Road Trip 1: The Seacoast, Portsmouth and Rye *Updated!*

3 03 2010

*UPDATE* Printable PDF Road Trip 1

With spring just a few weeks away it’s time to introduce a new blog feature, Road Trips!  This is the first of what I hope will be many that will be cataloged by region in the Road Trips menu bar above.

If you have a request for a trip through a particular region, the Road Trips page is open for comments.  Go ahead and leave a suggestion, and I’ll work one up.

The Seacoast inside I95 is home to 14 markers (15 if we include the Weeks House just on the other side of the highway).  Marker Icons on the maps have blog posts already, green placemarks do not. Blogged markers are linked as appropriate.

There are 2 clusters of markers inside I95; Portsmouth/Rye and Hampton/Seabrook.

This Road Trip will cover the northern markers through Portsmouth, down the coast, and finishing up at the North Hampton/Rye border on Rt 1.  9 markers with an optional 10th (Weeks House).  Hampton and Seabrook will be the next road trip (and a shorter one, at that).

Part 1: Portsmouth.

75zpic1[1] The first marker is #75 Portsmouth Plains . From I95 (north or south) get off at Exit 3, and take a right at the end of the ramp.  The Marker is about a mile past the interstate on your left.   From the south coast, get on Rt 1 north, and take a left at the lights after Lafayette Plaza Shopping Center onto Peverly Hill Rd, the left at the junction of Rt 33 (about a mile) the marker is just to your right.  Not much to see here except a baseball field. It’s more a drive-by marker than a stop and visit marker.  It was a different place 314 years ago.

In the pre-dawn hours of June 26, 1696, Indians attacked the settlement here. Fourteen persons were killed and others taken captive. Five houses and nine barns were burned. This plain was the Training Field and Muster Ground. Close by stood the famous Plains Tavern (1728-1914) with its Bowling Green where many distinguished visitors were entertained.”

road1bFrom here take a right on Peverly Hill Rd just to the east, cross Rt 1 at the lights onto  Elwyn Rd.  Marker #127, John Langdon.  It’s on the left about 1/4 mile past Rt 1.

Signatory to the Constitution, Governor, President of the U.S Senate among other amazing accomplishments.  He was born on this farm in 1741.  This marker is different from many others, the text continues on the reverse side.  The house is open for tours from June through October, or you can rent the grounds for your next shindig.

Mr. Langdon will be covered in detail once we get to the Revolution.

Our next marker is #194 Wentworth- Coolidge Mansion.  Continue east on Elwyn Rd. to the Rotary, then north on Sagamore Ave.  The marker is a mile ahead, just past the intersection with Little Harbor Rd.  Take a right on Little Harbor Rd and follow it to the end to get to the actual Mansion.


I hope you brought some snacks to munch along the way, as this is a beautiful spot on a nice day. The official State Park page is here. I’d recommend this spot for some great photo opportunities.  Here are a few from a visit last fall.

#194 zpic3 #194 zpic5

When you’re finished taking in the view, hop back in the car and head back out to Sagamore Ave.

This next marker is optional.  If you don’t mind navigating across downtown, then backtracking through the city again,  head for marker #114 North Cemetery.  It’s from 1753, and has many famous New Hampshire residents buried there.  Skip ahead if you’re eager to get to the coast markers.


It’s about a mile to the Cemetery. Once back at Sagamore Ave (Rt. 1A), take a right and follow 1A.  Sagamore turns into Miller Ave, and ends at the lights at Middle St, Rt. 1.  Turn right onto Middle St and stay on Middle.  Cross State St. and Islington St., you’re on Maplewood Ave.  The cemetery and marker are 1/4 mile ahead on your left, across from the old Portsmouth Herald building.

“The Town of Portsmouth purchased this land in 1753 for 150 pounds from Col. John Hart, commander of the N.H. Regiment at Louisburg. General William Whipple, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Gov. John Langdon, Signer of the Constitution, Capt. Thomas Thompson, of the Continental Ship Raleigh, are among noted citizens buried here.”

