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The Forgotten Founders of Hotel Wentworth

Charles Campbell, Original owner of Wentworth by the Sea (c)

The grand 1874 hotel began as a family affair, but blood and money made a risky cocktail. Although the Wentworth owes its success to ale tycoon Frank Jones, it was originally conceived by a couple from New Castle, NH. Their experiment failed quickly, but the Campbell family remained connected to the hotel just above their island home for 30 years.




READ: 1874  article on hotel opening with rarely seen pictures

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We almost lost Wentworth by the Sea. Closed and in ruins for over 20 years, the historic luxury hotel is now renovated and back in business. Seacoast New Hampshire’s most famous hotel first opened in 1874 and, many believe, was conceived and built by Portsmouth tycoon Frank Jones. But the Wentworth really began as a family affair, the grand and fleeting dream of a couple from New Castle, New Hampshire. It’s a story rarely told, until now.

The Campbell family on Campbell Island in New Castle with their lost Wentworth Hotel in the background (c) Courtesy Campbell Family.Charles and Sarah Campbell were a hospitable pair who worked at a number of seacoast hotels, including the Appledore at the Isles of Shoals. By the mid-1800s they had settled comfortably into running their own summer tourist cottage on "Campbell Island" a spit of land in Little Harbor just below the Wentworth. Sarah’s family owned a portion of the 70-foot tree-covered bluff on the western side of New Castle. The tourist trade began to boom following the Civil War and the prominent site in New Castle, a large island and New Hampshire smallest town, offered breathtaking views and fresh, cool ocean breezes. It was the perfect spot for a grand hotel.

Rare photographs recently unearthed by Campbell family descendants show a sophisticated Sarah Campbell in her fashionable dark fur wrap and hat, clearly a woman of means. Another 1870s-era family photo, though unlabelled, is most likely her husband Charles E. Campbell, a handsome wide-eyed man with a handlebar mustache. A third photo shows Campbell Cottage, the "older sister", so to speak, of the Wentworth itself.

We don't know when Sarah and Charles first decided to build a new hotel on the rocky bluff. Perhaps they read an article in an 1866 Portsmouth newspaper urging residents of New Castle to cash-in on the new tourism craze. New Castle was ideal for a hotel, the newspaper said, because it had few bugs, an expansive view of three states and was close enough to Portsmouth for the ladies to go shopping. Victorian train lines allowed Boston visitors to reach the Portsmouth railroad depot in little more time than one can drive the distance today. Then it was only a four-mile carriage ride across two toll bridges to the New Castle resort.


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