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Prescott Park Created by Millionaire Sisters

 

Reinventing the waterfront  

Prescott_JosieUnder the direction -- critics say "under the thumb" -- of Charles Dale, the Prescott sisters gobbled up waterfront real estate and razed the old buildings. Eventually only two brick structures, including an historic 18th century warehouse, were left standing in Prescott Park. The upper end of the park opened in 1939 just a few months before the death of Mary Prescott, aged 84.  Josie Prescott survived to age 91 and her will left Dale almost totally in charge of completing her dream park. Dale invested both his own money and the Prescotts’ in a dizzying array of properties in the South End and beyond.  

In another odd twist, Dale became even more powerful when Susie Walker Trask died in 1936. Remember her? The widow of the Erie millionaire donated a considerable sum to three charities in Portsmouth, NH, her hometown. Additional gifts of stock in her husband's company, combined with shares already inherited by the Prescott sisters, gave Charles Dale -- who represented all the Portsmouth parties -- legal control of the surviving Pennsylvania company for years to come.  

Although she left Portsmouth at the end of the Civil War in 1865, and despite her 50-year marriage in Erie, Susie Walker Trask decreed that her body be shipped back to Portsmouth for burial. Sixteen years earlier the body of Charles Prescott, her husband's partner, had also been delivered from Pennsylvania to a Portsmouth cemetery.  Whatever bond the two shared went to the grave with them.  

So it was the posthumous prodigal son, Charles E. Prescott, who paid, and still pays, for the beautiful acres of waterfront park we enjoy today – with its lush manicured gardens and a popular outdoor summer theater.  Yet Charles gets no special credit for his inadvertent benevolence. Visitors should look closely at the stone dedicated there in a quiet ceremony in 1939.  It names, not Charles the millionaire son, but his father, a man who had no special success in life. A farmer, grocer and carpenter, Charles S. Prescott brought his three children into the rugged neighborhood on Water Street, then died mysteriously in an upstairs bedroom nearby.  

The unobtrusive dedication to Charles S. Prescott stands very near the site of the house where Josie Prescott was born in 1858. But that house is gone. It was torn down – flattened like the entire waterfront neighborhood they grew up in -- by the Prescott sisters themselves.  

 

KEY SOURCE: The Prescott Story by Ray Brighton, published by the Portsmouth Marine Society, 1998. 

Copyright © 2011 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson writes and lectures on NH history. His books are available at local bookstores and on Amazon.com. Robinson is also editor and owner of the popular history Web site SeacoastNH.com where this column appears exclusively online. 

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