Goss fire a historic blow Beach Commission choice held up Pulpit Rock Tower: Bring on the lawyers Seawall damage extensive Farmers Market being planned

Staff of Rye Reflections


Goss Farmhouse photo taken in August, 2007 by Judith Palm.

General Goss home, built in 1797,
devastated by early-morning fire

A piece of Rye's soul was lost in the early morning on March 22.

Empty and for sale the past two years, the picturesque General Goss farmhouse was gutted by a fire that is under investigation. The 212-year-old white house and connected barn stretch across the Harbor Road property, just west of Ocean Boulevard (Route 1A), part of a special New England setting that includes Rye Harbor and the recently-restored Awcomin Salt Marsh, directly behind the one-time farm. The house had been lived in by the Goss family ever since it was built by Thomas Goss, a Brigadier General of the first Brigade of Militia in N.H. He lived to the age of 90.

In 2007 a Maine developer met with the Rye Planning Board at a conceptual consultation with a plan to subdivide the 9.2 acre parcel (2.4 of which are wetlands), preserving the house and barn but proposing to build five homes with a private road. The response was tepid; he did not return.

The Rye Conservation Commission also had been attempting to obtain the property, according to Chairman Jim Raynes, possibly as a joint preservation project with matching private and conservation funds that would have utilized the house as a bed-and-breakfast.


What was left after March 22 early-morning fire.

State Fire Marshal (left) and other investigators on the scene the day of blaze. (Jack Driscoll photos)

Non-public public issue

Selectman Joe Mills held up the appointment of a new Beach Commission member on Monday, March 23 and demanded a non-public session with Commission Chairman Michael Labrie at a later date. Referring to the "nightmare situation last year", presumably having to do with lifeguards being absent over Labor Day, Mills said in answer to a question that the reason for excluding the public from the meeting was because it involved "Personnel". The non-public session was held the following Thursday, but the category was changed from "Personnel" to "Reputation". Attending the 40-minute behind-closed-doors meeting were the Selectmen, Assistant to the Town Administrator Cynthia Gillespie and Labrie. After the non-public, a public meeting of 14 minutes was held at which Mills made a motion that was approved to appoint Peter Kane of Brackett Road as one of three beach commissioners. The Selectmen then went into a non-public meeting on hiring that lasted about an hour.

At a public meeting of the Beach Commission on March 17 there had been about a half-hour discussion of five candidates for the vacant seat on the Commission. Kane was selected to succeed Tim Sanborn, who had served for 10 years and sought re-election. Other candidates for the three-year position were Jane Holway, Brian Dewsnap and Peggy Taylor.

Commissioners Labrie and Jack Panopoulos also had voted to advertise for a new lifeguard supervisor and lifeguards. Last Sept. 22, during a discussion about the Labor Day situation attended by all three commissioners before the Board of Selectmen, Labrie said that lifeguard supervisor Jared Pease would not be invited to return.

At the Selectmen's March 23 meeting Kane was asked whether he was a dog owner. He said he owned two dogs but did not take them to the beach. However, he said he was in favor of the concept of allowing dogs to have use of beaches. He also said his past experiences with lifeguards have been positive.

In mid-March Labrie and Panapoulos concurred at the Commission meeting that a priority this year would be preventing dog feces on the beaches. Panopoulos said he personally would be willing to place flyers on windshields of cars parked on beaches during dog-walking hours. "We're all fed up with dog crap on the beach, and people's failure to clean up after," said Labrie. The fine for leaving dog droppings on the beach is $50. The commissioners also said they intend to instruct lifeguards to maintain a wider area for swimming this year through the placement of flags that mark off the approved area for surfers.

Tall story

Here's the short form of the Pulpit Rock Tower story: The tower is in the hands of the N.H. Fish & Game Department which, after cleanup paid for by a citizen group, would lease it to the Town of Rye for its purposes but would maintain use via a $1 leaseback arrangement to continue surveillance of lobster infractions along the coast from the 84-foot cement structure.

