Why is this monument falling apart?
See rare pics of Star in 1860s and 70s
Smith, never modest, named the Isles of Shoals "Smith isles" during his visit in 1614 and vowed to return to colonize his favorite New England area. According to local lore, Smith actually came onto the Isles and early tourists were told that he built a cairn of rocks there. This story, popular with island tourists during the booming hotel era, may have inspired "shoaler" Rev. George Beebe to built a more significant monument to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Smith's visit. Celia Thaxter's family hotel was active at this time on Appledore Island next door. It would be a few years before the Oceanic Hotel, a competing business, would be built on Star Island, kicking off the "hotel era" of the island, and the end of the Gosport Harbor era of this fishing village ten miles out to sea. Prominent Portsmouth clergyman Rev. Daniel Austin was the donor. The site of the Smith monument is near one of the remaining stone cairns and near the Beebe cemetery on Star island.
Seemingly an odd subject for two ministers, the triangular base and cap of the monument symbolizes the "three Turks heads" that John Smith decapitated during his early days as a soldier of fortune on the Crusades in Transylvania. (This was before his trip to America and meeting with Pocahontas.) Originally the monument had a tall marble column in the center and that was topped with carvings of three Turkish "bashas" whom Smith reportedly defeated in one-on-one combat. A photograph, possibly from 1890, shows all three heads missing from atop the monument, although the reinforcement wires that held them in place are still visible. An earlier Davis Brothers stereo card shows one carved head still visible. The extensive inscription on all sides of the original monument were thought to be lost for years until an account of them was found in an early newspaper.
By the turn of the 20th century the column too had washed away in an Island storm leaving the monument, according to a 1907 news article, was little more than "a sad ruin." Still it remained a tourist attraction and pictures of the crumbling monument appeared on postcards and in guide books until it was patched up in 1914. At that time a large granite obelisk was built to honor another Shoals minister, Rev. John Tuck with money from the philanthropic Tuck family. Media reports mentioned the dilapidated condition of Smith's tiny memorial nearby, and a group called the Society of Colonial Wars volunteered to repair the Smith monument to coincide with the Tuck dedication and the 300th anniversary of Smith's visit. The group added a granite cap with a bronze plaque and again covered the stepped monument with cement.
Time, salt, ice, wind, water and seagulls have, in the 20th century, reduced the monument to its worst condition ever. There has been, in recent years, some discussion of who actually owns the monument. In seven editions of the popular guidebook "Ten Miles Out", visitors read that the monument is the only plot of land on the island not owned by the Star Island Corporation. Instead, it appears, that line refers to the Tuck Monument that is maintained by the NH Historical Society. With 2014 approaching, the 400th anniversary of Smith's visit to the Shoals, another preservation effort is needed - assuming the toppling structure can last that long.
Written by J. Dennis Robinson
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