• Joe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #57: Great Island Common, New Castle


Of cops and crabs.

New Castle is a funky place. It's the smallest town in New Hampshire at less than 2.5 square miles, though less than a square mile of that is land - more than 65% of the town is ocean. It's also the only town in the state existing entirely on islands (Great Island plus a few others). First settled in 1623, it was part of Portsmouth until its independent incorporation in 1693, with Rye part of the town until 1719. Fewer than a thousand people live there, and those who do are markedly wealthier than their New hampshire neighbors, with a median annual family income approaching $100,000 and no families below the poverty line. For its small size, New Castle has some fascinating history, particularly Fort Constitution, which We'll get to later.

My favorite memory of New Castle comes from the Great Island Common, often called simply New Castle Common by locals. It's a 32-acre public waterfront park popular for picnics. I had to laugh when I took a glance at the Common's website and read the list of prohibited activities, because the memory I'm talking about includes the violation of most of them by off-duty Portsmouth cops. I was a kid, maybe five or six, and the Portsmouth Police Department was enjoying a family picnic at the Common (this would have been around 1980, I think, making my dad Albert Pace younger than I am now). We kids went swimming (no lifeguards, then or now - swim free or die), while at least some of the dads relieved their work stress in liquid violation of modern day rules. I have no idea if the rules were the same then, or if they arose in response to the kind of picnics I'm recalling.

Anyway, one of the guys was feeling pretty good, and when we showed our folks the little green crabs we had been collecting in pails on the beach, he ate them. Not two or three, but dozens of them, and asked us to bring him some more. He just shoved them into his mouth and crunched them down. I've never seen anything like it since. This was another clear violation, of the current rule prohibiting the harming of local shellfish. Honestly, I have to imagine they did plenty of harm right back.

It's funny, the things that stay with you from your childhood. To this day, whenever I think of New Castle Common, I think of that inebriated officer inhaling those little crabs. And whenever my kids bring me a crab at the beach, I tell that story. But I don't eat the crabs.

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