I wanted to write a quick post regarding Great Island Common, which was the destination I wrote about us visiting in my last post. A reader of my blog brought up some wonderful points regarding the ground’s history in my comments section. Me, being a history buff and one that likes to incorporate these facts into my reports, felt that I had done an inadequate job providing this to all of you. So, I figured a follow up post would help redeem myself from my own critique.
I knew there were a lot of coastal military bases and camps in New England, especially during World War II as many feared the German U-Boats offshore. One that is pretty well known is Odiorne Point. However, I didn’t realize that Great Island Common, situated in Portsmouth Harbor off the coast of New Castle, NH, was one of them. Mike, the reader of my blog who brought this to my attention, pointed me to an incredibly insightful website dedicated to these coastal military bases called North American Forts, setup by multiple authors and historians. Specifically on this site is a section for Seacoast Forts of Portsmouth Harbor, setup by Pete Payette.
Map originally supplied by John Woolf. Visit the site to see a blown up version.
Apparently, Great Island Common is extremely rich in military history. It had military activity on the grounds from 1909 through 1964. During that time, the Army, Navy, Marine Corp and Army National Guard all occupied this small portion of land at one time or another. The land was initially deemed the New Reservation, but was later (1937) renamed the New Castle Military Reservation. Finally, in 1941, was given its more well-known identification of Camp Langdon, after Governor John Langdon, a Revolutionary War hero for our state, as well as a major contributor in persuading New Hampshire to ratify our great constitution.
John Langdon, Image taken from New Hampshire Division of
Historical Resources site, compiled by Russell Bastedo.
From the beginning, this fort was used for a multitude of things. It had 3 inch antiaircraft guns on it in its early days as many of the coastal forts did. It had multiple military buildings including a hospital, warehouse, armory and various training buildings. A concrete jetty (which is still there) was also built. In the 1940’s to the 1960’s, the post was used to train the Army National Guard, and later handed over to the Department of the Navy as a rehabilitation center for Court’s Martial Soldiers being released. In its later years, it was used as a Marine Corp training center. Camp Langdon was finally turned over to the Town of New Castle in 1964 and is now Great Island Common.
Flag at Great Island Common
Another interesting bit of history that Mike brought up was the abandoned house out on an island, which I had mentioned I had no idea what it was in my post. Apparently, the island is Wood Island and the building on it is an old Life Saving Station. Many community members are in the process of trying to save and restore this historical site. In the late 1800’s, a military hospital was constructed on Wood Island and was used as a place to quarantine military prisoners from spreading disease. Soon after, in the early 1900’s, the Life Saving Station was erected. This station is noted for saving multiple lives and the governmental department that ran it became what is known as the Coast Guard today.
Life Saving Station on Wood Island
Post card showing the Life Saving Station when it was in commission. Image
courtesy of the Save Wood Island site.
If you’d like to learn more about Camp Langdon and the military history of Great Island Common, please visit http://www.northamericanforts.com/East/New_Hampshire/Portsmouth/harbor.html. The contact to this site, Pete Payette, also has his information listed here.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of Wood Island and the Life Saving Station, or want to get actively involved in helping preserve this piece of history, please visit http://www.savewoodisland.com/. Again, there is contact information listed on the site.
Finally, if you’d like to learn more about John Langdon and his accomplishments during the Revolutionary War and his contribution to New Hampshire as a state, please visit http://www.nh.gov/nhdhr/publications/glikeness/langjohn.html or http://seacoastnh.com/framers/jlangdon.html.