Sunday, September 27, 2015

New Hampshire: Portsmouth by water

     Welcome to Portsmouth New Hampshire.  

     Unlike Portsmouth North Carolina, this community is alive and well.

     The above photo is from just inside the harbor on the Piscataqua River looking east toward the Atlantic.  The lighthouse in the distance marks the southern edge of the coast of Maine.

     The Portsmouth Harbor Light site is one of only 11 lighthouses that were established before the American Revolution, and is New Hampshire's only lighthouse.  Locals speak of many sightings of the ghost of a longtime keeper of the light, one Joshua Card.

     Joshua doesn't seem to be the malevolent type of ghost though - he just poses as a tour guide and sneaks up on folks now and then.  He also seems to have a penchant for wandering the grounds on foggy nights. 

     Fort Constitution was built in 1808 alongside the lighthouse, replacing Fort William and Mary which was built by the British in 1632. This is the site of an early American rebellious act - settlers here attacked the fort and liberated it of the British gunpowder on December 15th of 1774.  They hid it in various places - most notably in the church pulpits.  A number of British cannon were also taken.

     As I was editing photos I spotted a funny shape in one of the cannon ports.  None of the reports say that Joshua uses a camera though . . .   

     The photos in this article were taken from a cruise boat named the Heritage, made possible because of the hospitality of Portsmouth River Cruises.

     51 year old owner Drew Cole got his captain's license when he was 21, and worked as deckhand and captain of the Heritage from 1983 to 2002 when he purchased the vessel.  

     Another thing in common with Portsmouth North Carolina is the old lifesaving station at the mouth of the harbor.

     This one still sits in decay, and as far as anyone knows there are no plans afloat to restore it.

     As we approach downtown Portsmouth an old Navy brig comes into view.

     This facility served as a naval prison from 1908 to 1974.  Modeled after Alcatraz, the area's high currents deter escape.  In fact this section of river has the second fastest tidal current in the nation - trailing only the Columbia River in Oregon.  

     Over 82,000 men passed through these walls - with an average prisoner age of just 20.  A few of them became household names later in life. 

     Before Humphrey Bogart became famous, he served as a military policeman in the navy.  He was transporting a prisoner here who smashed him in the face with his handcuffs in an attempt to escape.  Well, back then the Navy told MP's and guards that they would serve the remaining prison terms of anyone who escaped their custody.  Bogart got him back, but the trademark scar and lisp remained.

      Steve McQueen also spent time here.  He turned a two day weekend pass into a two week tryst with his girlfriend.  When the shore patrol tried to arrest him he resisted, and as punishment he was sent here for 42 days.  The first 21 days were on a strict bread and water diet - a common naval punishment back in that era.  McQueen later distinguished himself by saving 5 men from drowning when a ship hit a sandbar.  Many captured German submarine crews were also held here during WWII.

     On the other side of the prison is one of four naval submarine dry docks.  In this photo the nose cone of an attack sub sits in contrast with outline of the prison.

     The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, established in 1800 by John Adams, is the oldest operating naval shipyard in the country.  

     Shipbuilding on the site actually goes back even further, with the first British ship built in the colonies constructed here in 1690.  The British reserved the best trees in this area for themselves, and there are old tales of locals stealing the Crown's trees.

     That boat above guards the facility 24 hours a day, its 50 caliber machine gun on lookout for terrorists and errant pleasure boat navigators.

     The base and prison occupy Seavey Island, a spot that New Hampshire and Maine have long contended for ownership.  New Hampshire's last claim for state income tax from workers on the island was dismissed in 2006.

     The base's motto is "From Sails to Atoms," acknowledging the incredible evolution of naval propulsion systems in the last 200 years.

     Surrounding the base is a heavy wire net, designed to keep out submarines or other watercraft.

     During WWII the entire mouth of the harbor had netting to protect it, remnants of which still remain close to the shores.

