Portsmouth, New Hampshire is located along the Piscataqua River in Rockingham County at 43.1° north and 70.8° west. The population within the city limits is about 22000. Portsmouth is the third oldest city in the United States.
The land in the area around Portsmouth was originally the home of the Abenaki tribe. European settlers came to the area in the early 1600's, using the Isles of Shoals as a summer fishing base. The fisherman brought foreign diseases with them, which soon killed off 95% of the Abenaki tribe. English settlers first built homes in Portsmouth in 1623. Logging and fishing were early industries in the area. The English soon brought African slaves to Portsmouth, with the first arriving in 1645.
During the Revolution, gunpowder stored in Portsmouth was used in the Battle of Bunker Hill. While no battles took place in Portsmouth, the town contributed troops to the Continental Army. Portsmouth soldiers, under the command of John Stark, were crucial to victory in the Battle of Bennington.
The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, located on Seavey Island in the middle of the Piscataqua River, is the oldest continuously operated shipyard in the United States. Thomas Jefferson authorized the purchase of the island as the site for the shipyard, and the facilities were opened in 1800. The shipyards deployed privateers to harass English merchant ships during the blockade of 1808 and the War of 1812. The shipyard would also be used in the war effort for WWI and WWII.
The end of the War brought about the decline of Portsmouth's shipbuilding industry, but ushered in a period of industrial growth in the area. Textile mills soon sprung up along the river, using the new railroads to export cloth to other parts of the country.
There was an effort in 1832 to turn Portsmouth into a whaling community. Starting out with a 98-foot ship, the Portsmouth Whaling Company set up business out of the city port. However, the young and inexperienced crew was not as efficient as competing whalers in Massachusetts were, and the company went bankrupt in 1839. By 1848, all whaling companies in Portsmouth had failed.
The tourism industry developed shortly after the Civil War. Vacationers from New York City and Boston soon found the New Hampshire seashore quite to their liking, and soon large summer homes and hotels covered the coastline. The first of these large hotels, Wentworth by the Sea, was built in 1874. The first tourism guide book was published in 1876 by Sarah Foster.
Prescott Park is located along the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth. Josie and Sarah Prescott donated the land to the city around 1900. The park is home to the annual Prescott Park Arts Festival. During July and August, performances by musicians and theater groups take place around the park, culminating in a large musical production.
The Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the Russo-Japanese War, was signed in 1905. The Russians and the Japanese were invited to Portsmouth by then president Theodore Roosevelt to negotiate the peace. Portsmouth Naval Shipyard’s Building 86 was chosen as the site for the negotiations. The Negotiations began on August 8th and continued until September 5th, when the treaty was signed.
Portsmouth became a popular location for U-boat crews to surrender at the end of World War II. Four U-boats, with captain and crew, surrendered to US forces stationed at the Shipyards over a five-day period in 1945. Another U-boat anchored at the Shipyard, U-505, is now on display at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. Much was learned from the U-boats stationed at the shipyards, and the government soon established the Navy Center for Submarine Design and Development. The Center is home to the USS Albacore test submarine, as well as repair facilities for the Navy's Los Angeles Class Nuclear Submarines.
Portsmouth still thrives on its tourism. The summer months find the beaches crowded, and the highways full of traffic. It's proximity to Boston has given the town a small dose of suburban flair.
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