Illustrated Bites of Island News

Jim Cerny, reporting and photography

Farewell Public occurrences Fireworks Bridge over troubled waters Common history Summer heat Revolutionary happenings Gardens are here Quick index to back issues

This is the 27th issue of Saltines and the last one. Saltines was inspired by Jack Driscoll's Rye Crisp coverage in Rye Reflections, though with less news reporting and more as a New Castle magazine with some news.

Compilation of Saltines has caused me to learn a lot and I've always been pleased with the results, but the process has become more and more of a chore and a struggle. It is time to stop this "epic" before the content suffers. Thanks for your reading.

All issues remain online and to find published material you can either use the Google search box at the bottom of the page, or you can systematically step back through issues using the index at the end.


Public occurrences

  • Bureaucracies at work. Everyone has their favorite bureaucracy stories. Here's one centered on New Castle. This is the season when the traditional phone company Fairpoint, formerly Verizon sends out phone books. And each year those of us who live on Portsmouth Avenue in New Castle don't receive one. The order fulfillment company that the phone company contracts with only knows about Portsmouth Avenue in Greenland, so presumably several dozen of our books get delivered there. Customer representatives are sympathetic but have no way to pass the information to the fulfillment company, so all they can do is send a replacement phone book via postal mail!

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    New Castle has an excellent view of the Portsmouth Fourth of July fireworks display, from across the water, and the weather cooperated this year. Click on each image to see a larger version.

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    Bridge over troubled waters

    When people drive over the Piscataqua high-rise bridge (Route 95), on their way to and from Maine, they have no idea of the issues that affect the waters passing underneath, issues of both water quality and transportation infrastructure.

    There is much study of the Great Bay Estuary and its decline in water quality. Fortunately the ill-advised 2003 plan called EAST (Estuary Alliance for Sewage Treatment) expired and is replaced by more reasonable efforts. A good reference site for recent news items and study reports is the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership. Portsmouth, which handles New Castle sewage (not all of New Castle is on sewer service), is under federal pressure to upgrade their sewage treatment facilities. The Portsmouth waste water treatment plan is online and could translate into a tripling of customer sewer rates.  

    Piscataqua high-rise (route 95) bridge at sunset.

    In addition there is the question of maintaining all three bridges across the Piscataqua, but with the two lift bridges the Memorial Bridge and Sarah Mildred Long (middle) Bridge in urgent need of work. That the bridges span the border between New Hampshire and Maine makes this more complicated in terms of priorities and finding funds. To monitor what is happening, see the Save Our Bridges Web site.

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    Common history

    The landscape at the Common has undergone dramatic changes, just in the last 150 years of photography, never mind since New Castle was first settled. When we see the New Castle Common today, there is little trace of its military history as Camp Langdon during and after World War II.

    In the late 1800s a large part near the shore, where Walter Liff's painter sculpture is today, was completely cleared. In 1882 Jacob Wendell built a summer home known as Frostfields, so named because the land was originally owned by the Frost family. Wendell built an immense house there, which was not long lived. In the early 1900s the government began acquiring properties on the common for military use.

    Between 1908 and 1911 the Army acquired over 32 acres of land. Original plans to fortify the site did not materialize and in World War II it served as the camp for troops stationed at the nearby Forts Stark and Constitution. Some 50 buildings were constructed, with an intended 10-year life span. In the 1950s Camp Langdon was transferred to the Navy.

    Then in the early 1960s Camp Langdon was transferred to the Town of New Castle. Several of the existing buildings were kept for Town use. Some of the remainder were demolished, but 32 were sold, priced at $200 and $100, raising over $5,000 for the Town and saving demolition costs. Most recently, the Oceanside Cemetery was created from part of the Common property, as existing Riverside Cemetery was essentially full. This involved a land swap with the federal government, trading Town land near Fort Constitution for cemetery land. The cemetery began selling lots and making interments in 2004.

    The land transfer comes with a number of restrictions, with the General Services Administration (GSA) representing the government. For example, only non-profit activity is allowed and the Town is not allowed to set admission prices to be profit-making. Most recently the GSA signed off on the plan, approved by voters at Town Meeting last May, to replace the existing maintenance building with a new, larger structure.

    The Wendell estate known as "Frostfields," some time after 1882. This is looking northerly and Walbach Tower and Portsmouth Lighthouse appear to show as small blips on the horizon. (photo courtesy of the Portsmouth Athenaeum)

    Common area in 1915. This and the following two maps are taken from a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report.

    Common area in 1920.

    Common area in 1950. Note the streets were named for World War II battles (Guadalcanal, Saipan, Tarawa), now named Tabbutt Memorial Way.

    Current aerial view of the Common. (Google maps).

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    Summer heat

    While we have not had a spectacular heat wave this summer, the weather has been relentlessly warm and humid. The dew point is the temperature at which moisture condenses out of the air, at 100% humidity, and the temperature will not cool below that temperature (under normal surface conditions). As a rule of thumb, most people feel uncomfortable when the dew point gets to 60 or more (highest dew point I've ever observed in the Seacoast was 78). With high dew points the most notable feature for July weather has been the mild overnight lows, seldom dipping below the low 60s. This makes a big difference in how we perceive the heat as it implies humid air and lack of overnight cooling of houses.

    With a mild spring and summer everyone has noticed the early arrival of various seasonal events. If you walk in wooded areas, such as sections of Wild Rose Lane and Pit Lane, you have noticed that the deer fly season started about two weeks early in June and ran until its usual end in late July. Unlike mosquitoes, you can't brush away or outrun deer flies they are programmed to go for your head and neck and will deliver a nasty bite unless squashed.

    As noted last year, July of 1911 stands out as probably the most remarkable heat wave in the Seacoast. But a remarkable hot day, sometimes called Hot Saturday, was August 2, 1975.

    Surface weather map for August 2, 1975.

    As is often the case with our hottest days (temperatures of 95 or more), it was with a northwesterly wind, blowing downslope toward the coast and many all-time records highs were set or tied.  For example: Boston, MA = 102; Portsmouth, NH = 102, Providence, RI = 104, Mt. Washington, NH = 72, Jonesboro, ME = 104, Bar Harbor, ME = 101, Portland, ME = 103, and Nantucket, MA = 100. I remember that day because it was the Saturday for Market Square Day in Portsmouth and I planned to enter the 10-mile road race (no 10K races in those days). By the start of the race it was already 90 and I dropped out at six miles (fortunately)!

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    Revolutionary happenings

    The American Independence Museum in Exeter featured its annual Festival in mid-July, emphasizing the time of the American Revolution. With no worry of anachronism, this year featured Governor John Lynch and State Senator Maggie Hassan talking with George Washington. While Commander-in-Chief George Washington addressed the crowd, a messenger rode up with a broadsheet of the new Declaration of Independence, which John Gilman then proceeded to read to everyone, despite heckling by British soldiers and Tories! In addition traditional crafts were on display and there was a battle re-enactment between British soldiers and Colonial militiamen.

    Commander-in-Chief George Washington speaking.

    The Royal Irish Artillery firing cannons.

    Steve Green, granite splitter.

    Frank Rodriques, sailmaker.

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    Gardens are here

    Despite the heat, humidity, and spotty rainfall, summer flowers are doing well. All these pictures were taken during the open house at the Howells-Metz gardens in Kittery Point.

    White Swan variety of coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).


    Double Delight variety of coneflower.

    Pelican statue, surrounded by Sedum.

    Detail of a greenhouse.

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    Quick index to back issues of Saltines


    August, 2010