AGAMENTICUS & STRAWBERY BANKE
Kittery, Maine & Portsmouth, New Hampshire have been historically linked for centuries, as they share the mouth of the Piscataqua River.
The harbor and the town of Kittery are also very intertwined with the Isles of Shoals, a net of rocky islands nine miles off the coast. Appledore Island, the largest island of the Isles of Shoals, is included in the township of Kittery, and most of the travel to the islands stems from Portsmouth Harbor. And Smuttynose Island is home to a cabin once owned by a woman named Rosamond Thaxter, longtime resident of Kittery Point. We first learned of Rosamond Thaxter when we visited the Isles of Shoals last summer. After a ferry ride to Star Island, we discovered that the hotel there rents rowboats for rowing over to nearby Smuttynose. That afternoon, we navigated across state borders from New Hampshire to Maine, over to the flat, low island that carries a ton of history on it's back. The current steward of the season told us a little bit about the cabins on that island, and a little about Rozzie. From there we set off on a quest to find as much information about her as we could.
Rosamond Thaxter was a philanthropist, writer, public speaker, and world traveler. Aunt Rozzie, as she liked to be called, had a deep affinity for the Isles of Shoals. Rozzie was the granddaughter of Celia Thaxter, writer and poet. Rozzie never had a chance to meet her grandmother, but was enthralled with her life, especially regarding Celia's infatuation with the Isles of Shoals. There, on Smuttynose Island, Rozzie retained her most prized possession- a lil cabin, fully stocked with the basics, and with the door always open for those passing through.
From Boston you can head north and get to Kittery in about an hour, or over-shoot by about fifteen miles and hit Mount Agamenticus in York first. You'll see the slight shape of Agamenticus on the horizon from Route 1 leaving Kittery- it's not the tallest mountain at only 692 feet above sea level, but it gives spectacular views of the ocean and coast, because it's only six or so miles inland. Rozzie would hike Mount Agamenticus and admire the Isles of Shoals off in the distance, thinking about Celia, who had once known Agamenticus so well as a sloping mainland landmark viewed from Appledore Island. Historically, the mountain was a noted landmark to many, including sailors and fishermen of the 17th century. The little mountain is even visible from Halibut Point on Cape Ann.
After spending the morning up on the mountain, head to Kittery Point, Rozzie's old stomping ground, and where she is now buried, on Pepperrell Road. You'll also find Fort McClary nearby, which is owned and operated by the state of Maine, and will give you an excellent view of the Piscataqua River and the harbor.
While in Kittery, also check out the Kittery Historical & Naval Museum if for no other reason than to scope out their book selection. It's a quaint museum with many unique artifacts about the oldest town in Maine, and they offer a spot-on selection of hard-to-find books, including Rozzie's own 'Aunt Rozzie Remembers'- an autobiography she wrote solely for her family, but which is now published and sold by the museum, as a stapled-computer-paper zine-looking collection of Rozzie's life memories. It was this very book that led us to our next stop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, just south of the river from Kittery- Strawbery Banke.
Strawbery Banke is the unreal restoration and preservation of a very real neighborhood in Portsmouth, very close to Prescott Park and the harbor. The neighborhood dates back to 1630, when it was named after the wild strawberries along the Piscataqua River. Today a handful of homes dating back four centuries are open to the public as the Strawbery Banke Museum, giving visitors unbelievable insight into the neighborhood's history and growth, from the early 1630's until the late 1950's.
The attention to detail in the restoration and preservation, and the on-going care these buildings need is apparent and inspiring. The juxtaposition of eighteenth century and twentieth century ways of life and architecture is amazing, and authentic. You'll come across a house in the process of being restored, with its raw walls chipped with paint and its wallpaper peeling back into layers. And then the oldest house of the group, and perhaps the oldest house standing in New Hampshire today, is the Sherburne House which has an un-restored interior with examples of how it was constructed.
Rozzie worked here at the museum from its beginning, watched it receive national recognition, and helped as a majority of the restorations came to fruition. The museum's accomplishments were made possible by the determination of those who found such value in the history of the place. Rosamond Thaxter was a stickler for history, especially familial history, and her work at Strawbery Banke was invaluable.
A loop along the coast of New Hampshire and into Maine will be full of maritime history. Portsmouth, Kittery, and Mount Agamenticus are all an easy day trip from Boston and other many points in New England. Don't forget to swing through Fort McClary, or Fort Constitution in New Castle and Odiorne Point State Park in Rye, to add even more layers of history to the day.
Today, the Rosamond Thaxter Foundation is continuing to support charitable organizations in Kittery, Portsmouth, and the Isles of Shoals. The foundation works and supports the following areas: history, healthcare & social services, land conservation, education, museums, libraries, and the arts. We love you, Aunt Rozzie!
TO READ BEFORE YOU GO
Rozzie's own 'Aunt Rozzie Remembers'- an autobiography she wrote solely for her family, but which is now published and sold by the Kittery Historical & Naval Museum, as a stapled-computer-paper zine-looking collection of Rozzie's life memories.