Location: Route 1A, Rye, NH
Activities: Picnicking, boating, fishing, hiking, biking, nature walk, cross country skiing
Amenities: Picnic tables, boat launch, restrooms, paved bicycle path, interpretive displays, education programs
Operation Schedule: Year-round
Acreage: 331.5 acres
Waterfront: Atlantic Ocean & Little Harbor
Number of Campsites: None
Pets: Pets are not permitted in the park
More Information: Natural Features
Odiorne Point is the largest undeveloped stretch of shore on New Hampshire's eighteen mile coast. Located three miles south of Portsmouth on Route 1A in Rye, Odiorne offers an extensive array of habitats. On the south end of the park, sheltered tide pools of the Sunken Forest give way to an exposed rocky shore. Just north, the shore evolves into a pebble beach which shelters a fresh water marsh. Along the way to Frost Point where a jetty extends into Little Harbor, lies a small sand dune environment. At the end of Little Harbor, Seavey Creek feeds the neighboring salt marsh. Extensive inland disturbances during World War II induced the growth of dense forests in various stages of succession. Large stone walls bound open fields. Fresh water systems are represented within the park by a man-made pond and marsh. Remnants of formal gardens and wildflowers grow side by side; and the man-made military bunkers lie hidden under mounds of earth.
In the dense growth of shrubs and vines, covering much of the park's 330 acres, remnants of Odiorne's past silently remain. Reminders of other eras and stark contrasts; idyllic summer estates and gaunt reminders of coastal fortifications. In terms of man and his settlement of this coastal land, Odiorne Point remained a true wilderness until almost 400 years ago. During summer migrations Native Americans of Pennacook and Abnaki tribes visited the area which they called Pannaway. Permanent settlement began in the 1600s.
In 1623 an agent of England's Council for New England cameto fish and trade in the New World. David Thomson journeyed to New England on the ship Jonathan to establish the first New Hampshire settlement at what would become Odiorne Point. Many others followed, and the original settlement grew and spread along the coast and up the river.
John Odiorne joined the settlement in 1660. He acquired several acres of land from the shoreline west into the marshes beyond. Like the others, he farmed and fished. The Odiornes remained on the property for several generations, always a part of the continuing changes in the Odiorne Point community.
By the 1700s the settlement was well established, but the governing and trading activities had moved north into the deep harbor area of Strawberry Banke (now Portsmouth). The farms of Odiorne Point helped to feed the burgeoning port of Portsmouth for about 150 years.
After the Civil War farming gradually gave way to a colony of hotels and large summer homes. Generations of families spent their summers by the sea. In this era of large seaside resorts, a grand hotel called the Sagamore House was built on the property. Over the years smaller parcels of land were sold for summer homes and estates. Formal gardens and tree-lined drives ornamented the properties. By the late 1930s seventeen families lived on Odiorne Point, including an eighth generation descendent of John Odiorne and the last of the Odiornes to live on the ancestral homestead.
World War II (WWII) brought drastic changes to the landscape and to the lives of these people who loved their land by the sea. In 1942 the federal government purchased all the property from Little Harbor to the Sunken Forest, as well as the adjacent marshland. Within a month the Odiornes and their neighbors were gone.
Military structures were quickly built to house personnel, armaments and supplies. Massive concrete casements, often called bunkers, were constructed and camouflaged with thick vegetation. Because of their open aspect to the sea, many of the estates were demolished, and Route 1A was closed. Odiorne Point became known as Fort Dearborn, and for nearly twenty years, was part of the chain of coastal defenses that protected Portsmouth Harbor and the naval shipyard. In the late 1950s Fort Dearborn was declared surplus property. It was sold to the state of New Hampshire for $91,000 in 1961.
Odiorne Point is open daily year-round. Picnickers can enjoy sweeping views of the ocean and rocky shore, and explorers can uncover evidence of past military occupation. An extensive network of trails, including a paved bike path, wind through the dense vegetation and traverse the park. The Seacoast Science Center which is located in the park has exhibits relating to the natural and human history of Odiorne and the seacoast area.
Seacoast Science Center
Located within Odiorne Point State Park is the Seacoast Science Center, which features exhibits relating to the natural and human history of Odiorne and the seacoast area. Special educational programs are offered to school groups, families and the general public. Visitors are welcome to touch and learn about tide pool animals in the indoor touch tank, watch deep ocean fish swim the the one thousand-gallon Gulf of Maine tank, and follow nearly four centuries of local history on a walk through time. The science center is open daily year-round. There is a separate admission fee charged for the center and some of the programs that are offered. The Seacoast Science Center is managed by the Audubon Society of New Hampshire under contract to the N.H. Division of Parks and Recreation, in affiliation with the Friends of Odiorne Point, Inc. and the UNH Cooperative Extension Sea Grant Program.
Odiorne offers a great location for group outings. Odiorne offers a great location for group outings. A separate picnic area overlooking the Atlantic Ocean is an ideal spot for family reunions, class picnics, weddings and office outings.