They Blew Up Henderson's Point|
In 1905 Portsmouth Harbor withstood
the largest explosion the world had ever seen
Was there a panic or Henderson's Point?
See Caleb Gurney photos of the explosion
It was to be the biggest planned explosion in the history of mankind.
Officials were nervous. Some people feared the blast would destroy the
entire Seacoast - perhaps start a chain reaction that might end the
world. But Henderson's Point was a hazard to navigation, and President
Teddy Roosevelt wanted a big navy, the biggest in the world. The age of
sail was dead, and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, already over 100 years
old, was going to build new-fangled high-tech submarines. The Yard was
expanding, modernizing, getting ready for its large new drydock. So the
outcropping of land extending from Kittery, Maine toward New Castle, NH
was blown to silt on July 22, 1905.
This was also the year of the Treaty of Portsmouth between Russia and
Japan, a big era for military might and a feather in the cap of
Roosevelt. Portsmouth was the region that had produced John Paul Jones
ship Ranger and the USS Congress, sister ship to the Constellation and
Old Ironsides. Admiral Jones' body had just been discovered in Paris,
and naval fervor had gripped the country. Here's the story if the blast
in pictures, collected into a 1905 souvenir postcard series. The series
includes two photos, including one of the actual explosion, and three
superb drawings by our own Helen Pearson, best known for her penciled
"Vignettes" of Portsmouth.
Scroll down and read the captions, then click to see the giant "blow-up"
of each image as the explosive story unfolds. Thanks to Debbie Wilson
for scanning these images from her collection. -- JDR
Henderson Point, Portsmouth, NH
Henderson's Point before commencing work. That's Peirce Island in the
foreground, just off what today is Prescott Park. Back at the turn of
the 20th century, this area off Water Street was a rough seaport area.
Local sailors knew the point better by its more colorful name -
Pull-or-be-Damned. (Art by Helen Pearson)
A view from "up river" side showing the cofferdam prior to the
explosion. The wooden dam allowed the preliminary removal of material
using railroad cars before the dynamite did its work. The federal
project was budgeted at $749,000 and awarded to a Massachusetts firm
that was required to remove 220,000 cubic yards of rock and 50,000 cubic
yards of soil. (Art by Helen Pearson from photos)
Last overview of Henderson Point before the explosion from a drawing by
artist Helen Pearson. The explosion was planned to remove a 540 foot
rock projection to the depth of 35 feet. Twenty-seven drills were
required to set the explosives in what was to be, at the time, the
largest explosion ever attempted by man.
Now we switch to a photograph in the 1905 postcard series showing the
height of the wall on the land side just before the explosion. Bye, bye
Kaboom! Henderson's Point exploded on July 22, 1905 in this
extraordinary early photo by R H Foss. Debris flew 170 feet into the
air. Although the river dredging was not completed until 1912, the
Piscataqua was busy with boats only minutes later as curious onlookers
found the river to the sea widened by 350 feet in seconds!
Thanks for these images to:
Debbie Wilson of Greenland
Contact her to buy these postcards or others
Click for more EARLY POSTCARDS & PHOTOS
Primary Research Source: Historic Portsmouth by James Garvin, published
by Strawbery Banke Museum, Portsmouth, NH 1974.
© 1999 SeacoastNH.com