Hunter Stetz | History Naturalist, Seacoast Science Center
By the beginning of the 20th century, Odiorne Point had fully transitioned into a resort community. The landscape views were much different than today because most of the area consisted of mowed lawns. Subtle relics of these homes blend into the park’s present vegetation. It does not take long for nature to reclaim land once maintained by humans.
Though the Odiorne farmstead remained the only building west of Ocean Boulevard, development accelerated east of the road. In addition to the growing number of summer homes, short-term visitors could stay at the Odiorne Point Tavern or Glen Gables by the Sea. By 1915, Ralph and Winifred (Baxter) Odiorne were only living at the family farmstead seasonally, but during their time spent there, they rented out portions of their home to boarders. Winifred was an artist who also sold crafts and paintings at their gift shop in the house.
Robert Sugden laid the groundwork for much of the development of Odiorne Point south of what is now the Seacoast Science Center. A prominent local businessman, Sugden acquired land from Charles Shillaber in 1921. Like the Eastmans, Shillaber had had no luck subdividing the land into lots for new housing. Sugden, on the other hand, moved the Eastmans’ farmstead west to the edge of Ocean Boulevard, built his own summer home out of stone, and began selling lots to those desiring a summer getaway. The Sugden’s stone abode survived the destruction of most homes in advance of constructing Fort Dearborn and today forms a portion of the Seacoast Science Center’s building. A unique feature of the Sugden estate was its saltwater swimming pool. The pool was constructed close to the shoreline so that the incoming tide filled it. A shut-off valve kept the pool full when the tide went out.
The Eastmans’ farmstead was converted into a place for lodging called “Glen Gables by the Sea” in 1933 by Fanny Botsford of Wallingford, Connecticut. The barn became a separate summer home. Two other summer homes built on land purchased from Robert Sugden were that of Kathryn Stevens of Belmont, Massachusetts, and the Graves of Contoocook, New Hampshire. The Graves called their home “Grarocks.”
North of the current location of the Seacoast Science Center, several new homes were erected. Thomas and Flora Marvin of Brookline, Massachusetts, built an expansive residence in the 1920s that came to be known as “Sea Acres.” It was sold to William Parker Straw of Manchester, who owned it until 1942. The well-known “Dolphin Fountain” close to the paved bike path in Odiorne Point State Park was featured prominently on the grounds of Sea Acres. Next door, the McKim house that was built in the 1890s was sold in 1918 to Janette Gage of Haverhill, Massachusetts. She soon sold off several lots, one of which included Mrs. McKim’s Organ House. After Jeremy and Helen Waldron acquired the property, they expanded the home and added modern amenities. Retired NH Supreme Court Justice Robert Peaslee built a summer home on a lot purchased in 1933 from Mrs. Gage on the tip of Frost Point. Another gentleman, Arnold Whittaker, raised chickens commercially from 1937 to 1941 on the Gage’s property.
The second oldest home on Odiorne Point, the Foye farmstead, was sold to Paul and Kathleen Whitcomb of New York in 1925. After significant renovations, they dubbed it “Pioneer Farm,” though it ceased to be a literal farm upon their ownership.
It was during this time period that the entire country experienced the Prohibition Era (1920 to 1933) and the Great Depression (1929 to 1939). Odiorne Point was a known location for “rum-running” activities. Rum-running was the illegal business of smuggling alcohol. Boats would arrive at night and fill boathouses and barns with cases upon cases of alcohol to then be dispersed before dawn. Leading up to the end of the 1920s, economic uncertainty led to many families transferring titles and assets to the wife or other female family members as it was considered more cumbersome and time-consuming for banks to seize assets from women than men. Though I have not encountered any record of property foreclosed on Odiorne’s Point during the Great Depression, property values plummeted. This played out very unfavorably when the United States Federal Government took an interest in the land as World War II played out.
As many of you know, Odiorne Point’s private ownership came to an end in 1942 when the federal government obtained over 300 acres of land via eminent domain to construct Fort Dearborn. All eleven homes at this locale were subject to involuntary sale. The circumstances of this abrupt development will be discussed in next month’s blog post!