By Guest Blogger Michael Sanders
Growing up in California in the 1950’s and 60’s, Maine seemed a world away. Kittery was where my grandparents lived, and I always remembered the distinctive return address on letters and cards we received from them over the years.
Fast forward to 2014. We are in Boston for my cousin’s wedding, and decide to make the short trip to Kittery to see my grandparents’ old home. They have been gone for many years now, having sold the property in the early 1970’s and moved to California. My wife suggested the possibility that it might not still be there, but this is New England, where history and tradition are mostly respected (unlike some other places), and we had no trouble finding the charming 1½ story home on a small corner lot in a picturesque neighborhood.
I chatted briefly with the owner, who was out in the yard and has owned the place for ten years. She invited me inside for a quick peek, and remembered one of my other cousins stopping by for a look shortly after she bought the place.
Once here, we decided to explore Kittery, as we often do when we visit a new place. Kittery is a small town of about 9,500 in the most southerly part of Maine, across the Piscataqua River from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Crossing the bridge on U.S. 1 from Portsmouth, you are immediately greeted by a sign billing Kittery (incorporated 1647) as the “oldest town in Maine.” The view of the river at this point gives the distinct impression of a quaint seaside village.
Kittery is known as the home of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (which is officially part of Maine rather than New Hampshire as the result of a 2002 Supreme Court decision settling a boundary dispute), situated on an island in the middle of Portsmouth Harbor. The shipyard was established in 1800, the oldest continuously-operating shipyard in the U.S. Navy, currently used primarily for submarine repair and remodeling.
Another notable feature of the town (besides its popular outlet stores) is Fort McClary, built at Kittery Point along the Piscataqua River to protect Portsmouth Harbor. Although coastal defenses at this location date to the late 17th century, the existing fort was established in 1808, seeing use during the War of 1812 and the Civil War. The fort was decommissioned and acquired by the state during the early 20th century, with the blockhouse and other surviving structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Also of interest is the Bray House at Kittery Point, built by English shipbuilder John Bray in 1662, and billed as the oldest surviving structure in Maine (although some date the home to the mid-1700’s). It was listed on the National Register in 1979, acquired by Darryl Hall (Hall & Oates) in 2007-08 and subsequently restored/remodeled. The 3,900 square foot home on 1½ waterfront acres with dock was last listed for $1,990,000. Here is a link with pics of the inside.
A mostly unplanned and very pleasant spring day in Kittery.