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Isles of Shoals FAQ



We gathered a few of the most frequently asked questions that come from our readers. Here are the answers, short and sweet.If you have more questions after visiting our Shoals sections, please send them to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.




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Where are the Isles of Shoals?

Just 10 miles out from Portsmouth Harbor in New England in the USA. They can clearly be seen just six miles off the coast from Rye, NH

How many islands are there?

Current count is nine, though this figure varies through history. Early explorers listed 18 isles and rock outcroppings. Seavey Island is connected to White Island at low tide, and Malaga is sometimes considered an extension of Smuttynose. These are very small rocky islands like Square Rock, that are uninhabitable and not counted about the nine today.

What are their names?

Appledore, Star, Seavey, Malaga, Smuttynose, Cedar, Lunging, Duck and White.

Are the islands in New Hampshire or Maine?

Both. The Isles were so valuable in the early 1500s for their shoals of fish, that when owners John Mason and Frederick Gorges divided their real estate holdings in the New World, they split them in half. Mason got the New Hampshire Islands (Star, White, Cedar, Seavey) and Gorges got the Maine ones (Appledore, Smuttynose, Malaga, Duck)

Murder book sidebar adWho owns the islands and what's on them?

The only hotel is on Star which has been the site of summer conferecnes for over a century. There is a museum there as well and interesting historic monuments near the Oceanic Hotel. Appledore, once the site of the Laighton-Thaxter hotel, now houses the Marine Shoals Lab and a few private residences. The automated light house is on White. There is a single family residence on Cedar and Lunging. Smuttynose has a summer caretaker, the Revolutionary War-era Haley House and a walking trail.

How can I reach the Isles?

A number of private firms, including the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company offer tours around the island, but do not stop. In recent years the conference center on Star Island and the marine lab on Appledore have contracted their own ferries for their guests and students only. The most reliable ferry service to visit and walk around Star during the day is the Uncle Oscar out of Rye Harbor. Most visitors arrive on private boats that moor in Gosport Harbor. Visitors are now welcomed to come aboard Star Island, and Smuttynose offers walking trails in season during daylight hours.

Can I get onto the islands for the day?

Yes, take the Uncle Oscar out of Rye. We will post other ferry services as we become aware of them. All of the islands are privately owned and only Star has facilities for visitors – rest rooms, a snack bar, a gift shop. Smuttynose allows visitors, but has no facilities of any kind for the public.

Are there cars on the Isles?

A few old trucks transport luggage and supplies from the dock to the hotel at Star Island and to the dorms and teaching halls at Appledore. Otherwise, there are no vehicles at the Shoals.

Can I camp or bike on the Isles?

Sorry, there is no facility for camping on any of the Isles of Shoals. TOP

How can I stay overnight at the Oceanic Hotel on Star?

The Oceanic Hotel first opened in 1873 and has been the site of summer conferences for the last 100 years. Conference attendees stay at the Oceanic or in a number of overnight houses on the island. The conferences are run by the Star Island Corporation, founded by members of the Universalist Unitarian Church and Congregational churches. Beware that hotel is only slightly modernized from Victorian times. Few rooms have running water. Bathrooms are shared and flush with seawater. Showers are availabhle only during planned times. Meals are cafetria style in grouped tables. There are no luxuries, no pool, sauna, spa, wightroom or cable access. It is a but like camping indoors. Their office is located in Portsmouth, NH and you can see their summer conference schedule online or order a catalog. (Click here)

What about staying on Appledore?

Also owned by the Star Island Corporation, Appledore is leased to Cornell and the University of New Hampshire for their summer marine biology programs. The Shoals Marine Lab also has offices in Portsmouth, NH on the mainland at Creek Farm. Registered students, mostly of high school age. live in dorms on the island, and there is a wide variety of classes available.

Who was Celia Thaxter?

Born in Portsmouth, NH, Celia moved to the Isles with her family at the age of 4 and lived much of her life there. Her poetry became very popular in the second half of the 19th century. Her book Among the Isles of Shoals (1873) is a must read for fist time visitors. She held summer salons attended by famous literary figures like Whittier and Hawthorne, as well as prominent artists of her day like Childe Hassam. She is buried on Appledore. Visit our Celia web section.

Can I see Celia's famous island garden?

Although the 19th century hotel and Celia's cottage on Appledore are gone now, a dedicated group of volunteers keep up a recreation of her famous "Island Garden." There is a fee for visitors and a significant walk from the boat along dirt roads. For the latest details click here.

Is the story "Weight of Water" true?

Anita's Shreve's best-selling novel (now a motion picture) is based on a real double ax murder case that happened on Smuttynose Island in 1873. The novel, however, is fictional, not accurate. The murders were committed by itierant fisherman Louis Wagner who attempted to rob the Hontvet House and killed two young women. Read the complete story in the popular new book MYSTERY ON THE ISLES OF SHOALS. Convicted for the murder of two Norwegian women living on Smuttynose, Wagner was among the last prisoners executed by the state of Maine. Visit our Smuttynose section

Does the picture on the bottle of Smuttynose beer show the murder house?

No, that is the restored Samuel Haley House which still stands. The site of the murder or "Hontvet House," as it is called burned a few years after the murder.

How are the hiking paths?

Cleared paths are available in season on Smuttynose and Star. Be sure to wear hiking shoes due to rocks (not handicapped accessible). Long pants are better than shorts due to poison ivy. Beware attacking seagulls during breeding season in May and June.

What about ghosts, shipwrecks and buried treasure?

Legends abound and Shoals lore is full of fascinating stories. There is evidence that at least one pirate visited the Shoals, but buried treasure is unlikely on rock solid islands with almost no topsoil. A number of ships have certainly wrecked on the Isles. The best references for this information come from Celia's book "Among the Isles of Shoals"; Lyman Ruttledge's "The Isles of Shoals in Lore and Legend" and his guide "Ten Miles Out." You'll find the graves of many Shoalers on the islands including the Haley Cemetery on Smuttynose and the Caswell and Beebe cemeteries on Star and the Laighton family cemetery on Appledore. There are legends of pirates Blackbeard and Phillip Babb among others, but the shrieks in the night are inevitably gulls and the ghosts are optical illusions of mist and moonlight.

Who discovered the Isles? Who lived there?

Explorer Captain John Smith of Jamestown and Pocahontas fame was the first Europeans to map the shoals after his visit in 1614. He named them "Smith Isles" but the title did not stick. The Isles were heavily populated by fisherman and occupied as early as the beginning of the 17th century. Over time, a hardened fishing village evolved mostly on the Star and Smuttynose and the area was, for a while, officially known as the town of Gosport. Thomas Laighton, Celia Thaxter's father bought three of the islands in 1839. His hotel industry flourished there even before the Civil War and the Isles were a popular tourist site for writers like Whittier and Hawthorne, and for artists and musicians.

What is ISHRA?

The Isles of Shoals Historical and Research Association was founded in 1985 to promote the study of the Isles. The group now numbers over 200 members and readers are welcomed to join. Through the aid of the Portsmouth Athenaeum, ISHRA members are currently cataloging and scanning thousands of Isles photographs for research. For informaing on joining ISHRA, click here.


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