Carving out the boundaries of New Hampshire and Maine is the Piscataqua River. Its name first appears written in English in the year 1623, descended from a term by the indigenous Abenaki tribe which roughly translates to “a place where boats and canoes ascending the river together from its mouth were compelled to separate according to their several destinations.” Its fast-flowing current has a dangerous reputation, occasionally claiming even an experienced sailor struggling to fight the tides, but the resource-rich estuary would prove to be a prime location for colonial expansion.
In 1630, European fishermen began to settle in the area of the river known as “Strawbery Banke,” named after the wild fruit found abundantly growing there. The colony eventually changes its name to Portsmouth and for much of the colonial period shares a provincial governor with Massachusetts. By the 1700’s, Portsmouth is one of the busiest ports in the world, and a popular commercial trading destination. After the War of 1812, however, the privateers disappear and Portsmouth’s shipping fades with rise of the railroads, but the city is able to survive off of its strong ship-building community. Following the Civil War, Portsmouth was notable for its shoe factories and breweries. In 1870, the city was wired for electric lights, and free postal delivery was introduced in 1887. In more recent times much of the waterfront has fallen into disrepair, and the once vibrant coastal community still struggles to reforge its identity.
New Hampshire eagerly ratified Prohibition upon the act passing Congress in December of 1917, but any sailor who has been to the port knows where to find a drink.
There are several areas of interest in the city within a reasonable walking distance: Downtown, Market Square, the neighborhood known as Puddle Dock, Water Street, and the Harbor. A short ferry trip is available to the U.S. Navy Yard on nearby Seavey’s Island.