John Langdon, you may remember, we met a few markers ago.  Did you know Portsmouth has a committee to preserve old graves?  Wander down to the right end of the cemetery, and you’ll find the “Old Union” section with a plaque describing some of the people buried there.  After getting your fill here, it’s time to meet up with the folks that skipped this marker for the coast ride.

From the cemetery, turn back around the way you came and head back to State St, and turn left. At the 2nd light, turn right onto Pleasant St, which turns into Rt 1B.

Part 2: The Coast.

If you are skipping the marker #114, take a right on Sagamore Ave., and at the light at the end of the cemetery, turn right onto South St.  You’re looking for Newcastle road on the right (less than 1/2 mile), turn right.  When the road ends,turn right on 1B.  We’re all one big happy group again.


Don’t rush as you follow 1B to center Newcastle.  There are some nice views across the bay on this stretch, and some cute back roads overlooking the bay (with nice homes) once you get near Newcastle.  At the very top of Newcastle turn left onto Wentworth Rd., and the Portsmouth Coast Guard station, marker #4 William and Mary Raids is just on your right with a little parking and picnic area.

If you have the time visit the old fort now known as Fort Constitution.  There is parking outside the gate of the station, and they don’t mind you visiting.  Just stay on the blue line! The fort itself has placards describing what went on there, and what you’re seeing.  Oh, and there’s a light house to photograph as well, if you can find the right vantage point. This is yet another un blogged marker, but we’re getting close.

#4 zpic1 #4 zpic3

road1fThe next marker is only a few miles away, #72 Odiorne’s Point.  As you leave the coast guard station, continue along Rt. 1B (Wentworth Rd), and when it ends, turn left on Sagamore Ave.  At the rotary, go left on Rt 1A.  The marker is located on the left, just across the bridge before the entrance to the Odiorne Point boat launch.

The site of the first settlement in New Hampshire by David Thompson now hosts a very nice State Park.  There are plenty of walking paths to be explored, remains of some of the original settlement foundations, and the Seacoast Science Center to visit.  The main entrance is down the road from the marker on the left.  Check the State Park web site (link above) for opening dates and such.


When ready, continue down Rt 1A to the next mark … err … post sticking out of the ground.  Yes, it’s the infamous marker #18 Isles of Shoals.  As you drive down 1A, the post is on the left at a small parking area, just after Fairhill Ave.  The marker was vandalized, removed and never replaced.  It read:

About six miles directly out to sea, this cluster of islands abounds in legend and history. Before 1614, when the famous Captain John Smith mapped the rocky and surf-lashed Isles, early fishermen, traders and explorers had a part in their history.


A clear day will offer a great view of the islands in the distance.  If you’re trying to take pictures a telephoto lens is probably a good idea.

The next marker is down the road a bit, almost exactly 3 miles, so set your odometer.  No map for this one!  Take it slow and enjoy the views as you pass Wallis Sands State Beach, Rye Harbor State Park and then turn inland for a bit.  Once inland, on the left after Locke Rd.,  Marker #63 Atlantic Cable Station and Sunken Forest is hiding at the edge of the marsh.

#63 zpic1

The receiving station for the first Atlantic Cable, laid in 1874, is located on Old Beach Road opposite this location. The remains of the Sunken Forest (remnants of the Ice Age) may be seen at low tide. Intermingled with these gnarled stumps is the original Atlantic Cable.

Fun fact: I received an email from a reader pointing out that this is not, in fact, the first Atlantic Cable station (Backed up with facts).  I look forward to researching this marker in the future. And now it’s on to the final marker for this road trip.


About .2 miles south of the last Marker, turn right on Cable Rd., then right, onto Central Rd.  Next, turn left onto Grove Rd. which ends at Washington Rd.  A left onto Washington.  Your 5th left is Dow Lane, turn down there it ends at Rt 1.  The marker is actually just a bit south on Rt 1at the Rye/North Hampton town line.


And so we come full circle.  Marker #62 Breakfast Hill.  The companion marker to the first marker from this trip, Portsmouth Plains.

