Remembering the Last Village on Star Island


By Peter Randall

Gosport Remembered, the Last Village at the Isles of Shoals, tells the story of the last years of the little village that existed on Star for many years before the island became a conference center. First published twenty years ago by the Portsmouth Marine Society, a special 20th anniversary paperback edition has been reprinted and copies will be available at the Star Bookstore.

Many years before Star Island was a conference center, it was home to a small village called Gosport. From 1623 until 1872, Star supported fishermen and their families. In the early years when cod were huge and abundant and few settlements were on the mainland, the island’s fishermen were some of the wealthiest people in New England. They dried cod for export to Europe, but as seacoast towns grew and fear of Native American attacks diminished, the more successful families moved to the mainland.

Gosport became an incorporated town in the state of New Hampshire, electing officers and even a member of the legislature. But life on the island was difficult. Imagine having enough drinking water, or fuel for heating and cooking. Dried fish were sold or bartered, but money was in short supply. Ministers were often paid with dried fish they had to sell for income.
At the time of the American Revolution, the villagers were asked to leave the island since their loyalty to the cause was somewhat in doubt. After the war ended those who returned were probably people who had trouble getting established on the mainland and others who just missed the freedom of living on an island.

The quality of life declined and, by 1800, missionaries were assigned to Star to support the few remaining families. It was during the nineteenth century when summers visitors began to arrive, hosted by small inns on Smuttynose and, later, Star, and in 1848 the large Appledore House on Appledore Island. Many visitors such as authors Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles Henry Dana, wrote about the islands and its people.

When a large collection of 1860s photographs of primarily Star became available, Peter Randall and Maryellen Burke decided to put together a book of the pictures and the contemporary works of visitors as well as Celia Thaxter and her brothers.
It is remarkable that so much was written about this little village that no longer exists. This rich literary output forms the heart of the book and brings to life the scenes and the people who were photographed.

Green Gosport Initiative

Creating the Future of Wastewater

Plans for the new wastewater treatment/reclamation system on Star Island are moving forward and our groundbreaking project should be operational next year! Financing approval for the project was assured last July with the signing of formal documents for a low-interest loan from the State of New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) under the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund. This program has until recently provided money only to municipalities for wastewater improvements. Recent changes in the program guidelines have opened the program to non-profit organizations. Star Island was the first non-profit in the state to qualify for a wastewater loan, which has a low fixed interest rate and a term of twenty years.

In addition to finding a reliable system that can address our seasonal occupancy fluctuation and effectively manage the high nutrient content of the island waste stream, engineers were also asked to recommend an approach which reduces electricity demand, and can allow recycling of treated wastewater for uses such as toilet flushing and irrigation.

In February we received the final report from Underwood Engineers including specific recommendations for a new system and other improvements to the waste stream process. The report followed extensive meetings with regulators over the past eighteen months, and represents a truly collaborative approach to meeting a broad range of goals for an improved system.

The first recommendation in the Underwood Report is to install an expanded grease trap system that can remove more waste materials from the kitchen flow before they hit the treatment plant. This system will be installed this spring. A series of large plastic chambers will contain the wastewater from the kitchen, slowing it down long enough to cool. This allows suspended fats, oils and grease to be captured for later disposal before it reaches the waste treatment plant. Such removal is essential to efficient and reliable operation of any system.

The report goes on to evaluate ten different treatment system options on the basis of cost, feasibility, visual impact, ease of operation, quality of treated effluent, energy consumption and other factors. Underwood recommends a system called Amphidrome, in technical terms a “submerged attached growth biologically active filter (BAF).” These systems are manufactured in New England and have been successfully deployed in hospitals, resorts, schools, office parks and similar developments with large wastewater demands not serviced by public sewers. The system, which fits entirely within the existing waste treatment tanks, relies on bacteria and filtration to process up to 17,000 gallons of island wastewater per day, using only 10% of the energy of our current system!

The final product, after disinfection similar to that used in our drinking water system, is expected to be non-potable re-use. No longer simply wastewater for ocean discharge, this reclaimed resource will ultimately be used to flush island toilets and for lawn irrigation. Star Island is working with DES to help write the rules for the use of recycled wastewater in what is recognized as an important pilot project in New Hampshire that will have statewide benefits for waste treatment and water conservation efforts.

Final approvals are expected in mid summer 2018, allowing construction to begin shortly thereafter. If all goes as planned, the new system will be in operation for the 2019 season.

As an island community, Star faces the need for constant self-resilience and adaptability. Our sustainability program, the Green Gosport Initative, encompass all of our efforts to use limited resources in a creative and conscious manner, while conserving where we can. Learn more. Learn more at www.starisland.org/green.

On the Island

Intern Needed for Visual Documentation Project in Star Island’s Vaughn Cottage Museum & Library

We have some exciting news for island history buffs and museum studies students – the next big project for Vaughn Cottage includes making the many interesting Shoals artifacts found in Star Island’s museum available for viewing online!

