A Picturesque Chapel In The Pines
J. Dennis Robinson, June 2012
Little Harbor Chapel, Portsmouth, NH
When I was a kid long ago my favorite Top 40 tune was “The Three Bells” by a folk trio called The Browns. The song encapsulates the life story of a man who was baptized, married, and memorialized in the same tiny village chapel in the pines. This spot reminds me of that poignant little tune.
Full disclosure requires me to note that my wife Maryellen and I were married 10 summers ago in this picturesque chapel. It is the ideal place to tie the knot. Surrounded by tall trees down a narrow country lane, Little Harbor Chapel was designed to be an intimate and peaceful oasis for baptisms, weddings, and sermons. It is as isolated as an island, yet less than two miles from the pulsing heart of historic Portsmouth.
Okay, this ain’t the Sistine Chapel. Little Harbor may not be as perfect for your needs as it was for ours. The beautiful nondenominational structure seats only 70 guests – 80 if they squeeze in tightly. There is plenty of parking, but just one small bathroom and no additional rooms for prep or changing clothes. There is no heat in the brick chapel, built in 1902, so it is open only in the warmest New England months.
There is a lot of quirky history here. One of Boston’s wealthiest men, Arthur Astor Carey bought 40-acres of waterfront land and built a mansion at the end of Little Harbor Road. Carey built this chapel and sometimes preached a mystical religion here. The structure was designed by architect Richard Arnold Fischer and modeled after a chapel built at Harvard in 1744. Today Carey family descendants still sit on the board of trustees that keeps this truly hidden gem open and accessible for sermons, ceremonies, and concerts. Your fee goes entirely toward the upkeep and maintenance of the historic building and grounds.
Your wedding guests should not miss the amazing 1760-era home of colonial New Hampshire governor Benning Wentworth who lived just down the street. His rambling 42-room mansion and grounds offer a thrilling river view. That mansion was purchased in the late 1800s by artist John Templeman Coolige, a wealthy Bostonian. It was his Harvard classmate Arthur Carey who built “Creek Farm” across the street and later added the chapel. Creek Farm, now run by the Shoals Marine Lab, is also developing public spaces and hiking trails and is a great outlet for kayaking on Sagamore Creek and scenic Little Harbor.
Little Harbor Chapel
535 Little Harbor Rd, Portsmouth, NH 03801
Official Web site:
Curator Carol Melcher will open the doors and show you around for a small fee. First-come-first-served rental available from May through early October. Lots of free parking under the trees, but no additional facilities, and no more than 80 guests total are allowed inside by fire laws. This exquisite nondenominational historic chapel has a piano / organ, but is ideal for guitar music or small string ensemble. No flames (candles, lamps, etc.) allowed and throwing rice, confetti, or birdseed is also verboten. The caretaker will open the doors one hour before the ceremony and she remains on hand throughout.
It costs just $25 to preview the chapel by appointment. The rental for your wedding day is $550 with an additional $50 charge if you want to hold a rehearsal. Full payment is required in advance to reserve your wedding date.
J. Dennis Robinson knows history. The author of a dozen books and a thousand articles on heritage topics, Dennis is also editor of the popular history Web site SeacoastNH.com.
As your guide, he seeks out historic coastal sites and asks the all-important question – Do you do weddings? His monthly blog is a SeacoastWeddings.com exclusive.