Prescott Park Created by Millionaire Sisters
Written by J. Dennis Robinson
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Josie Prescott is in the news again and just the mention of her name is like a warm summer breeze in winter. Her family created Prescott Park in the 1930s. Her trust fund helped pay for badly needed Prescott Park renovations in 1985. A quarter century later the hugely popular riverside park and arts festival are planning a half million dollar facelift. (Continued below)
Architect Steven McHenry will present his ideas to the Historic District Commission on Wednesday. The outmoded performance pavilion needs upgrades and expansion. A new concession stand is planned. The public restrooms there, among the only comfort sites in downtown Portsmouth, are “completely inadequate” according to city officials. Hundreds of thousands of tourists and residents flock to the park annually for concerts, picnics, flowers, and live theatre. Josie and her sister Mary would be proud of the family-friendly site. But their brother Charles, who paid for it all, never had a clue where his money went.
How it all started
Imagine a video game in which two gray-haired little-old ladies lay waste to four city blocks. The object of the game is to flatten all the buildings and replace them with a scenic park. That's pretty much what happened along the Portsmouth waterfront in the 1930s. Mary and Josie Prescott played a private game of Monopoly, buying up all the property along Marcy Street from the Memorial Bridge to the historic Point of Graves. Then they knocked the buildings down, planted flowers and turned the land over to the city.
It doesn't take a psychiatrist to deduce that the Prescott sisters had "issues" with the old neighborhood in which they grew up. After the Civil war the South End waterfront had evolved into a rough and tumble center of booze bars, bordellos, warehouses, low-rent tenements and rotting wharves. And it doesn't take a banker to know that giving away waterfront real estate takes deep pockets.
How two elderly schoolteachers suddenly became millionaires while most Americans were still reeling from the Great Depression, is in itself, a dramatic tale. The Prescott sisters had to fight for their fortune.
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