Illustrated Bites of Island News

by Jim Cerny

Town committees New Castle then and now Antiques appraisal day Seen at the commissioning Henrys' Market Flamboyant fall weeds And other flamboyant colors

Town committees

At the direction of the Board of Selectmen, there are two special committees currently holding regular meetings:

New Castle Police & Fire Municipal Complex Building Committee

This committee was formed by the Board of Selectmen, with a specific mission statement (PDF file), to evaluate plans for the current Fire Department location, to be completed by mid-December. The committee consists of: Dave Blanding (ex officio as Fire Chief), Jeff Hughes, Eric Katz (chair), Dave McGuckin, Jim Murphy (ex officio as Police Chief), Tom Smith, and Suzie Whitney. The committee is meeting weekly and meetings are open to the public. The meeting schedule is posted on the front door of Town Hall and is subject to change. Meetings to date include: field trips one week to look at recently constructed safety buildings in Kittery and Rye; discussions another week with Sandra Bisset as chair of the Energy Committee and Nancy Borden as chair of the Historic District Commission.

New Castle Energy Committee

This committee is chaired by Sandra Bisset, with several teams investigating sub-topics: building weatherization program (David McArdle as lead), electrictiy (Sandra Bisset as lead), transportation (Nancy Borden as lead), recycling (Sandra Bisset as lead), and long range strategy (Jim Zuckerman as lead). The meetings are open to the public and at least two dozen residents have attended so far.

Due to Sandra Bisset's initiative New Castle was awarded $3,000 by the Rockingham Planning Commission, to prepare an energy chapter for the Town master plan.

While there is endless material to read on energy topics, a book of note is Physics for Future Presidents by Richard A. Muller, published in 2008 by W.W. Norton (ISBN: 978-0-393-06627-2). Chapters dealing specifically with energy are: (5) Key Energy Surprises, (6) Solar Power, (7) The End of Oil, (12) Nuclear Power, and (13) Nuclear Waste.

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New Castle Then and Now

The old lifesaving station at Fort Stark, before it was replaced by a similar station that still remains on Wood Island (from New Castle Historical Society).

On November 12, at 7 p.m., at the annual meeting of the New Castle Historical Society, Bill Drew and Carol White will offer a photographic presentation of "New Castle Then and Now." They did a preliminary version of this presentation at the New Castle Supper Club on October 8 at the Church Parish Hall.

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Antiques appraisal day

Dan Olmstead appraising a brass bell.

A leather fire bucket, estimated to be worth $10,000-$20,000.

The New Castle Historical Society held an antiques appraisal day on October 26th, raising over $550.  Appraisers were Dan Olmstead and Maureen Boyd. Many treasures were brought in, including the two shown here.

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Seen at the Commissioning

A number of New Castle residents and their relatives attended the Commissioning of the SSN-778 New Hampshire these came within camera range!

Peter Rice and Reggie Whitehouse.

Andy White.

David White and Matthew White.

Sally Kisch and Krista Kisch (Glenn Kisch photo).

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Henrys' Market

Progress with Henrys' Market

Construction continues with Henrys' Market, across from the New Castle Congregational Church, and an opening date is yet to be set.

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Flamboyant fall weeds

The fall season is a time to notice some of the plants and vines that have been growing energetically all summer. This is a look at several of these opportunistic plants or weeds that can thrive in disturbed areas: Jimson Weed, Black Swallowwort, Pokeberry, and Oriental Bittersweet. These are presented here for awareness and familiarity with nature I've avoided using the pejorative label "invasive species" and any discussion of the related attempts to control nature more about that in a future opinion piece.

Jimson Weed, with insets showing the flower (lower left) and seed pod (lower right).

Jimson weed (Datura stramonium) is an annual herb that is occasionally seen in New Castle. It is easy to identify with its  pale flowers and unusual prickly green seed pods (insets in image above). This example was growing on the shingly beach at Fort Stark, between the high tide line and the normal vegetation line. All parts of the plant contain alkaloids which can cause toxic effects: dry mouth, dilated pupils, high temperature, and blurred vision sometimes more colorfully summarized as "red as a beet, dry as a bone, blind as a bat, mad as a hatter". Severe poisoning is uncommon because the effects are not pleasant, but would require medical attention. Animals avoid it unless they are given contaminated feed. The weed is found around the world and there is disagreement as to its place of origin. However, it has been in North America since at least Colonial times, with a famous case of poisoning in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1705.

Swallowwort foliage and pods.

Swallowwort seeds.

Black Swallowwort (Cynanchum louiseae) is a perennial vine that is widespread in North America, probably introduced from Europe about 1900. It spreads by seeds and roots and can quickly take over an area, though it is not as woody and dominating as oriental bittersweet (q.v., below). Looking at the seed pods you can see a resemblance to milkweed and it is part of that family.


Pokeberry (Phytolacca americana, aka Phytolacca decandra) is a native North American herb that can easily grow as tall as a person, with stout pink stems (up to an inch or more in diameter) and very distinctive dark purple-black berries, sometimes called inkberry. Various parts of the plant are toxic, though birds are able to eat the berries. The berries can be used to make a dye and it is alleged that the Declaration of Independence was written with fermented pokeberry juice (unconfirmed).

Bittersweet at Fort Stark shoreline.

Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) The foliage and leaves are pretty at this time of year with red berries covered by yellow sheaths that split open. However, bittersweet will strangle other vegetation, even whole trees. So people either love or hate bittersweet, depending on where they encounter it. It was introduced to North America about 1860. Bittersweet seems much more widespread and aggressive than it once was and long-established vines can reach an inch in diameter. Much of the work of the Fort Stark Brigade, in the summers of 2007 and 2008, has involved removing bittersweet, which can overwhelm a growth of sumac and climb and choke pines and other trees. In fact, the Brigade has the slogan, "a bittersweet victory." Interestingly, bittersweet produces male and female flowers on separate plants (dioeceous).

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And other flamboyant colors

Sumac leaves.

Sugar maple at the New Castle Common.

Sugar maple, backlit, at the Riverside Cemetery.

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November, 2008