"R" is for Rye

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Visitor's ABC's

By John Hirtle, Beach News Staff

Beach News, Thursday, August 11, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of Beach News]
Each year, the Beach News is proud to feature an unique ongoing series of articles concerning interesting facts about the region's places and history. This year, we will be doing a virtual visitor's ABCs of the Seacoast region.

RYE HARBOR -— In addition to providing a safe port for fishing and tour boats, Rye Harbor was the site of the only 'battle' on New Hampshire soil, when Rye militiamen repelled British sailors during a brief skirmish during the War of 1812.
[Beach News Photo by John Hirtle]

If a there is a town that could claim to be first on the Seacoast, it would be Rye.

The easternmost town in all of New Hampshire sees the sun rise first every day. It was here that the first settlement in New Hampshire was founded along the shores of Little Harbor in 1623.

This first settlement, Pannaway Manor, vanished as its settlers moved to a better anchorage place where Portsmouth is today.

Pannaway Manor’s former site, now part of Odiorne Point State Park reflects some of the changes Rye has seen over its long and colorful history. The land was mainly used for farmland after the Manor was abandoned, and much of Rye remains pastoral in character. Seven grand vacation homes were built on the land at the start of the 20th century, a trend that continues to this day -- Rye remains one of the more affluent towns in the region. All but one of these homes has vanished in the name of national defense, when Fort Dearborn was built on the site during the dark days of World War Two. The tree topped hills you see hide bunkers that once housed guns to defend Portsmouth Harbor in case of attack -- one that never came. The final two 16 inch guns were put into place and tested as the Second World War wound down, and the fort was eventually abandoned. Today it is a public park and nature reserve and home to the Seacoast Science Center.

Rye has the largest portion of New Hampshire’s oceanfront property, and driving along Scenic Route 1A / Ocean Blvd is a popular pastime.

At the southernmost point, Bass Beach is a popular alternative spot to watch surfers catch a wave below the few fishiness turned vacation homes that still dot the coast. The piles of rubble you constantly see help keep the surges from washing out the road during winter storms, and are usually topped with boardwalks during warm weather. Jenness Beach lies just south of Rye Harbor, and provides limited metered parking for visitors. A restroom is available. Across the street to the south of Jenness Beach, the Eel Pond is a favorite place for ducks and swans during the warm weather, and ice skaters during wintertime. To the north, Straw’s Point can be seen from the Beach. This was where the first Trans-Atlantic Cable from Europe to the United States came ashore in 1874, linking the old and new world via telegraph. The cable was abandoned in 1921, and private residences occupy what was once the Seacoast’s premiere high-tech tourist attraction.

Looking at Rye Harbor, its hard to believe that it started as a tiny inlet and was carved into a harbor by manual labor in 1792 to allow a forty ton vessel to safely anchor. The harbor was further enlarged over the years, the last time by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Today fishermen, pleasure boats and tour boats operate out of the harbor. Tour boats in particular can take you out to view Rye’s most easterly land mass, the Isles of Shoals. Four of the nine windswept isles lie in Rye, and they were once New Hampshire’s tiniest town -- Gosport. Once the busiest port in all of New England before, the little fishing village faded away and was annexed to Rye in 1876. Other than taking a boat, the Isles can be seen on a clear day from most of Route 1A, especially in the afternoon as light reflects off the Oceanic Hotel and White Island lighthouse.

Wallis Sands is the other popular beach in Rye, with a larger parking area, and has a large bathhouse that includes refreshments. While small, the beach butts up against a cliff that provides some shelter from the surf. North of Wallis Sands is rocky coastline -- and Pulpit Rock. On the west side you might notice a tall concrete tower -- one of the observation posts used during World War Two to aim coastal defense guns. The tower is unique in that it is the only round tower in the local system (most had square bases) and it remained in use by the Navy for testing how radar reflected off of submarine sails. Further north on Route 1A as it turns inland, is Odiorne Point State Park.

Rye’s center is near where Center and Washington Roads meet. The town library, fire department, historic society and other facilities are within a short distance of this intersection. Of particular note is Parson’s Field, near the Rye Junior High School, where activities such as the Rye Lions Auto Show is held in September. As a mainly residential community, Rye has few shopping areas of note, and what stores and restaurants exist are few and far between. They are mainly scattered along Scenic Route 1A/1B and on a brief stretch of Route 1/Lafayette Road.

"R" is also for:
Ray’s Seafood, a great place to dine in Rye on Route 1A
Rinaldi’s Gelato, serving up outstanding ice cream.
Ronaldo’s, a place to enjoy fine Italian food.
Ron’s Landing at Rocky Bend, a special place to dine.
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