Native Americans of the Abenaki tribe were the original inhabitants of the territory later named New Hampshire. The first settlement began in 1623 and was named Strawberry Banke for the wild strawberries that grew there. Portsmouth grew into the colonies’ fourth largest city at the mouth of the Piscataqua River, which divides New Hampshire and Maine. The port dealt with fishing, lumber and shipbuilding. In 1653 it was incorporated as Portsmouth after the port city of the same name in England. By 1679 it had become the territory’s capital, and remained so until 1774 when Exeter became New Hampshire’s Revolutionary War capital (in 1789 the state capital was established in Concord, where it remains). The first act of the American Revolution took place at Portsmouth’s Fort William & Mary in December 1774 after Paul Revere sailed from Boston to Portsmouth warning that the British were coming. John Paul Jones the “Father of the American Navy” came to Portsmouth in 1781 to await the completion of his ship America. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which is across the river in Kittery Maine (home to 120 outlet stores and only about 7 miles away), was established in 1800 as the country’s first Naval shipyard. It launched 31 submarines in 1944 and built the first Polaris in 1962 and is still going strong today as refitter of the latest Virginia Class nuclear submarine fleet. In 1849 Portsmouth was incorporated as a city. In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt chose the Naval Shipyard to host negotiations that lead to the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the Russo-Japanese War and leading to his winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 (Presidents Wilson, Obama & Carter also won the prize).
The city of 21,000 (50 miles from Boston and 260 from NYC) contains many examples of Colonial, Georgian and Federal style houses with several converted to museums. In 1813 a fire destroyed almost 250 buildings and all new buildings built in the downtown area had to be of brick construction with slate roofs. The Historic District, which includes the North Church whose spire can be seen from most of the city, is centered on Market Square. The Portsmouth Historical Society’s John Paul Jones House Museum is housed in the Captain Gregory Purcell House renamed in honor of its most famous lodger. In 2008 the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Portsmouth one of the “Dozen Distinctive Destinations.” Also in 2008 Prevention Magazine called Portsmouth one of the “top 100 walking cities in America." I can attest to that as I spent several hours walking past (and visiting) many of the historic buildings, sidewalk cafes, restaurants, art galleries and artisan boutiques. Forbes Traveler named Portsmouth as one of “America’s Prettiest Towns” in 2009. The redevelopment of Pease Air Force Base has led to many new job opportunities. It now houses the Air National Guard and the Portsmouth International Airport at Pease.
I spent two nights at Wentworth by the Sea- A Marriott Hotel & Spa. In the afore mentioned Portsmouth Peace Treaty both delegations stayed at the Wentworth Hotel (as it was then called) for 30 days, as the guests of the owners on behalf of the State of New Hampshire. In 1994 the Portsmouth Peace Treaty Forum was formed to explore themes of diplomacy and to prepare for the 100th anniversary of the Treaty, celebrated in 2005. In 2006 the 100th anniversary of TR Nobel, the Forum was moved to Wentworth by the Sea. Each year the forum welcomes a diplomat or scholar to discuss his or her recently published book exploring the idea that ordinary people can make a difference if they choose to become involved; and that diplomacy works.
The hotel was built in 1874 and closed in 1982. It was scheduled to be demolished in 1995 (all the furnishing were sold off). Attention was drawn to the plight of the Victorian hotel when it appeared on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of America's Most Endangered Places as well as the History Channel's America's Most Endangered. This postponed the demolition sufficiently to identify a buyer, and Ocean Properties (Sagamore- Bolton Landing NY- Samoset- Rockport ME- Harborside Hotel- Bar Harbor ME) acquired the property in 1997. The hotel was subsequently renovated, reopened in 2003, and is operated as a Marriott resort. The Wentworth by the Sea is a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Historic Hotels of America and is a AAA Four Diamond property. The now-independent Wentworth by the Sea Country Club is home to the golf course that was expanded to 18 holes in 1964. The Wentworth Marina is also independently operated and welcomes Wentworth hotel guests. Wentworth is one of a handful of the state's surviving Gilded Age grand hotels, and the last located on the seacoast (technically in New Castle which abuts Portsmouth). There are 161 guestrooms and suites including The Little Harbor Marina Suites, located on the water and across from the main hotel. There is also a seasonal waterfront restaurant located there. The spa includes treatment rooms, the fitness center and indoor pool (free for hotel guests). During the summer season there is sailing, water-skiing, canoeing and fishing, plus an outdoor waterfront pool. I had dinner and the breakfast buffet in the Wentworth Dining Room.
When the hotel was renovated they planned for only 161 rooms thinking there would be very little business in the winter months. How wrong they were. Mid January through the end of February they have the Winter Wine Festival. During the 6 weeks there are Grand Vintner’s Dinners, a “Bubbles & Jazz Brunch" each Sunday, a champagne Valentine Dinner and the Grand Tasting Reception with dancing and jazz. In 2009 the Festival premiered its first-ever Wine Fair & Sale with partner New Hampshire State Liquor Commission (NH has state stores with wine sold in private stores also). The weekend I stayed there they were sold out with weddings, business meetings and the first of 3 Vintage Christmas weekends. There was a free vintage trolley running a 15-minute route downtown. The holiday tree lighting took place on Market Square. The two highlights for me were the 30th annual Candlelight Stroll at Strawbery Banke Museum, a ten-acre living history museum. It features more than 40 restored buildings built between the 17th and 19th centuries in the Colonial, Georgian, and Federal style architectures, with costumed role players explaining the history of each home. Dinner was at Jumping Jack’s where I was able to see the Illuminated Holiday Parade through the rain/sleet/snow. To complete the “Strolls, Shows and Stayovers” I went to the Music Hall (the landmark 900 seat Victorian era theater built in 1878) to see Striking 12 with GrooveLily, a very witty score that combines pop, rock, jazz, and show tunes.
The next morning the overnight snow was cleared from the roads and I went back downtown to the Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel for their holiday brunch. In 10 minutes I was in Kittery Maine with its 120 outlets divided into many sections all along Route 1. There is a very large and well-supplied state liquor outlet store in Hampton, just before crossing into Massachusetts. There is no sales tax in New Hampshire and the claim is the state stores have the lowest prices in New England. In 4 1/2 hours I was back in NYC. I would like to return in the summer.
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