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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #136: Wentworth by the Sea, New Castle

Another grand old lady

New Hampshire was at the center of the grand hotel craze in the latter half of the 19th century, with hotels catering to the new wealthy leisure class springing up across the state like moss after a rainfall. Only a handful remain now, including the Balsams and the Mount Washington. The only one on the seacoast resides in New Castle, where the Wentworth by the Sea perches above the Piscataqua like an owlish Victorian dowager empress.

The Wentworth was built with 82 rooms in 1874 by a Somerville distiller, and was purchased five years later by Portsmouth's own Frank Jones. Apparently there was as much Gilded Age money in booze as there was in oil and steel. Jones expanded the hotel to more than 300 rooms, adding the golf course that I'd abuse on more than one occasion over a century later. The Wentworth became famous for its service and luxury, and celebrities and royalty from around the world came to town. The most notorious moment in the history of the resort came in 1905, when delegations from Russia and Japan arrived to negotiate the treaty that would end the war between their two nations. The delegates stayed at the Wentworth, ferrying across the Piscataqua each day to the Portsmouth Navy Yard for negotiations. The treaty itself was signed at the Wentworth, ushering in three decades of peace for these rivals and setting the stage for America's entry onto the global diplomatic stage. President Teddy Roosevelt was a major player in the whole drama, earning the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, even though he never came to New Castle.

Under a series of owners, the hotel continued to prosper throughout the 20th century (even as Russia and Japan took up arms against one another again, with the United States - and everybody else - a participant this time). By 1981 a Swiss company had bought and closed the Wentworth, and moved forward with plans to demolish the historic property. Local residents calling themselves the Friends of the Wentworth mobilized to delay the razing of the grand old lady, drawing attention to the hotel by successfully arranging for its inclusion on the National Trust for Historical Preservation’s List of America’s Eleven Most Endangered Places in 1996. Ocean Properties bought the property in 1997, and after extensive renovations it reopened in 2003. Since then it has regained some of its former glory as a visually gorgeous seacoast icon and reminder of the luxurious era of grand hospitality.

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