On the hillside to be seen to the north of this location a band of marauding Indians and their captives were found eating their breakfast on June 26, 1696, following the attack at the Portsmouth Plains. When confronted by the militia the Indians made a hasty exit leaving the prisoners and plunder. This locality still enjoys the name of Breakfast Hill.


Whew, this was a lot longer than intended and covered a lot of ground. It looked good mapping it all out.  The distances between markers is pretty short, but explaining it all seems wordy.

I’d like to ask regular readers what you think.  Are these worthwhile?  To many markers?  Need something short to print?  Any and all comments welcome.

Be well!


Marker Twofer! #75 Portsmouth Plains and #62 Breakfast Hill.

6 12 2009

These two markers belong together.  They both commemorate the same event a few miles apart.

#75 Portsmouth Plains

Marker text:

In the pre-dawn hours of June 26, 1696, Indians attacked the settlement here. Fourteen persons were killed and others taken captive. Five houses and nine barns were burned. This plain was the Training Field and Muster Ground. Close by stood the famous Plains Tavern (1728-1914) with its Bowling Green where many distinguished visitors were entertained.

This marker is located on Rt. 33 in Portsmouth, about 2 miles East of I95 on Middle Rd.


#75 zpic1 Part of Portsmouth Plains today is a Baseball field.


Bonus Marker #62!

#62 zpic1

Marker #62, Breakfast Hill

Marker text:

On the hillside to be seen to the north of this location a band of marauding Indians and their captives were found eating their breakfast on June 26, 1696, following the attack at the Portsmouth Plains. When confronted by the militia the Indians made a hasty exit leaving the prisoners and plunder. This locality still enjoys the name of Breakfast Hill.

This marker is located on Rt. 1 North, in North Hampton.  As you can see from the Photo, it is right at the Rye town line.


The Native American attacks, spurred on by the French, had been occurring since the late 1680s.  The Massacre at Oyster River in the summer of 1694 set the New Hampshire settlements on edge.  Since that day, small Indian raids, harassment and mutilation of livestock and the occasional killing or kidnapping contributed to the anxiety they felt going about their daily lives.

Thursday the 25th of June was a cool unsettled day with occasional lightning and rain.  Early in the day a party of Indians  from the York, ME / Nubble area were seen paddling up the Piscataqua from Portsmouth.   Word spread quickly among the settlements to keep people alert for potential mischief.  That afternoon at Portsmouth Plains the livestock came out of the woods where they had been grazing and seemed somewhat agitated.  Was it just the storm, or were there Indians waiting to attack?  The villagers suspected Indians but decided to stay in their homes for the night instead of seeking the safety of the nearby Garrison.

Etching of a late 1600s Garrison House

As the daylight faded and the people of Portsmouth Plains settled in for the night the Massacre MarshIndians that had previously been seen paddling up the Piscataqua probably slipped quietly back down the river in the dark to meet up with the rest of the raiding party at  what is today Rye.  Previous raids into this area had been launched from south of Ordiorne’s Point.  In 1691 a raiding party came ashore and killed 21 people, burning homes and taking hostages at what is today still called Massacre Marsh. They were also from York/Nubble.  Massacre Marsh is about 2 miles south-east from Portsmouth Plains, and would have provided a safe hiding place for their canoes.

The raiding party made their way to Portsmouth Plains during the night.  Just before dawn they set fire to the barns and outbuildings of the village, only then screaming their war cries to wake the people.  They charged the houses, looting anything that could be easily carried and killed as they went.  The women and children that could escape while the men put up a defense ran for the garrison house just north of the Plains.  The elderly and injured attempted to hide in the nearby woods.

The men of the village fought as well as they could but they were outnumbered.  It was only a matter of time before they too had to retreat to the garrison. 

The raiding party knportsmouth plains routeew the path to the garrison and positioned men along the path in the forest.  They killed, maimed or captured villagers that were alone or in twos as they tried to reach safety.

