Prescott Park History
The Prescott sisters, Josie and Mary, are directly responsible for the creation of what is now known as Prescott Park. Josie and Mary were public school teachers and lived in Portsmouth all of their lives. When their older brother, Charles Prescott, died he left the two sisters a sizable inheritance. Josie and Mary loved their city and long desired to see the waterfront section along what is now Marcy Street beautified and made accessible to all. In the last will and testament of Josie Prescott a private trust fund of $500,000 was set up just for this purpose. This trust's sole purpose was to purchase land parcels along the Piscataqua River from lower State Street to Pickering and Gates Street and to make this land into a public park. In 1954 with much of the land purchase accomplished this private trust and associated land were turned over to the City of Portsmouth to be administered and maintained for perpetuity. The Prescott Trust Fund, now a city trust fund, is responsible for the care and maintenance of Prescott Park that includes most all the land and buildings from lower State Street to Mechanic Street and includes Four-Tree Island.
General Park Description
Prescott Park includes over 10 acres of prime waterfront property along the Piscataqua River. There are five distinct areas found within the overall park boundary. First, there is the upper or north park area featuring the parking area, the municipal docks, the Sawtelle walking pier and the Emerson Hovey Fountain. The next area is the center park containing the "T-pier" and the performing amphitheater and stage. In this area are the public restrooms and snack bar (both seasonal). Adjoining the center park area is the formal garden with the pathways, fountains and full planting beds. The fourth main area is the lower or south park area that includes the two main park buildings, the liberty pole and the "trial garden". The last separate park area is across the Peirce Island bridge and is called Four Tree Island where one can have the best views of the harbor or relax and have a picnic.
Buildings and Facilities
There are a number of buildings found on Prescott Park. The most prominent building is the 200-year-old Shaw's Warehouse. The building features an all-wood construction including the original 12X12 beams supporting the three floors. Housed in this building are the offices of the Trustees of Trust Funds, the Prescott Park Arts Festival and the space for park maintenance staff and storage. Also in this building are public (seasonal) restrooms. Jutting out over the water is the oldest building found in the park, the Sheaf's Warehouse (circa 1705). This building is generally used for storage, but in the summer months has been used for a public viewing and juried art show. Located on park grounds but not generally associated with Prescott Park is the Marine Railway Building. This building dates back to the time when there was ship and boat building taking place in this area. The city separately maintains this building and is currently the home of the Players Ring theatre. Adjacent to the performing amphitheater area is a public (seasonal) comfort station and snack bar. During the summer season this building is right in the center of the arts festival activity. Over on Four-Tree Island are located covered picnic tables and main cooker sites along with more public restrooms that are open in the summer months. Adjoining Prescott Park is a small municipal transient boat docking facility. Docking slips can be rented or reserved for stays of up to three nights.
A small maintenance staff maintains Prescott Park. There are two year-round positions and seasonal workers both for the grounds and for the docks. Michael Warhurst is the Prescott Park Supervisor. Michael came to work at the park over thirty years ago as an intern from the Thompson School at UNH. He has found the work and the environment at the park so appealing he has remained associated with Prescott Park ever since. He has held any number of positions during his tenure but since 1988 has been the supervisor and full-time park manager. Much of the credit for the many beautiful flower beds and areas, the rich green grass and the overall park beauty can be traced to his skilled care. Over the years he has become as much a part of Prescott Park as it has become a part of him.
At one time much of the lower section of Prescott Park, where the "trial gardens" are today, was part of an open water inlet into what was called Puddle Dock. Puddle Dock continued west under a bridge on Marcy Street (then called Water Street) into a docking and residential area. During the Revolutionary War this bridge was patriotically named the "Liberty Bridge" by the local citizenry. In 1824 as part of a fourth-of-July celebration honoring the revolutionary past, a very prominent Liberty Pole was commissioned. Today, Puddle Dock and the outlet to the channel have been long since filled in and the bridge replaced by macadam roadway. The Liberty Pole, however, with its replica historical plaque and gilded liberty eagle atop remains. Every day this prominent Prescott Park feature flies the American Flag reminding all of the patriotic participation in events of the past and present the Portsmouth sons and daughters have played.
Four Tree Island
Just to the east of the main Prescott Park land area just beyond the fishing pier is a small island called "Four Tree Island". This is the lasting name to what has also been called Three Tree Island, Five Tree Island, Gray's Island, Outer Island and long ago called Long's Island. It juts out into the Piscataqua River with fine views of the Navy Yard, river boating activity, the Memorial Bridge and the best harbor view of Portsmouth proper. While now connected to Peirce Island by a pedestrian causeway, Four Tree Island once could only be reached by a boat or swimming the fast moving back channel. It is likely that this island was first used as part of Portsmouth harbor defenses. Over time and a series of owners the island became a place of evening entertainment (some legal and some not so legal), primarily for the military stationed near by. Eventually, fire destroyed the buildings and for the most part through the early 20th century the land remained unkempt. With the help of Prescott funds and a federal grant Four Tree Island was purchased for the city and completely refurbished.
Prescott Park Arts Festival (PPAF)
In 1974 The Trustees of Trust Funds for the City of Portsmouth, led by Trustee Paul McEachern, and with the help of the New Hampshire Art Association, brought an outdoor theatrical summer production to Prescott Park. The idea was to help celebrate the country's bicentennial and introduce summer arts and entertainment to Prescott Park. With the help of the Theatre-By-The-Sea thespians, The New Hampshire Art Association, the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen and many other local performing groups the inaugural year for PPAF was a wonderful success. Every year since then the summer season at Prescott Park has included one or more full production outdoors of a Broadway play for a family audience. Accompanying the plays have been scheduled a variety of musical performing groups, art shows and viewings, youth arts and craft workshops, jazz and blues festivals and many other related arts and entertainment activities. In the early 1980's the leadership and responsibility for making the summer arts festival happen shifted from the Prescott Park Trustees to The Prescott Park Arts Festival Inc (PPAF Inc). a not-for-profit corporation, whose sole purpose is to provide Prescott Park and the greater Portsmouth community with wholesome family entertainment during the summer months in Prescott Park. With the hard work of PPAF Inc and with the cooperation the Prescott Park Trustees the summer's arts festival continues into its 30th year as one of the City's main arts and cultural mainstays. For more information on the currents events and schedules of PPAF please access the PPAF website: http://www.prescottpark.org