The Vaughn Cottage collection includes artifacts ranging from stone tools and arrow points dating to 6000 BP (Before Present) and maps from the years Gosport Village and the Isles of Shoals set the price of cod worldwide, to old photographs from the bygone era of the grand, nineteenth-century Victorian hotels (Star Island’s 1876 Oceanic Hotel is still operating today!). The collection also celebrates the life and work of Celia Thaxter, poet, artist, and Shoals resident whose parlor brought artists and writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne to visit. Vaughn Cottage is open seasonally and offers beautiful exhibits each year and books for loan in a quaint, seaside cottage on Star Island.

Do you know an interested and qualified candidate for the internship described below? Share our post and stay tuned for project updates and future online access to the Vaughn Cottage collection!

Vaughn-Thaxter Internship

Star Island is hiring an intern to work in Vaughn Cottage Museum & Library this summer to continue ongoing efforts to bring high quality preservation methods to the island’s home for historical artifacts.

The Vaughn-Thaxter Internship will focus on visually documenting the Celia Thaxter Museum collection via Past Perfect software so that Star Island Corporation may make the history inside Vaughn Cottage digitally accessible to the public.

Internship goals and responsibilities include: To build the museum’s digital photography portfolio of all artifacts within the collection. To work with the Vaughn Curator to maintain security and proper care of all museum space and equipment. The Vaughn-Thaxter Intern must become familiar with Isles of Shoals history, participate in trainings held by Island Heritage and Artifacts Committee members and advisors, and support the Assistant Conference Center Director in coordinating and completing the visual documentation project. The Vaughn-Thaxter Intern will also support the Vaughn Curator by hosting museum hours and elementary education programming as needed.

This is a residential position on Star Island. Star Island is part of the Isles of Shoals, a small group of islands just off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. The island is home to a seasonal conference center serving nearly 300 guests a week and operated by just over 100 staff members. Star Island is a great place to be a part of a dynamic community, experience island living, and enjoy a unique natural environment.

Desired qualifications/skills/coursework: Recent graduate or student pursuing degree in museum studies or photography. The ideal candidate has intermediate or advanced photography experience. Must have basic photography experience. Previous experience using Past Perfect museum software preferred. Ability to work independently with limited supervision.

Start and End Dates: 12-week period between mid-May and mid-August 2018 (exact start/end dates are flexible)

Time Commitment: 36-42 hours/week

Compensation: A $1500 stipend will be provided in 3 monthly payments. Room and board is provided, including all meals, dormitory-style accommodations in staff quarters and a rustic island environment. Island residency is required 5-6 days per week with transportation to and from the island provided from Star Island’s dock in Portsmouth, NH.

How to apply: Please complete the general Star Island employment application: https://starisland.org/working/#seasonal (including the two requested references if application has never worked or interned on Star Island before) and submit a resume and cover letter to aminer@starisland.org

Shoaler Voices

A Life Journey on Star Island: Diane Parsons’ Tale

One of our favorite things about Star Island is that folks come out to Star in many different capacities, have personally unique experiences and stay for possibly entirely different reasons than when they first arrived. Each summer is filled to the brim with memories, conversations and connections that last a lifetime, and we are so grateful to foster the type of environment where these connections grow and flourish. Below is the story of one dedicated, long time Shoaler, Diane Parsons, whose Star history is not only deep and meaningful, but has helped make her into the person she is today!

“It amazes me that a simple day trip in 1975 has led to all of this. I feel that Star has given me much more than I have been able to give back. Yes, I do give my time, treasure and talent, but how do you repay an organization that helped you to become an adult?”

My teenage years were spent in the Lake Sunapee region of New Hampshire in the early 1970’s. At that time it was easy to get a seasonal job, which for anyone of the female gender meant babysitting, waiting on tables or chambermaid. By 1975, I had experience with all three. In 1975, my summer job was a bit different. In the mornings I was the hostess at a well-known restaurant in Sunapee Harbor. For dinner I was the Bun Girl. Yup! My one responsibility was to hand out their well known and loved sticky buns. Interesting, but not very challenging. That summer I visited my brother, Bruce, who was a Pelican for the first time. I was one of those people who didn’t know the Isle of Shoals even existed. Everything about that day was magic. I got to see my brother, I was introduced to Star and saw a little of the life of a Pelican. I was hooked.

I applied to be a Pelican in 1976 and received a contract to be on Waitrae, eventually being reassigned to Night Crew. Being a Pel in the late 1970’s meant that more opportunities for women were beginning to be available. Night Crew had been a crew of only men until 1976, when there were two of us women. Frankly, it was a tough summer. I cleaned all night long  and shared a room on the 3rd floor of Oceanic (where the women lived) with a member of Chamber. Getting sleep was a challenge, except that a friend living in the Shack (where the men lived) let me sneak over to sleep in his room. At that time, it was considered a ‘next boat’ offense if I had been caught. Since I continued to love the island, I applied for the next three summers. I was able to do laundry (which had been a male job because you drove the laundry truck which only males were allowed to do), paint crew (where I was the first woman) and then was Night Crew Supervisor.

