Marking Time: Exploring roadside markers on New Hampshire’s Seacoast

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My husband, Dick, and I are inveterate travelers. We like nothing more than to pack our car and start driving cross country with plans to camp in our little two-person tent along the way.  This year the pandemic forced us to cancel those plans. What could we do instead? 

Friends mentioned the book Cruising New Hampshire History: A Guide to New Hampshire’s Historical Markers written by Michael A. Bruno. They were on a quest to see all of the 255 markers listed in the book. Since more markers are added each year the total is now 267. We decided that we wanted to see them too. All the markers can be found on the state website.  The markers are ones you have probably driven past without paying much attention. They are green with white lettering and have the state seal at the top. Sometimes there is a sign, “Historical Marker Ahead.”

Bruno’s book is divided into seven geographical sections. We decided to start in the Seacoast region which is where New Hampshire’s history began. The sign at Odiorne’s Point in Rye reads:

“Here in the spring of 1623, was established New Hampshire’s first settlement, Pannaway Plantation. David Thompson and other hardy fishermen came from England to colonize and develop trade. They built a stone manor house, smith, cooperage, fort, and stages for drying fish on nearby Flake Hill. Thompson’s son, John, was the first child born in New Hampshire.” 

The sign at Odiorne’s Point in Rye. Photo/Nancy-Anne Feren

The land of the original Pannaway Plantation is part of Odiorne Point State Park. The Seacoast Science Center is located here, along with the remains of military batteries which were part of the harbor defenses during World War II. There are also several hiking trails, one of which leads to this monument to the first settlers.      

Not surprisingly, the Portsmouth area has many signs related to the colonial era. We were intrigued by some of the engravings on gravestones at the North Cemetery where many noted citizens of the 18th and early 19th century are buried.     

The sign at Portsmouth Plains states, “In the pre-dawn hours of June 26, 1696, Indians attacked the settlement here.  Fourteen persons were killed and others taken captive.” The story continues with a sign at Breakfast Hill in North Hampton: “On the hillside to the north of this location a band of marauding Indians and their captives were found eating their breakfast on June 26, 1696 following the attack and massacre at Portsmouth Plains. When confronted by the militia the Indians made a hasty exit leaving the prisoners and plunder.”

Moving ahead in history, there is a sign in nearby New Castle describing the raid at Castle William and Mary, now Fort Constitution, in December 14-15, 1774 when “several hundred men overpowered the small British garrison … and removed quantities of military supplies. These raids, set off by Paul Revere’s ride to Portsmouth on Dec. 13, were among the first overt acts of the American Revolution.

The Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion at the end of Portsmouth’s Little Harbor Road was the 40-room farm of Royal Governor Benning Wentworth. Photo/Nancy-Anne Feren

We enjoyed wandering the grounds at the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion at the end of Portsmouth’s Little Harbor Road. It is the 40-room farm of Royal Governor Benning Wentworth who was appointed in 1741 and governed the province of New Hampshire for 25 years.  Because of Covid restrictions, it was closed when we were there but we definitely want to return for a tour. In non-pandemic times there is a Lilac Festival in May, a Beatrix Potter Day in July, and a twilight tour which includes seven other historic houses. Our alternative was to hike the 1.5 mile Little Harbor Trail which provided some nice views of the harbor.

Exeter, which served as the capital of New Hampshire during the American Revolution, merits five signs. One commemorates its stature as the colonial seat of government from 1774 to 1788. Another describes the original Exeter Town House where “the Provincial Congress adopted and signed the first state constitution thereby establishing an independent state government, the first of the thirteen colonies.” There are signs for Brigadier General Enoch Poor who served during the American Revolution; for the Ladd-Gilman House where John Taylor Gilman who was governor of New Hampshire for 14 years and his brother Nicholas who was a signer of the U.S. Constitution were both born;  and one sign in front of the Exeter Town Hall where Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech in 1860.

In Greenland, NH, you can see the Weeks House which was built about 1710 with bricks which were made on the premises. It was occupied by the Weeks family for 25 years and is considered the oldest native brick house in New Hampshire.

The Weeks House in Greenland, NH, was built about 1710 with bricks, which were made on the premises. Photo/Nancy-Anne Feren

Other Seacoast markers include one in Danville for the Hawke Meeting House: “Erected prior to June 12, 1755, this is New Hampshire’s oldest meeting house in original condition”; one in Durham that describes the Oyster River Massacre in 1694 as “the most devastating French and Indian raid in New Hampshire during King William’s War”; and one in Kingston honoring Josiah Bartlett, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. 

My husband and I are both New Hampshire natives but as we traveled throughout the state we continued to be amazed by how much we didn’t know. From the sign in Newmarket we learned that Wentworth Cheswill (1746-1817) was “among Newmarket’s best-educated and most prosperous citizens.” He is considered the first African-American citizen elected to public office in America; his grandfather was the first African-American  to have owned land in New Hampshire. We discovered so many examples of New Hampshire citizens who were the first to do something; of bridges that were unique; of historic events that took place here. At the end of each day trip, we found ourselves anxious to learn more.


makrking timeNancy-Ann Feren is a native of Manchester, NH and a graduate of Machester Central High School. She has a BA from Wellesley College and MAT from the University of New Hampshire. She is a retired Manchester teacher and the author of  Not Your Average Travelers: 40 Years of Adventures in All the U.S. National Parks. She and her husband have traveled to all 50 states (48 of them with their 3 children) and to all 7 continents.

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