Portsmouth’s North Mill Pond and adjacent country is steeped in history. As this column discusses its future, we should remember that ships were once built there and its shores were a busy marshalling yard and train depot for many decades.
Prior to urban renewal in the mid-1960’s, our home was on the corner of Deer Street and Bridge Street, just to the right of Statey. My neighborhood friends and I considered our playground across the street on the shore of North Mill Pond.
Some of the finest views in Portsmouth are around North Mill Pond. Seen from the city center, the sun sets in the west over the pond in summer. So it’s no secret that these locations have been targeted by local developers, and two major plans – an apartment complex with more than 150 units and a 5-storey hotel – are under development.
On April 11, 1996, area neighbors gathered at the New Franklin School to see possibilities for their future. The event was part of the Portsmouth 2020 Vision Project that I started in 1991. In 1995 the City Council considered how the North Mill Pond area could best be used to protect it from over-development, so it seemed a good idea to involve the neighbors in the process.
Let’s go back to some things that were said that day a little over 26 years ago that I remember well because I moderated the discussion. A report in Foster’s Daily Democrat, published the next day, summarizes some of the ideas: “Bike and jogging trails surround North Mill Pond. The water is clean again and flows freely. Enhancing ecological visibility around pond The visions of 30 residents who live near North Mill Pond came Thursday as they defined what the area would look like by 2020.
Some mentioned a recreation area, gravel path and dredging of parts of the pond if done to environmental standards. Visions included protecting wetlands and limiting overexploitation.
Interestingly, no one suggested that it would be good to have large apartment buildings or hotels by the pond, and several expressed hope that small residential purposes would continue to surround the pond on all sides.
With the hotel and residential complex underway, developers say their projects will enhance the beauty in the area. They show their love for North Mill Pond and are committed to preserving and enhancing the shoreline and opening it to the public. Let’s hope that happens and promises are kept.
The North Mill Pond area, particularly the shoreline and wetlands, is fragile and herein lies the challenge for decision makers. It also gives these rulers some options. There are still lots with decaying buildings that could be rehabilitated that the city could buy to keep the shoreline in a natural state rather than having more hotels.
Another challenge is to maintain the current residential areas around the pond as residential areas and to limit the size of new construction. Efforts may be made by some developers in the future to repurpose some of this land and allow homes to be bought, demolished and replaced with commercial ventures. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
Will the visions of the people in the neighborhood that were conceived a quarter of a century ago be realized in the next 25 years, or will more large apartment buildings and hotels line the shoreline?
Wouldn’t it be wise to have another vision session now and conduct a thorough analysis involving the residents of the North Mill Pond area on how best to use this particular treasure rather than abuse it? This need should motivate our City Manager and City Council to take up this challenge. A new look is long overdue.
Quote Today: “We urge Councilor and City Manager Jim McSweeney to vigorously pursue the feasibility study and transform the area around North Mill Pond into the latest example of why Portsmouth remains – and will continue to be – one of the finest places to go.” Living in this country.” — Editorial of the Portsmouth Herald, Wednesday 31 January 1996.
Next time: The NH presidential primary will be held for the first time in 2024.
Jim Splaine has served in various capacities since 1969 as Deputy Mayor of Portsmouth, Police Commissioner and Member of the School Board, and Senator and NH State Representative. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org