Nothing feels more colonial than hearing the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic” blast through speakers while runners stretch at the starting line for the annual “Run Through History” half kilometer run around Strawbery Banke Museum. Roleplayers from the early American themed museum are dressed in bed gowns and mobcaps, whilst the men adorned waistcoats with top hats as they walked around to hype up the runners and spark conversation with spectators. Beside the starting line, the Labrie Family Skate at Puddle Duck Pond rink is open at the museum. The mumbles of conversation are drowned out by screaming of children as the zamboni exits the rink and kiddos rush onto the ice.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire is a small town bordering the Massachusetts and Maine coast that has been around since 1653. Most known for its history, Portsmouth’s many historical monuments include the USS Albacore Museum where you can tour a US Navy submarine, and the Moffatt-Ladd House and Garden once owned by William Whipple, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. I find myself at Strawbery Banke Museum, one of the biggest museums in town, taking in the nippy air and cool breeze from the shore.
Standing off to the side of the crowd in a beige trench coat and flat cap stood President and CEO of the museum, Larry Yeardon, who has run the museum for the last eighteen years. He joined me in the charcoal colored wooden directory building for some hot chamomile tea and talked about his experience running the museum. “There’s the excitement of being in some place where things are changing and new things are being done. And a lot has changed, a very large number of things are new now.” The goal of the museum is to mesh the past with the present. Yeardon says, “the vision, to see this place without being critical of the past.”
Strawbery Banke Museum has thirty-nine buildings on ten acres of land. The museum opens up their colonial houses from late spring to early winter. Each building is designed to represent the different time periods from the late 1600s to the early 1900s. Being the first seaport in the United States, Portsmouth has left quite a few marks on history. Strawbery Banke Museum is a representation of these historical landmarks. Looking for a bit of fun for those who aren’t history buffs? During the offseason the museum operates the outdoor ice rink for those who love to throw on some skates and enjoy the crisp air.
After touring the museum, I make my way back to the heart of the town. From tea shops, to art galleries, to gift shops, one thing Portsmouth is for sure known for is its shopping. Scattered throughout Market Square are many local small businesses waiting to be explored. It took me ten minutes to cross the cobblestones to get the Portsmouth Book & Bar. A bookish retreat for book lovers who like to enjoy a nice drink whilst reading. Ranging from espresso drinks to alcoholic beverages, the cafe is welcome to readers of any age. The shelves were crammed with books of all genres, not a lick of space was left on the walls. In the heart of the store, high top tables are full, as well as the seats at the bar.
Out of all the local outfitters, pet shops, and antique stores, Bobbles & Lace director, Emily Albertini, drew me in with her friendly smile and charisma. The company has been around for ten years and has grown some roots in Portsmouth after five years.
“It’s a destination location. People come from all over, so they come to shop specifically. All boutiques, fun shopping,” Albertini says, as she runs around to get clothes ready for a collaboration at the store. She is dressed for the event in a plaid maxi dress paired with some ankle booties. “So I think it was a no-brainer for Bobbles & Lace to be one amongst the amazing shops in Portsmouth.”
Bobbles & Lace is collaborating with Rambler Flower Truck owner, Charlee Charron, to promote her business. She set up a stand in the corner of the store filling buckets with beautiful roses, carnations, hydrangeas and more. Charron is a Portsmouth native; she points out that not only is the shopping within walking distance from one another, so are the restaurants. Portsmouth is home to a variety of restaurants from Italian, Thai, and gastropubs. Her favorite is Surf, a seafood restaurant five minutes away from Bobbles & Lace. “It’s the best food in town. It’s the freshest and the busiest. It checks every box.”
One hidden gem that I wasn’t aware of when I came to Portsmouth was the cluster of islands and coast ledges off the shore called the Isle of Shoals. Boat tours motor tourists to and from, serve five course meals with live music while touring the dwarf islands around nine miles off the coast. It’s one of the more expensive things to do in Portsmouth, but a fun event for a weekend with a group of friends or family. Portsmouth is in the heart of New England.
While arranging a bouquet for me, Charron mentions, “The location of where you are, you can go up to Portland, over to Kittery, to Newburyport. You’re smack dab in the middle of the best cities. Boston is an hour away. You have everything.” As customers approach the bright stand, she adds her final touches and fixes some of the flowers. “So to come here, you can extend your trip and go north, and go eat lobster in Maine or you can go south and go to Boston.”
As I begin to take the familiar cobblestones up to Surf for dinner, I take in the now orange sky as the sun begins to set over the buildings. People carrying shopping bags while others rush to the bars before the bands start up. While Portsmouth can be a good day trip, it would also be perfect for a weekend getaway. There is enough to do during one day, but budgeting a few extra days offers more time to experience the other attractions. The summertime is the most popular here with all the neighboring beaches, boat tours, and gardens.
When coming to Portsmouth, be prepared to walk, take in the scenery, and be welcomed with open arms by the friendly natives.
Isabella Vassallo is a staff writer for Blue Muse Magazine
Header image courtesy of Isabella Vassallo