     There was an incident where the gate was open and a US ship passing through, but a sonar man sounded the alarm because he thought he heard two propellers.  Searchlights revealed a German U-Boat sneaking into the river behind the ship.  Upon discovery the submarine turned and fled.

     Bollards are short posts to which a ships ropes are tied.  The history of the shipyard shows - below is a newer style bollard next to an old cannon that was cemented in the ground for that purpose.

      Another historical spot along the river is called "Wentworth by the Sea."

     The hotel was built in 1874 and was most famous for its role in the ending of the Russo-Japanese war.  Teddy Roosevelt brought the two parties here to negotiate peace from what had turned into a horrid conflict.  Local accounts say that the negotiators failed to reach an agreement after a week of talks, but rather than let them leave locals brought them into their homes and entertained them.  The extra time allowed the remaining hurdles to be overcome and the treaty was signed in 1905.

     The hotel was closed in 1982 and slated for demolition in 1995.  The History Channel called it one of America's most endangered landmarks, and the exposure helped locals save the site.  It has been fully restored and is currently operated by Marriott.  Today it features a marina and golf course along with many other amenities.     

     Lobstering is prevalent here.  Captain Drew remarks how unique the lobsters are.  The typical North American Lobster only enter traps on the New Hampshire side of the river and the Maine Lobster similarly stick to the traps on the Maine side.

     This is New Hampshire's only port, so many items crucial to the state are brought here by ship.  The salt used on the New Hampshire roads in the winter comes from Chile and is dumped here in huge piles.

     This is not mixed with sand - the reddish tan coloration is the natural color of the salt.  The site is busy as cities and townships all over the state are stocking up for the coming winter season.

     Drew's boat actually makes two different voyages - one out to the mouth of the river and the other to visit towns inland.  We take a second journey that runs about ten miles further inland.  Two large bridges cross the river on the inland side of town.

     This one handles both automobile and train traffic.  The bridge is being rebuilt, and were it not for the naval shipyard the train tracks would be eliminated.  The project should be completed by the time we revisit in six years.

     Just upriver is a large electrical power plant called the Shiller Station.

     Burning both coal and oil, it provides power to over 80,000 homes and businesses.  The coal comes in on large ships, and is offloaded using a mechanical arm that utilizes conveyor belts.

     Another dock houses two large ocean trawlers that are used to net bait fish for the lobstering industry.

     After a brief run through a residential area, we emerge onto a stretch of river that is undeveloped.

     There are huge clay deposits here, and at one time over 75 factories churned out bricks along these shores.  There were also tanneries and other factories operating in the upriver towns.  The result was that the river was filthy - it was basically unlivable for any creature.

     The large cleanup projects initiated by President Jimmy Carter helped this area immensely.  The strong tides also helped - in a few decades the pollution has been flushed out and wildlife can once again flourish.

     The boat takes us all the way to Dover New Hampshire. 

     Begun as a fish camp in the 1600's and further established by English Puritans, the area was known for its brick and textile making.

     I took a photo of this boat because of its unusual shape.

     It reminds me of the shape of the old whaling boats.  Sir William Pepperrell lived here in the 1700's and is best known for his financing and organization of a raid on a French fort.

     Fall is in the air - it has been chilly the last few nights.  The tops of the maple trees are beginning to change color.

     I was hoping to make it back to Nag's Head NC by the end of the year - that is looking doubtful.  But we are getting a lot of good photos and stories.  It is hard to keep up a good pace because there are great people and stories everywhere I stop.

     That leads us to today's "Faces in the Crowd" shot(s).  We were joined on the river voyage by some Amish folks.

    Amish are usually hard to photograph, but the angle of the sun was such that you could not see into the boat's cabin from the outside. 

     And for today's parting shot, we have a t-shirt that Drew sells.  On it he has a top ten list of dumb things he has been asked by passengers over the years.

     My favorites are  #4 and #3 but #1 is pretty special too.

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Make it a great day !!

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