That may sound complicated, but it is nothing compared to what Rye's lawyer and the state Attorney General's lawyers will now have to untangle to fine-tune the proposal. Should they thrash it all out and should the Board of Selectmen approve, a warrant article could be on the Rye ballot in 2010. A positive vote would then require final approval by the Executive Council

This chain of events was set off after Verizon expressed interest in a cellphone antenna on the tower that was built by the U.S. Navy for defense purposes in 1943 and sits on a four-tenths of an acre site between Wallis Sands Beach and Odiorne Park off Route 1A. Neighbors balked at the cell tower idea, formed a non-profit, the Friends of Pulpit Rock, and have raised $23,000, according to Patricia Weathersby, who briefed Selectmen on March 9. Paying for the cleanup would be in return for an agreement prohibiting the tower from being used for a cellphone antenna. Weathersby said the group had obtained estimates from two companies for cleanup (in the $9000 range) and from a third company for restoration (some $14,200) that would involve window and doors plus frames, cement patching and railings. An accumulation of droppings by birds, bats and who-knows-what would require clearing out and disposing of the waste material, followed by a power washing. "We don't want to sell a dirty tower" to the voters, Weathersby said.

Betsey McNaughten of Fish & Game admitted her agency was to blame for lack of upkeep of the property, which it obtained use of in 1978. But she told Selectmen the town would be preserving a historic site and would be able to use the site for recreation and education purposes. "You would get valuable parkland at little expense," she said, suggesting it might be turned into a pleasant picnic area.

Chairman Craig Musselman responded with a smile: "Picnicing may be allowed but not advised."

After it was agreed the lawyers needed to sort out matters, Selectman Joe Mills said, "I don't have any problem with moving forward with it," Selectwoman Priscilla Jenness concurred.

(Previous "Rye Crisp" items on this issue appeared in October, 2006; July, 2008 and October, 2008. See pros/cons of Pulpit Rock debate in June, 2008, edition and a story on the tower itself in January, 2006, edition)


Extensive repairs, not just patching, to the North Beach seawall between 6th and 8th Streets in Hampton resumed in March. Workers got sprayed at high tide a few times. Efforts to obtain funding for the remainder of the deteriorating seawall are ongoing. (Judy Palm photo)


Addition & Subtraction

Webster at Rye will be back before the Rye Planning Board on April 14, after scaling back the size of its proposed Skilled Rehabilitation addition and making several other adjustments requested by Rye regulatory boards. The addition will now have 10 residence rooms instead of the planned 20 but still calls for a rehabilitation workout area, speech therapy and other rehab spaces, a sitting room, dining room separate from the existing one in the skilled nursing facility and added parking. Even after responding to abutter concerns, drainage and septic issues, Webster would still face hurdles beyond town approvals, including state certification and financing. Webster's Administrator and Executive Director Tom Argue said construction would take at least six months and completion this year is unlikely.


Cast in stone?

Word that Comcast may take current Public Broadcasting programming off Channel 17 for Rye viewers has Selectman Joe Mills up in arms, to the point where he suggested at the March 23 that maybe "we should kick them the hell out of town." Comcast has exclusive cable television rights in Rye, and its contract is up for renewal. "They're constantly taking things away," Mills said. "The public is exasperated"

Contacted by Rye Reflections, a Comcast spokesman would neither confirm nor deny a pending change, admitting that "channel moves are slated to occur during the year of 2009; however, I am not aware of any channel-removals that have been scheduled. I have reviewed Rye's channel lineup and, as PBS channel WGBH channel 2 is carried in Rye and WENH appears on channel 11, it is 'possible' that PBS channel WMEA on channel 17 could be removed from the lineup due to the number of PBS affiliates that appear in the lineup."

Mills said that Rye ought not to renew another Comcast contract until a public hearing is held and a top executive from Comcast attends "to face the music."

April, 2009