New Hampshire – Day 1: Portsmouth – Islands, Old Buildings, and Awesome Bookstores

Brittany Swanson   September 21, 2015   Comments Off on New Hampshire – Day 1: Portsmouth – Islands, Old Buildings, and Awesome Bookstores

My first Couchsurfing host in New Hampshire recommended a few places for me to check out in Portsmouth, NH. Her recommendations were: Strawberry Banke Museum, Prescott Park, and Peirce Island. I decided to start at Prescott Park. However, after finding a place to park I turned the corner and found the Strawberry Banke Museum! I went in the Visitor Center to see about prices and what the museum was all about. Turns out it’s a pretty cool sounding place. According to their website:

“The 10-acre site, with its authentically restored houses and shops, period gardens, and costumed role players, presents the daily lives of ordinary people who lived here – from Colonial times to World War II, from the mundane to the elegant, from economic boom to war time austerity – in engaging and accessible ways.”

Strawberry Banke Museum, Portsmouth, NH.

Strawberry Banke Museum, Portsmouth, NH.

While this sounded SUPER COOL, I just could not get past the $20 admission fee. I mean, seriously, leave it to America to put such a steep price on learning… Now, having been a theatre professional, I totally understand that everyone involved in this kind of large scale production needs to be paid, and paid fairly. HOWEVER, it really bothers me that this museum is only accessible to those with financial means. I mean really, what kind of world do we live in that only certain people can go learn about the history and culture of their own town?! Anyway, rather than buy in to this unjust system and accept America’s commodification of LEARNING I chose to skip Strawberry Banke, despite how cool it sounded. Maybe someday the government will actually prioritize education and museums like this one will be free to all. I hope so, because I would really like to check it out someday. (Note: I gladly would’ve paid at least $5 if it had been a free admission – donations welcome kind of set up. I think society really underestimates how much people would give willingly to things we value.)

Next I decided to walk over to Peirce Island which was just across the bridge from Prescott Park. En route, I made a pit stop at Four Tree Island, which I would consider more of a peninsula since the bridge between the two islands is a full land mass in the water…but maybe that’s just me. Four Tree Island, had more than four trees and seemed like a lovely place to have a picnic. Though it did smell quite fishy and it was a pretty small island. I walked the entire loop in under five minutes. There were a number of covered picnic tables and when I was there there were a few different groups of people picnicking in the center lawn area, like I said, it seemed like a good place to have a picnic. The most interesting find on the island was this man interpreting Morse code:

Man sitting at picnic table on Four Tree Island in Portsmouth, NH.

Not sure why this guy was receiving Morse code, but I’d like to pretend he’s a spy.

I did a little yoga and then moved on to Peirce Island, which was much longer and had a more industrialized feel to it than Four Tree. Cars and boats and other vehicles were allowed on Peirce, while even dogs were banned from Four Tree. Peirce didn’t seem to be anything particularly special so I headed back to Prescott Park, and ended up just walking through that as well. Prescott had some nice landscaping and pretty flowers but I wanted to explore more of the city. A quick Google search told me to head to Market St. which happened to be within walking distance. As I walked along State St. to get to Market St. I noted how quiet the city was. I know it was a Sunday, but still. There were people around, it was just really quiet. Peaceful. A little strange.

Portsmouth has a very quaint, classic old-timey New England feel to it. I felt as though I’d stepped back in time. All of the buildings look like color was added to black and white photos from the turn of the century. In reality, Portsmouth claims to be the third oldest city in the country, dating all the way back to 1623!

Street view of Portsmouth, NH.

If there were old cars or horses and buggies on the street and it was in black and white, you’d never know it was 2015.

My favorite Portsmouth find was Book & Bar. Book & Bar is a, you guessed it, a bookstore and a bar! They have live music and a coffee shop atmosphere and books that look like library stacks and a bar in the middle of all that! It’s amazing. I’d consider moving to Portsmouth, just to hang out at Book & Bar all the time.

Stacks to the left, bar on the right, not pictured: coffee shop style chairs and tables behind me.

Stacks to the left, bar on the right, not pictured: coffee shop style chairs and tables behind me.

Apparently, it was a day of awesome bookstores. I found another bookstore as I walked back to my car.  It’s called Sheafe Street Books. It’s literally hidden on a back road and had they not had a sign up, I never would’ve found it.

Scehafe Street Books sign showing the store on the next block.

A hidden little gem, Scheafe Street Books, Portsmouth, NH.

Inside was just magical. I love bookstores, and this one was no exception. The books were overflowing to the ceiling and when I walked in there was strange pipe organ music playing that made me feel like I’d entered a completely different world. It’s a place like this, combined with Book & Bar that I’d love to work in some day.

Picture of books reaching to ceiling of Scheafe Street Books.

Books stacked to the ceiling of Scheafe Street Books in Portsmouth, NH.

Scheafe Street Books was where you’d go to find something super awesome like a signed copy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I probably could’ve spent hours there, but since I didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars I cut my visit short and headed on my way.