By the time the garrison had organized a response and returned to Portsmouth Plains, the raiders were gone.  The march to the Plains was a gory one.  Many dead and wounded lay on the path, including 33 year old Mary Brewster.  At first they thought her dead.  She had been scalped and her head split by a tomahawk.  Her head would later be mended with a silver plate and she would go on to live a good long life to the age of 81.

Arriving at the Plains the men of the garrison counted five homes burned. Nine barns in total were destroyed, two of them filled with grain and livestock for the village. There were more dead and wounded. Captain William Shackford of Dover was among the men at Portsmouth Plains that morning and led the pursuit of the raiding party. Following their trail south, they finally found them.  The Indians had stopped to eat on a hillside that is to this day called Breakfast Hill.

The Indians had placed the captives between themselves and any pursuers that may come after them providing a human shield in case they were discovered.  A direct assault would not work without killing the hostages.  Shackford sent men around the hill for the attack.  As the men charged out of the woods the Indians they fled into the marshes to the east and disappeared.   They hid in the marshes the rest of the day, slowly making their way back to the coast and hidden canoes by nightfall.  Shackfords men saved all the hostages and recovered everything that had been stolen by the raiding party.

Portsmouth had been alerted to the attack in the morning and expected the Indians may try to sneak away in the dark.  Men were sent up the Pascataqua to stop escape to the west.  Commander Gerrish was assigned with some Sloops to patrol the coast to cut   off if any attempted escape by sea.    The raiding party was spotted that night attempting to escape North up the coast and Gerrish set the line of sloops in their path.  Unfortunately he misjudged the distance to the raiders in the dark and gave the order to fire early, while they were out of range.  The Indians quickly turned to the open ocean  paddling for  the Isles of Shoals.  Gerrish attempted to chase them but could not catch them as the disappeared around the Isles and headed North back to York.


Postscript: Most of the histories have some mention of this incident all the way back to Belknaps first history.  By far the most complete is found in Rambles About Portsmouth pp 71-76, written by an early Portsmouth columnist Charles Brewster.  This re-telling is based on his account of what happened that day.

Marker #154 Packer’s Falls

28 11 2009

#154 Packers Falls

Marker Text:

These scenic falls, 1.6 miles west of here on the Lamprey River, once provided waterpower and industry for the early settlers. A deed dated April 11, 1694, shows that Capt. Packer, Jonathan Woodman, James Davis, Joseph Meder, and James Thomas were granted "the hole streame of Lamprele River for erecting a saw mill or mills." Thomas Packer of Portsmouth was a merchant, physician, judge, member of the King’s Council, and father of the famous Sheriff Thomas Packer.

Located at the corner of Bennett Road and NH 108 this marker was erected in 1985.


The actual falls are located 1.6 miles down Bennett Rd at the bridge on Packer’s Falls Road as shown above.

#154 zpic2The view downstream from the bridge.

As the marker notes, Thomas Packer was granted land to build sawmills and other structures for the purposes of  processing the resources of New Hampshire for trade and shipment back to England.  He was joined by multiple partners, but Packer retained about half the grant on the Lamprey River.

#154 zpic4 Packer’s Falls Bridge.

As this grant occurred in 1694, we’ve made quite a jump from the last Marker (1658).  As you can imagine, a lot happened between these two markers which I’ll document in my next post.  The point to take away here is that the settlers were pushing inland and claiming more land as the early expansion of New England accelerated.

We can learn a bit more from this snippet from Landmarks of Ancient Dover (1892) Page 190:

Packer’s Falls. These falls are in that part of Lamprey river which flows through the southern part of Durham. The name is now confined to the falls just below the bridge on the road to Newmarket—the first falls below Wiswall’s ; but it originally comprised the whole series of falls or rapids along this portion of the river. These falls were in early times generally called "the second falls" a name that included the falls where General Sullivan afterwards established his mills. (See Sullivan’s Falls and Second Falls.)

The name of Packer’s falls was derived, not from Thomas Packer, the sheriff who hung Ruth Blay, but from his father, Col. Thomas Packer, also of Portsmouth, who was at once physician, judge, lieutenant-colonel, and member of the governor’s council.

