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Quick Answers to the
Isles of Shoals Questions
Our Readers Ask Most

  • Where are the Isles of Shoals?
  • How many islands are there?
  • What are their names?
  • Are the islands in NH or Maine?
  • Who owns the islands and what's on them?
  • How can I reach the Isles?
  • Can I get onto the islands for the day?
  • Can I camp on the Isles?
  • How can I stay overnight at the Oceanic Hotel on Star?
  • What about staying on Appledore?
  • Who was Celia Thaxter?
  • Can I see Celia's famous garden?
  • Is the story "Weight of Water" true?
  • Does the picture on the bottle of Smuttynose beer show the murder house?
  • What about ghosts, shipwrecks and buried treasure?
  • Who discovered the Isles? Who lived there?
  • What is ISHRA?

    Where are the Isles of Shoals?
    Just 10 miles out from Portsmouth Harbor in New England in the USA. They can clearly be seen just six miles off the coast from Rye, NH. TOP

    How many islands are there?
    Current count is nine, though this figure varies through history. Early explorers listed 18 isles and rock outcroppings. Seavey Island is connected to White Island at low tide, and Malaga is sometimes considered an extension of Smuttynose. These are very small rocky islands, half of them currently containing only one or two buildings.TOP

    What are their names?
    Appledore, Star, Seavey, Malaga, Smuttynose, Cedar, Lunging, Duck and White. (For more information on each island click here.) TOP

    Are the islands in New Hampshire or Maine?
    Both. The Isles were so valuable in the early 1500s for their shoals of fish, that when owners Mason and Gorges divided their real estate holdings in the New World, they split them in half. Mason got the New Hampshire Islands (Star, White, Cedar, Seavey) and Gorges got the Maine ones (Appledore, Smuttynose, Malaga, Duck) TOP

    Who owns the islands and what's on them?
    The only hotel is on Star which is the current site of summer conferences.There is a museum there as well.  Appledore, once the site of the Laighton-Thaxter hotel, now houses the Marine Shoals Lab and a few private residences. The automated light house is on White. There is a single family residence on Cedar and Lunging. Smuttynose has a summer caretaker. The other islands are uninhabited. TOP

    How can I reach the Isles?
    There is one official ferry departing regularly in season from the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company dock on Market Street in Portsmouth, NH. The narrated trip takes about 45 minutes to an hour each way. A number of other private companies offer cruises around the Isles and a local catamaran can get you there in 15 minutes , but only the Steamship Company is allowed to stop-over. No other boats may dock. Private motorboats and sailboats frequently visit the harbor, as in Anita Shreve's novel "Weight of Water." TOP

    Can I get onto the islands for the day?
    Yes, the Isles Steamship Company  offers a walking tour of Star Island in the mornings and a stopover of about three hours in the afternoon in season. This is the only official way to tour Star. Visitors to Celia Thaxter's garden take an additional short trip from Star to Appledore via the MV Oceanic. All of the islands are privately owned and there are no public docking facilities on any of the nine islands. Visitors moored in the harbor are allowed to row small boats into the cove at Smuttynose for a short visit during the day. ISHRA sponsored tours may visit other island, but all are privately owned and unannounced visits prohibited. TOP

    Can I camp on the Isles?
    Sorry, there is no facility for camping on any of the Isles of Shoals. TOP

    How can I stay overnight at the Oceanic Hotel on Star?
    The Oceanic Hotel first opened in 1873 and has been the site of summer conferences for the last 100 years. Conference attendees stay at the Oceanic (not to be confused with the ferry Oceanic, sister ship to the MV Thomas Laighton) and in the many Victorian era overnight houses on the island. The conferences are run by the Star Island Corporation, founded by members of the Universalist Unitarian Church and Congregational churches. They recently moved their offices from Cambridge, MA to Portsmouth, NH. For information on upcoming conferences, availability and rates, check their website. TOP

    What about staying on Appledore?
    Also owned by the Star Island Corporation, Appledore is leased to Cornell and the University of New Hampshire for their summer marine biology programs. Students live in dorms on the island, and there is a wide variety of classes available. Click here for details. TOP

    Who was Celia Thaxter?
    Born in Portsmouth, NH, Celia moved to the Isles with her family at the age of 4 and lived much of her life there. Her poetry became very popular in the second half of the 19th century. For much more information, visit Celia's Circle. TOP

    Can I see Celia's famous island garden?
    Although the 19th century hotel and Celia's cottage on Appledore are gone now, a dedicated group of volunteers keep up a recreation of her famous "Island Garden." There is a fee for visitors and a significant walk from the boat along dirt roads. Visitors usually take a second boat ride from Star to Appledore on the research vessel Kingsbury. The info you need is on the Cornell web site.. TOP

    Is the story "Weight of Water" true?
    Anita's Shreve's best-selling novel, and now motion picture, is based on a real double murder case that happened on Smuttynose Island in 1873. Although the controversy continues, it appears likely that Louis Wagner did commit the murders. Convicted for the murder of two Norwegian women living on Smuttynose, Wagner was among the last prisoners executed by the state of Maine. The film of the novel is soon to be released. Click to read about the Smuttynose Murders. TOP

    Does the picture on the bottle of Smuttynose beer show the murder house?
    No, that is the restored Samuel Haley House which still stands. The site of the murder or "Hontvet House," as it is called burned a few years after the murder. The Haleys lived on Smuttynose until it was sold to Thomas Laighton in 1839. Celia's father took over the small guest house there after his term as lighthouse keeper on White, and there hatched his plan to build a hotel on Appledore. TOP

    What about ghosts, shipwrecks and buried treasure?
    Legends abound and Shoals lore is full of fascinating stories. There is evidence that at least one pirate may have buried treasure on the Isles. A number of ships have certainly been wrecked on the Isles. The best references for this information come from Celia's book "Among the Isles of Shoals"; Lyman Ruttledge's "The Isles of Shoals in Lore and Legend" and his guide "Ten Miles Out." You'll find the graves of many Shoalers on the islands -- Celia and her family on Appledore, The Haleys and the Spanish Prisoners on Smuttynose, the Beebe Family, Rev. Tuck, Caswells and many others on Star. There are legends of pirates Blackbeard and Phillip Babb among others. The bodies of the two murdered girls from Smuttynose are on the South Cemetery in Portsmouth on the mainland. TOP

    Who discovered the Isles? Who lived there?
    Explorer Captain John Smith of Jamestown and Pocahontas fame was the first Europeans to map the shoals after his visit in 1614. He named them "Smith Isles" but the title did not stick. The Isles were heavily populated by fisherman in the early 1600s and perhaps earlier. Over time, a hardened fishing village  evolved on the Appledore, Star and Smuttynose and the area was, for a whole, officially the town of Gosport. Thomas Laighton, Celia Thaxter's father bought three of the islands in 1839. His hotel industry flourished there even before the Civil War and the Isles were a popular tourist site for writers like Whittier and Hawthorne, and for artists and musicians. TOP

    What is ISHRA?
    The Isles of Shoals Historical and Research Association was founded in 1985 to promote the study of the Isles. The group now numbers over 200 members and readers are welcomed to join. Through the aid of the Portsmouth Athenaeum, ISHRA members are currently cataloging and scanning thousands of Isles photographs for research. For informaing on joining ISHRA, click here.
    . TOP

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