Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wharfing Out

          At Strawbery Banke, the center of life is the seascape. Until it was filled in for sanitation reasons, Puddle Dock was a tidal inlet in the middle of Strawbery Banke, providing access to the Piscataqua River and from there, the ocean. The inhabitant’s lives ebbed and flowed with the changing tides, defining lifestyles and economic development for hundreds of years. To make use of this shallow coastal area, they used shallow watercraft called Gundalows. These were able to dock directly at wharves built out into the center of Puddle Dock. These wharves are a crucial piece of the history of Strawbery Banke; representing both the birth of Portsmouth’s maritime culture and the area’s economic lifeblood. This is where the Marshall economic empire was built, and where it fell. This is where immigrants lived when forced out onto the margins of society; where one of the first red light districts in Portsmouth was located and where women fought wars with carrots and rhubarb. Presidents have visited, the poor have struggled and the people of Portsmouth have banded together to save a piece of living history around these wharves. Despite the crucial importance of this area, the current layout and use of the space makes it quite difficult to image this grassy field as a coastal inlet. Hopefully over the course of my internship here I can add clarity and definition to this area, reinvigorating the core of Strawbery Banke.

          My name is Rachael, and I am working as a Special Projects Intern this summer, pulling together research and creating a plan for interpreting the wharves. Currently I am a senior at Hamilton College, majoring in Cultural Anthropology and minoring in Japanese. When I’m not studying in my dorm room-turned-igloo in upstate New York, I live in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. I grew up scampering around the Lowell Mills, deeply entrenched in the historic culture surrounding Boston and southern New Hampshire. This fueled an early passion for teaching history as a living, breathing subject rather than stale books. (It might also have had something to do with my parents’ penchant for visiting every single historic house they could find.) Over the course of college, I have interned in a variety of roles all centered around research and exhibit design. Hopefully I can bring a pair of fresh eyes to the wealth of data and historic evidence surrounding Puddle Dock and bring some life back into this important piece of Strawbery Banke’s history.

          And now, back to the books! 

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