History

Fishermen are believed to have stopped here before John Smith arrived in 1614. He mapped the seacoast, naming what is now known as the Isles of Shoals, “Smyth’s Isles.” The Isles of Shoals became the busiest commercial port on this side of the ocean. It dominated the fish market, indeed setting the price, for a century and a half. The name is likely derived from the term for the “shoaling” or schooling of fish.

The nonprofit Star Island Corporation has owned and operated Star Island since 1916, providing affordable individual and family retreats. While Star Island is founded on the liberal spiritual ideals of Unitarian-Universalism and the United Church of Christ, people representing a variety of beliefs attend conferences regularly.

Over one-hundred years old, the Oceanic House is the largest structure on Star Island. Its main lobby, writing room, Pink Parlor, and dining hall provide a glimpse into the life of the Grand Hotel Era of the late 1800’s when Star Island attracted such notable artists and writers as Childe Hassam and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The stone Gosport Chapel is one of Star Island’s most prominent features. It is a simple stone meetinghouse built in 1800 on the highest point of land. Chapel services are a cherished Star Island tradition. At the close of each day, Shoalers gather at the foot of the hill and form a procession, carrying candle lanterns as the villagers of long ago carried their whale-oil lamps up the same winding path. Inside the chapel, the candle lanterns are hung on brackets from the walls, providing the only source of light. Visit the Isles of Shoals Association to learn more about the history of Gosport Chapel.

 

Geography

Life on Star Island, second largest of the group of nine rocky islands lying nearly ten miles southeast of the mouth of the Piscataqua River, is much like living on a boat. On every side one sees and hears the sea. The shores of New England are visible to the west and north, but to the east and south are only sky and sea. The boundary line between Maine and New Hampshire passes through the islands and ledges so that five of the islands, Appledore, Cedar, Duck, Malaga, and Smuttynose, lie within the State of Maine while four of the islands, Lunging, Seavey, Star, and White, lie within New Hampshire. Star Island is in the Town of Rye Historic District and on the National and State of New Hampshire Historic Registers.

The Isles of Shoals reveal numerous traces of the great ice age, which ended some 10,000 years ago and marked the islands with erratic boulders and a rounding off of the rock masses and scouring of the soil. Life – aquatic and terrestrial – is abundant. While essentially all the soil for the islands is post glacial, and the thin earth and cold winter winds have kept trees and woody plants to a small number, more than 250 land plant species have been identified on the islands. A checklist of the marine flora and fauna of the Isles of Shoals, compiled by the staff of the Cornell University Shoals Marine Lab on Appledore, included 256 species of invertebrates, 139 species of algae, 49 species of fish and 145 species of birds.