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Trip Report yk's Day Trip report to South Berwick (ME) & Portsmouth (NH)

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Last Saturday, DH & I went on a day trip to South Berwick, ME (just across the border from NH), and Portsmouth New Hampshire. Both places are "new" to us.

The first of our 2 stops in South Berwick is their annual Strawberry Festival on Main Street. http://southberwickstrawberryfestival.com/default.aspx

Despite cold (50sF) and rainy weather, there was a pretty good crowd at the festival grounds. I had forgotten how much hardier the northern New Englanders are compared to us southern NEers.

The festival is mostly an arts & crafts fair. There are also your usual fairground food stalls, plus one huge stand that sells strawberry shortcakes and strawberry cheesecake ($5/slice). To my disappointment, they do not sell fresh strawberries at the festival. We decided to split a fried dough and a strawberry shortcake.

Our second stop in South Berwick is Hamilton House (c.1785), a Historic New England property. We were the only ones on their first tour of the day.

Hamilton House is a gorgeous Georgian mansion built by Jonathan Hamilton. During the colonial era, South Berwick was a bustling inland port on the Salmon Falls River - it was the last port where large ships can dock. Further inland waterways were too narrow and shallow for large ships to navigate. Hamilton was a shipping merchant and quickly became the richest man in town. The house is situated right on the riverbank so he could easily monitor his fleet (as well as impress everybody). One can only imagine the bustle and hustle at the port and along the river.

Nowadays, the river is no longer used commercially. Instead of a busy port, the site is now surrounded by tranquility. The house itself is what you'd expect from a Georgian home. Everything is in perfect mirror image and harmony.

photo of the house from the garden:

photo of the river from the house:

We left South Berwick and headed for Portsmouth. It is cute and compact, full of little shops, cafes and restaurants, plus a handful of historic properties. Add in the fact that it is under an hour from Boston, no wonder it is a popular weekend getaway destination.

After parking our car in one of the free lots in Portsmouth, we walked to Jumpin' Jay's Fish Cafe for lunch. http://www.jumpinjays.com/

Perhaps my expectation was a bit too high, I found the food to be okay but not great. I had pan seared arctic char, served with mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. It was nice but the combo of potatoes and asparagus seems so generic. DH had a crabcake sandwich with fries which was fine. I just feel that they could have tried a bit harder so the dishes has some personality.

We had about 45 minutes to spare after lunch before our next tour, so we walked around the main center of town (no more than 1/2 mile x 1/2 mile). We stopped at Annabelle's and shared a cup of ice-cream. http://www.annabellesicecream.com/

We took the 2pm guided tour of Governor Langdon House (c.1784), another Historic New England property. http://www.historicnewengland.org/historic-properties/homes/gov.-john-langdon-house/gov.-john-langdon-house

Built approximately the same time as the Hamilton House, it is also of the Georgian mansion style. The interior layout is very similar.

There is less furnishings in the Langdon House, but one of the rooms showcases the antique Portsmouth furniture (between late 1700s - early 1800s). Many of the pieces are quite beautifully handcrafted.

Exterior of Langdon house:

Our final stop of the day is Portsmouth's Strawberry Banke Museum. http://www.strawberybanke.org/home.html

It is an outdoor museum with several dozens of restored historic houses that tell the story of the people who had lived in Portsmouth throughout the last 300 years. The oldest building dates back to 1695. Some are not open to the public, some are partially restored (with displays to show you the process behind restoration), and some are fully restored complete with costumed guides. In a way, it is similar to Plimoth Plantation or Sturbridge Village. OTOH, it is also different: the other 2 outdoor museums focus on one particular time period, whereas Strawberry Banke spans 3 centuries.

Perhaps I was tired from looking at old houses all day, I didn't really enjoy Strawberry Banke much. We weren't given a map, and there are no clear signs for each building - you have to walk in the door to find out what's inside and what period it is from. It just seems rather disorganized to me. Also, I find it exhausting to read all the displays in the houses. I suspect I would have enjoyed it more if we had visited it first thing in the morning rather than late in the afternoon when I had already reached my threshold for historic homes...


[I found a pretty good visitors map/guide online - I suspect we should have been given one when we were there but we didn't get one.] http://www.strawberybanke.org/images/stories/pdf/sbm1027vistorsguide.pdf

Thank you all for reading!

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