The town of Dover, Ap. 11, 1694, "granted to Capt. Packer, Jonathan Woodman, James Davis, Joseph Meder, and James Thomas, the whole stream of Lamprele River for the erecting of a sawmill or mills, that is to say, the one half to Capt. Thomas Packer, the other half to the other four men befour mentioned."

Packer’s Falls are so called as early as 1718.

There is a hidden clue in this marker however, with the innocent ending:

“and father of the famous Sheriff Thomas Packer”

And from the narrative above:

“Thomas Packer, the sheriff who hung Ruth Blay”

Oh yeah … my Historic Marker Radar was beeping like crazy!

The first executions ever in Portsmouth were carried out by Sherriff Packer in 1739, and involved two women accused of murdering an Infant.  Nearly 30 years later Ms. Blay, a 25 year old schoolteacher was similarly accused of murdering her newborn child.  It was later found to be stillborn.

Her friends made numerous attempts to stay the execution, and a reprieve was on the way, but too late to save her.  As the story goes, the Sherriff moved up the execution time by one hour, so he wouldn’t miss his dinner.  The reprieve arrived 20 minutes after her hanging.   She was buried in an unmarked grave at South St. Cemetery in Portsmouth, that some say she and her stillborn child haunt to this very day.

Only 3 women were ever executed in Portsmouth, all 3 by Sherriff Packer.  His execution of Ruth Blay was immortalized in a poem by Albert Laighton “The Ballad of Ruth Blay.” Perhaps the Historic Marker should read “the infamous Sherriff Thomas Packer.”

In the worn and dusty annals

Of our old and quiet town,

With its streets of leafy beauty,

And its houses quaint and brown,–


With its dear associations,

Hallowed by the touch of Time,–

You may read this thrilling legend,

This sad tale of wrong and crime.


In the drear month of December,

Ninety years ago today,

Hundreds of the village people

Saw the hanging of Ruth Blay;–


Saw her, clothed in silk and satin,

Borne beneath the gallows-tree,

Dressed as in her wedding garments,

Soon the bride of Death to be;–


Saw her tears of shame and anguish,

Heard her shrieks of wild despair

Echo through the neighboring woodlands,

Thrill the clear and frosty air;–


Till their hearts were moved to pity

At her fear and agony:

"Doomed to die," they said, "unjustly,

Weak, but innocent is she."


When at last, in tones of warning,

From its high and airy tower,

Slowly, with its tongue of iron,

Tolled the bell the fatal hour.


Like the sound of distant billows,

When the storm is wild and loud,

Breaking on the rocky headlands,

Ran a murmur through the crowd.


And a voice among them shouted,

"Pause before the deed is done;

We have asked reprieve and pardon

For the poor, misguided one."


But these words of Sheriff Packer

Rang above the swelling noise:

"Must I wait and lose my dinner?

Draw away the cart, my boys!"


Fold thy hands in prayer, O woman!

Take thy last look of the sea;

Take thy last look of the landscape;

God be merciful to thee!


Stifled groans, a gasp, a shudder,

And the guilty deed was done;

On a scene of cruel murder

Coldly looked the Winter sun.


Then the people, pale with horror,

Looked with sudden awe behind,

As a field of grain in Autumn

Turns before a passing wind;


For distinctly in the distance,

In the long and frozen street,

They could hear the ringing echoes

Of a horse’s sounding feet.


Nearer came the sound and louder,

Till a steed with panting breath,

From its sides the white foam dripping,

Halted at the scene of death;


And a messenger alighted,

Crying to the crowd, "Make way!

This I bear to Sheriff Packer;

‘Tis a pardon for Ruth Blay!"


But they answered not nor heeded,

For the last fond hope had fled;

In their deep and speechless sorrow,

Pointing only to the dead.


And that night, with burning bosoms,

Muttering curses fierce and loud,

At the house of Sheriff Packer

Gathered the indignant crowd,–


Shouting, as upon a gallows

A grim effigy they bore,

"Be the name of Thomas Packer

A reproach forevermore!"