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Portsmouth Harbor Heritage

People at Fort
Portsmouth Harbor’s
Military and Naval Heritage


The latest photo-research volume from Arcaida (with offices right nearby in Portsmouth, NH) is a harbor tour for coastal defense fans. We asked Pete Payette, and expert on the topic, to offer a brief overview.




This latest compendium in Arcadia’s Images of America series, as the title suggests, chronicles the rich military and naval heritage of Portsmouth Harbor, New Hampshire and Maine. The authors have collected and compiled over 200 historic photographs and illustrations from various local and regional sources, many never before published. The result is a fascinating story chronicling the early fortifications constructed on both sides of the Piscataqua River, and the private and federal shipyards that the forts were later tasked with protecting against foreign enemies.

Portsmouth Harbor's Military and Naval HeritageGenerally, the book follows a chronological order from the 1630s to the 1950s. The introduction presents a brief synopsis of Portsmouth Harbor’s first 300 years of military and naval history, providing a context into which the reader will understand why Portsmouth Harbor was so important to this nation. The first chapter then covers the early harbor fortifications of the 18th and 19th centuries, with illustrations and photos depicting the old works at Fort Constitution and Fort McClary. The Portsmouth Navy Yard is then covered in three chapters, fully half of the book, inclduing the eras of 18th century wood and sail, 19th century steel, and 20th century submarine construction. The naval history enthusiast will find here many rare and captivating images to salivate over.

The final two chapters cover the early 20th century (Endicott era) fortifications of the Spanish-American War and WWI, and the WWII (1940 Modernization Program) fortifications, respectively, at Forts Foster, Stark, Dearborn, and Camp Langdon. Fortification scholars and students who have never been able to poke around the local archives to see these photographic gems are in for a real treat. Included are images of the soldiers’ garrison duty and training during the inter-war years, the various buildings and other structures that were razed long ago, and the large guns that were emplaced at the forts to protect the harbor and shipyard.

Through no fault of the authors, due to Arcadia’s space limitations, I was a little disappointed in the overall number of photographs. There are a few collections that still haven’t seen the light of day in a polished published work. Hopefully, the present holders of these collections will get them into print some day for all to enjoy. I still feel that it is a valuable source for anyone interested in the history of Portsmouth and Kittery, regardless of their knowledge level or field of interest.

Pete Payette, editor


Portsmouth Harbor’s Military and Naval Heritage
by Nelson H. Lawry, Glen M. Williford, and Leo K. Polaski
Portsmouth, NH: Arcadia Publishing, 2004
128 pp
$19.99 softcover

From the Publisher:
Including more than two hundred vintage photographs and illustrations, Portsmouth Harbor?s Military and Naval Heritage chronicles the history of the Piscataqua River?s naval shipyard and harbor defenses. Long before it became home to one of the U.S. Navy?s first federal shipyards, the harbor at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Kittery, Maine, was protected by gun batteries, mainly at Fort Point, New Castle, New Hampshire. By the end of World War II, modern concrete batteries mounting guns of ever longer range had been constructed at this and three other forts straddling the river?s mouth. These fortifications reflected the increasingly important role of the shipyard, dedicated after 1917 to building submarines that contributed significantly to the World War II victory.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018 
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