Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Stark Fort

Stark fort, originally uploaded by Ed Karjala.

Part of the remains of the now aptly named Fort Stark in Newcastle, NH as seen from Odiorne Point State Park.

Group works to return historic monument to seaside site

By Karen Dandurant

RYE -- Nestled in the middle of the woods in what may be the oldest family burial plot in New Hampshire sits a monument that is not a gravestone marker.

Surrounded by Odiorne family graves with markings from the 1800s -- and many that are obviously much, much older -- the Founders Monument doesn't really belong in a graveyard.

Most people probably do not even know it's there.

It was originally placed overlooking the ocean at Odiorne Point in 1899 by the National Society of the Colonial Dames in New Hampshire to commemorate the landing of the first Pilgrim settlers in New Hampshire in 1623, like Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.

It was located at the end of Columbus Road at Odiorne Point State Park. The road is now only a fragment, but the bluff where it stood remains.

To this day, members of the N.H. Colonial Dames maintain the monument and the graveyard.

It is the mission of the Colonial Dames to preserve artifacts, records and all aspects of Colonial times. Each member can trace family lineage to that time period and is a direct descendent of the state's founders.

There are two schools of thought on why the monument was moved to the graveyard; now there is a group trying to get it moved back to its original location.

Rye resident Tom Pearson, who is helping the cause by doing historical research, said he believes the monument was moved around 1955 because of cliff erosion.

"It looks kind of forlorn where it is now," said Pearson. "I think it was intended to be returned when the cliffs were repaired, but was then forgotten."

Wendy Lull, director of the Seacoast Science Center at Odiorne Point State Park, said some believe it was moved during World War I because residents thought it might be stolen.

"(Pearson) is a really interesting guy who has done an outstanding job of doing the legwork to find where that was originally sited," said Lull. "I think that it makes a lot of sense to move it back. Now it's a matter for the Parks Department and Historic Resources to authorize the move. I'd like to see it there, as just one more reminder of all the different uses humans have had on this property since the 17th century."

Lull said documentation proves that Scotsman David Thompson arrived in 1623, but there is evidence the land may have been used earlier, as summer encampments by American Indians.

"Amateur historians who studied the history are convinced that's what it was, and if you read early history of ships' logs, there are observations of Indians," said Lull.

In about 1660, John Odiorne, under a grant from the Plymouth Foundation, bought the land and built a home for his family. Eight generations of Odiornes lived there until the land was taken by eminent domain during World War II. It was given to the state after the war for use as a park.

The graveyard is down a path behind one of the homes that had been occupied by the Odiorne family. The property is now owned by the state.

Brian Warburton, director of the State Parks Department, said Pearson has approached him about moving the monument.

"It's very preliminary, and at this point all I can say is it's in the discussion stages right now," said Warburton.

Pearson said the Rye Historical Society supports moving the monument. He said there is no large cost attached to the project.

"I think eventually, all we might need is a group of volunteers to help maintain it," he said.

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