Sadly, I left the island because I had graduated from college and it was time to be an adult. For the next couple of summers I was able to visit my brother and then tried to day trip at least once a season. During that time I did attend Pel Reunion and started participating in volunteer weekends in May, but I was not really connected to the island.Over the years, I had different professional opportunities. One was as Technical Director at Colby-Sawyer College which left me with two months in the summer free. It seemed like a good time to return to Star. At 41 I wasn’t sure what it would be like, but I applied anyway. I was hired as the Bookstore Assistant, which was a great reintroduction. Working with books and getting to know the Pel community was a great opportunity. Turns out, it really doesn’t matter when you are a Pel, the experiences are similar. The following summer I returned but as a member of the senior staff. In the four years on the senior staff I supervised a lot of crews from Chamber, Front Desk, Lobby Store, Bookstore, Music Director, Conference Services, Life Guards, Rounders and I was the island Bookkeeper.

During the summer of 2001 I had to make the hard choice of again leaving the island. In 2000 I had an early mid-life crisis and quit my job at Colby-Sawyer which meant giving up health insurance. I had to find a job that would provide benefits. It wasn’t as easy to walk away from the island this time as it was in 1979, so I became a volunteer and a member of the Corporation.  I had the pleasure of volunteering on the Boynton Paint Crew and then joined the gardeners working with and learning from the amazing Pam Dorr. I also served on the Fund Development Committee, was co-chair of Pelican Reunion in 2015 with my friend Miriam Coe, and continue to serve on the Star Island Member Committee and the Pelican Reunion Steering Committee as the Chair of the Scholarship Committee. In 2014, I took over the coordination and care of the perennial gardens. In this capacity I gather a group of very hearty gardeners who bust out over Memorial Day weekend, regardless of the weather.

It amazes me that a simple day trip in 1975 has led to all of this. I feel that Star has given me much more than I have been able to give back. Yes, I do give my time, treasure and talent, but how do you repay an organization that helped you to become an adult? An organization that taught you how to unclog and bucket flush a toilet, strip wallpaper, paint, garden, leadership skills and given you friendships that have lasted 40+ years?

Thank you, Diane!

Shoaler Voices

“Strange and Remarkable Creatures” or Finding Inspiration on the Isles of Shoals

By Allegra Hyde

It’s getting toward evening on Star Island and I’m struggling to do anything but watch the sky change. The sheer blue of a July day slides into pinks and oranges, the horizon going ember bright. I’m not alone in my fixation. Shoalers gather along the Oceanic Hotel’s front porch or in the Summer House. Pelicans pause their chores to peer out windows. A sunset is a slow form of entertainment. Also a simple one. And yet we can’t look away.

Though I now live many miles from Star Island, I often think about those sunsets. I think, too, of how close I came to never seeing them. When I was twenty, scrambling for work, I had a choice between taking a cushy tech internship in a familiar setting—or becoming a waitress in a place I’d never been. A friend had encouraged me to apply to be a Pelican, though he had trouble explaining what that meant. After rambling vaguely about a hotel and a worker-run talent show, he said finally, “Living on Star Island is just…different.”

Some months later—having thankfully opted for the unfamiliar—I understood why a precise explanation of Star Island had been difficult. After making my first boat ride out of Portsmouth Harbor, after sweating and singing in the communal effort of a luggage line, after reveling in the rocky splendor of the New England coast, I understood that the full Star Island experience can’t quite be described. You can only see it, live it, soak it up. Then miss it terribly once you’ve left.

I’m a writer now (no longer a waitress, bellhop, or baker). My first book comes out this October. My path as a writer is one I feel lucky to have taken and one I owe, in many ways, to my time on Star Island. There’s a reason so many artist-types have been drawn to the Isles of Shoals over the years. The geography is made of inspiration. Beyond the aesthetics—the raw wind and sea spray, the pink blossoms of beach roses and the stately weathered architecture—there’s the gift of stepping away from the mainland. An island like Star, with its view of the New England coastline, grants perspective. It offers another way of seeing: a chance to reflect on our ordinary lives. Separating from the mainland also comes with risk—there’s a reason fire safety is endlessly emphasized to new arrivals—but risk can also go hand in hand with creativity. It can be what pushes someone to put a brush to canvas, a pen to paper. To try something new. To experiment. To create.

“All kinds of strange and remarkable creatures find their way here,” wrote Celia Thaxter of the Isles of Shoals. She was speaking about an unusual white bat flapping around one summer, but the sentiment holds true for people as well. Star Island is plentiful with sites for solitude—the nooks between boulders and ledges jutting out towards the sea—but it also offers community. All kinds of strange and remarkable people make their way to the Shoals. I write this in the most loving sense and with the utmost gratitude. Creativity is often discussed in terms of a singular vision or a bolt of inspiration, but I would argue that creativity is equally derived from the exchange of ideas and the presence of supportive peers. As I prepare to release my first book into the world, I can’t help but reflect on the friendships I made on Star Island, the wisdom and support those individuals have shown me over the years. The true magic of Star Island is that its gifts—the memories, the community, the courage to be your truest self—stay with you even long after you’ve left.

Allegra Hyde will read from her award-winning story collection,
Of This New World, at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth on
November 18 at 7PM

For more about Allegra, visit www.allegrahyde.com