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blogbrainsmallSeacoast History Blog #143 
September 4, 2012

People keep asking me if I’m sad that the history exhibit we spent so much time creating is coming down. The borrowed dugout and birchbark canoes went back to Maine. The replica hotel porch came down yesterday and today Nate Hamilton and his assistants are boxing up the artifacts. The stuffed birds, the ancient barrels, the old boats and tools, the signs and the 1873 murder ax are all going back from whence they came. On Saturday the Shoals Marine Lab held a celebratory dinner for 125 marine biologists in the middle of the exhibit at Discover Portsmouth that spilled out into the gift shop area. By the end of the week a whole new art show will replace my Isles of Shoals display. I’m told that 10,000 visitors saw the show this summer. But all things must pass. I’m less sad about the past than nervous about the future. What’s next? I do not know. (Continued below)


PHOTOS OF Farewell Party click here

But I took a bunch of photographs all the same. My job is essentially to document, to comment, and to march forward. One thing I learned this year is how isolated our many Isles of Shoals groups are from one another. There are those who love the island history, others who love the rocks, the scenery, the botany, the marine biology, the boating, the creative inspiration, and the family vacations. But those worlds rarely overlap. At the Shoals Marine Lab gathering last weekend all of the directors of the Cornell educational program begun in the 1960s gathered in one place for the first time. The group will soon celebrate its 50th year, yet I knew only one of the SML leaders. I met John Kingsbury, the University of New Hampshire founder of the AppledoreIsland program this weekend. How strange is that? Our worlds have been so close together, yet so far apart.

Tearing down replica Of Mid Ocean House Porch / J. Dennis Robinson

One major goal of this exhibit and the book was to begin to unite the fractional lovers of the Shoals who have been as separate from one another over the years as the layers in an archaeological dig. Not only are Shoalers separated by interest, but they are separated by deep waters. I spoke to people who, after decades at Apledore’s lab, had never been to Star or to Appledore or to White island. Each island is, well, an island unto itself. Past administrations on each island seemed to reinforce their separateness. Star used to dicourage non-conference visitors from coming ashore. Appledore is primarily for biology students. Smuttynose is inaccessible except to small boats. And a great many Seacoast residents have never even taken a tour out to the nine rocky islands visible from the mainland. I hope we helped to change that.

READ: What this exhibit taught us

In “Under the Isles of Shoals” I worked to combine history, scenery, marine biology, and anthropology into a flowing narrative for general readers. I knew from the get-go that archaeology is not everyone’s cup of tea. Even some historians have little interest in stuff dug out of the ground and prefer to dig their facts out of the written record. Biologists who study living things are sometimes only slightly curious about how those living things lived in years gone by. If the exhibit and the book got some cross-disciplinary discussions going, then it was certainly worth a year of my life. But what am I doing next year? The freelance writer is a bit like a hobo hopping from one train to another, destination unknown.

I didn’t actually build the replica of the Mid-Ocean House hotel porch that was one of the highlights of the show. I drew the plans, but didn’t wield a hammer. My neighbor Ed Valena and his crew (see How We Built the Shoals Exhibit) did the heavy lifting. The materials came from the Isles of Shoals and to prevent the wooden structure from falling down on summer tourists, the exhibit was built like a battleship. Ed swore he wasn’t going to get drawn into tearing it down. But the day after the show closed, there he was with his sledgehammer in hand.

SEE the actual hotel porch on Smuttynose circa 1870

My longtime friends Barry and Judy Pitchforth of Arundel, Maine also helped pull the porch apart. Tony Freeman and Dale Valena helped load the dismembered pieces into Karen Carpenter’s truck. But that’s not the end of the story. The pieces of the fake hotel, that used to be pieces of some other building, have a new task ahead of them. They will be refitted, Karen says, into an outhouse for a cabin in the woods of Vermont. What goes around comes around.

But what about me? How will this aging author be recycled? What destination will the history hobo take? Inquiring minds want to know.

© 2012 by J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved

Barry Pitchforth and Ed Valena take it all down /

Dale Valena loads hotel into truck /

Taking down the old Smuttynose Island hotel porch replica

Continued MORE PIX next page

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Tearing Down the Hotel Porch
Sunday, December 17, 2017 
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