Once upon a time, the community of Portsmouth was known by other names. First known as Piscataqua, then Strawbery Banke for the wild strawberries along the riverbanks, and finally Portsmouth in 1653 in honor of the colony founder, John Mason, who was once the captain of Portsmouth, England in the county of Hampshire. Many original buildings survive in Portsmouth and much of the charm of the community is due to the wonderful and quaint New England architecture.
Within walking distance of the town is historic Strawbery Banke Museum, New Hampshire’s oldest settlement with restored Colonial, Georgian and Federal style buildings. On a chilly but sunny morning recently, we took a stroll around the grounds.
We visited before the museum was open for the season. Buildings were closed. But projects were happening. We saw mounds of topsoil being moved into place; we saw excavations and foundation work on the buildings; we watched earthmovers disappearing around corners; we spotted flats of flowers for planting and we even saw a few volunteers among the many workers, kneeling before gardens, digging and planting.This weekend, museum volunteers will arrive in mass to celebrate Earth Day by cleaning, raking, and planting all the gardens.
Most buildings looked completely restored but a few were waiting their turn.
This entire area was slated for demolition in the late 1950’s. It was city librarian Dorothy Vaughn who spurred on the local Rotary Club to save the homes. Local citizens were soon inspired as a community to rescue this historic riverfront area. When museum doors are unlocked on May 1 and the flowers are planted and all the soil is neatly spread where it belongs, we will again visit this 9.5 acre outdoor museum and be transported back almost 400 years through the 1950’s.