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An Old Town by the Sea 3

 
  A STROLL ABOUT TOWN by TB Aldrich (continued)

Wendell House, Portsmouth, NH / SeacoastNH.com

Among the prominent buildings is the Athenaeum, containing a reading-room and library. From the high roof of this building the stroller will do well to take a glance at the surrounding country. He will naturally turn seaward for the more picturesque aspects. If the day is clear, he will see the famous Isles of Shoals, lying nine miles away -- Appledore, Smutty-Nose, Star Island, White Island, etc.; there are nine of them in all. On Appledore is Laighton's Hotel, and near it the summer cottage of Celia Thaxter, the poet of the Isles. On the northern end of Star Island is the quaint town of Gosport, with a tiny stone church perched like a sea-gull on its highest rock. A mile southwest from Star Island lies White Island, on which is a lighthouse. Mrs. Thaxter calls this the most picturesque of the group. Perilous neighbors, O mariner! in any but the serenest weather, these wrinkled, scarred, and storm-smitten rocks, flanked by wicked sunken ledges that grow white at the lip with rage wllen the great winds blow!

How peaceful it all looks off there, on the smooth emerald sea! and how softly the waves seem to break on yonder point where the unfinished fort is! That is the ancient town of Newcastle, to reach which from Portsmouth you have to cross three bridges with the most enchanting scenery in New Hampshire lying on either hand. At Newcastle the poet Stedman has built for his summerings an enviable little stone chateau -- a seashell into which I fancy the sirens creep to warm themselves during the winter months. So it is never without its singer.

Opposite Newcastle is Kittery Point, a romantic spot, where Sir William Pepperell, the first American baronet, once lived, and where his tomb now is, in his orchard across the road, a few hundred yards from the "goodly mansion" he built. The knight's tomb and the old Pepperell House, which has been somewhat curtailed of its fair proportions, are the objects of frequent pilgrimages to Kittery Point.

From this elevation (the roof of the Athenaeum) the navy yard, the river with its bridges and islands, the clustered gables of Kittery and Newcastle, and the inimitable ocean beyond make a picture worth climbing four or five flights of stairs to gaze upon. Glancing down on the town nestled in the foliage, it seems like a town dropped by chance in the midst of a forest. Among the prominent objects which lift themselves above the tree tops are the belfries of the various churches, the white facade of the custom house, and the mansard and chimneys of the Rockingham, the principal hotel. The pilgrim will be surprised to find in Portsmouth one of the most completely appointed hotels in the United States. The antiquarian may lament the demolition of the old Bell Tavern, and think regretfully of the good cheer once furnished the wayfarer by Master Stavers at the sign of the Earl of Halifax, and by Master Stoodley at his inn on Daniel Street; but the ordinary traveler will thank his stars, and confess that his lines have fallen in pleasant places, when he finds himself among, the frescoes of the Rockingham.

Obliquely opposite the doorstep of the Athenaeum -- we are supposed to be on terra firma again -- stands the Old North Church, a substantial wooden building, handsomely set on what is called The Parade, a large open space formed by the junction of Congress, Market, Daniel, and Pleasant streets. Here in days innocent of water-works stood the town pump, which on more than one occasion served as whipping-post.

Continue OLD TOWN BY THE SEA

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