Hampshire treasure cuttings from the lilacs here on the Wentworth mansion property, and re-grow lilac trees at homes and parks all over the Granite State.  You can read more about this historic mansion at this LINK

A large cache of lobster pots seen along the working waterfront of Portsmouth Harbor

Our tour boat moored right in front of the Moffatt-Ladd historic house museum.  This 1763 house was a wedding gift for Samuel and Sarah Catherine Moffatt, and remained in their family for 150 years. It was also the home of William Whipple, who signed the Declaration of Independence. It is owned by the National Society of Colonial Dames, and is open for tours and for rental for weddings and functions.  You can read more about the Moffatt-Ladd House HERE

We took our tour with Portsmouth Harbor Cruises, at 64 Ceres Street:


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Historic Portsmouth Harbor", Nutfield Genealogy, posted July 16, 2018, ( accessed [access date]).

1 comment:

  1. This was a wonderful read! Love all the photos too. I have read that James Leach, an 8th great uncle, was a weaver in Portsmouth and that there is a Leach Island there. I think he is also yours. Must look into that some time.