Star Island (New Hampshire)

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Coordinates: 42°58′36″N 70°36′50″W / 42.97667°N 70.61389°W / 42.97667; -70.61389

Gosport Chapel, built 1800

Star Island is one of the Isles of Shoals that straddle the border between New Hampshire and Maine, approximately 7 miles (11 km) from the mainland in the Atlantic Ocean. At 38 acres (15 ha),[1] Star Island is the largest of the four islands that are located in New Hampshire and second largest overall, after Appledore Island. The island was supposedly assigned its name by sailors who imagined the shape of the island as the points of a shining star.[2] Originally known by the local "Shoalers" as the town of Gosport, in 1876 the island was annexed to the town of Rye.[3]

Star Island has been owned and operated by the Star Island Corporation since 1915.[4]


East Rock c. 1912

Captain John Smith mapped the Isles of Shoals in 1614 and originally named them "Smyth's Isles".[5] There is a monument remaining today on Star Island, built in 1864 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of John Smith's trip.[6] Star Island was first settled, as were all the Isles of Shoals, in the early 17th century by seasonal fishermen working the rich waters of the North Atlantic coast. Many were English, coming up from the colonies of the Virginia companies.

The first permanent settlement of Star Island began in 1677 when the Province of Maine, under Massachusetts rule, undertook to increase taxes on nearby Hog Island (now Appledore Island). That and the recent availability of housing on Star Island, which was in New Hampshire, caused a mass migration, and in 1715 the township of Gosport was established on Star Island.

The town and the island flourished until the American Revolutionary War, when the colonials ordered the Shoals evacuated, believing that having a group of questionable loyalty just off the coast posed a threat. Many shoalers abandoned their island homes shortly thereafter. After the war, some moved back to Gosport, but it never achieved its former population.[7]

The islands were sparsely inhabited until the middle of the 19th century when Thomas Laighton established a hotel on Smuttynose Island. With Levi Thaxter, Laighton eventually opened a much larger one, the Appledore Hotel, on Hog, which he renamed Appledore Island. Laighton's daughter, Celia, went on to marry Thaxter, and Celia Thaxter became one of the most popular American female poets of the 19th century. She hosted an arts community on the island frequented by such luminaries as authors Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Greenleaf Whittier, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sarah Orne Jewett, and the Impressionist painter Childe Hassam.[8] They were so successful that in 1873 another entrepreneur, John Poor, built the Oceanic Hotel on Star Island, by joining a cluster of Caswell family buildings with a long wooden veranda. The largest building, the former Atlantic House, had been run by Lemuel Caswell. Another, the Gosport House, was once run by Lemuel's brother Origen Caswell. When the first Oceanic burned in 1875 soon after it was built, he immediately reconfigured the surviving buildings into a second Oceanic Hotel, which is the only surviving hotel from this period remaining in the Isles of Shoals today.

The Oceanic Hotel c. 1910

The late 19th century was a golden era for island hotels. Air conditioning had yet to be invented, and the cool sea breezes were a perfect escape from the hot summers of Boston and New York. Sarah Orne Jewett wrote an occasional poem, "On Star Island", published in Harper's Magazine in September 1881, about her visit to Star Island and the Gosport church.[9] But the resorts in the mountains of New Hampshire and New York grew and did not involve a potentially unpleasant sea voyage. By the 1890s, the island hotels were nearly empty.

Then, in 1896, Thomas Elliott and his wife Lilla arrived on Star Island. They immediately saw in the lightly occupied hotel a place where summer conferences could be held, to be sponsored by the Unitarian Church, of which he was a member. He made a deal with the manager to "fill the place to the ridge-poles" the following year, and then went back to the mainland to make good on his promise. He met with the Unitarians in Boston and then, just to make sure, he went across the street and made a deal with the Congregationalists. The following summer, he had so many at the conference that the staff was sleeping in the bathrooms.

The conferences continued, and in 1915 the Isles of Shoals Summer Meeting Association which Elliott had organized bought the hotel and the island, forming the Star Island Corporation. Today conference goers still sleep in the Oceanic Hotel and utilize other historic buildings, such as the stone Gosport Chapel built in 1800.

Present day[edit]

Sunset at the Oceanic Hotel

In the twenty-first century, Star Island has worked to become increasingly self-sufficient and environmentally sustainable.[10] As of 2015 it contained the largest off-grid solar farm in New England. This solar grid provides all of the power necessary for the island during the off season and 60% during full conference season. It has been suggested that Star Island's solar "micro-grid" may in fact be a model for mainland grids.[11] In many ways the island is like a self-sufficient town, producing all its own water, electricity (through both solar and diesel generators) and some produce. The island has its own septic treatment plant, one of the few capable of handling salt water, and a reverse osmosis water purification system for converting sea water to drinking water. There are three separate water systems on the island—drinking water, cistern water for washing, and sea water for sanitary use. The focus on environmental sustainability is aligned with the Star Island Corporation's charge to preserve the Isles of Shoals for future generations.

On Star Island there are multiple hotel buildings, the largest of which is the Oceanic Hotel. Others are named for James Caswell, Leland Baker, YPRU (Young People's Religious Union) and John Smith. There is a marine lab, a floating dock often used by swimmers, two tennis courts, two playgrounds, the "Kiddie Barn" where childcare services are given, Gosport chapel, a scenic gazebo termed the Summerhouse, and Vaughn Cottage where the historical records are kept.

Sunset over the Summerhouse

The island is staffed each season by a crew of 90 young adults, mostly college students, termed "Pelicans", who live on Star Island for the summer and do everything from transporting luggage to washing dishes, maintaining the generators, weeding, and making beds.

Transportation to Star Island is via the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company on the steamship-replica Thomas Laighton out of Portsmouth. From 2005-2010 this changed due to restrictions imposed on large boat travel after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Conferees traveled from Rye, causing conference day change-overs to be made in two trips. Day trips are possible by boat during the conference season.[12]

In 2007, the town of Rye prevented the conference center on Star Island from opening for its usual early June schedule, due to fire regulation concerns. In late July, the fire marshal said the issues had been addressed, and the island opened, with conferences resuming in early August.

Star Island Corporation[edit]

Star Island has been owned and operated by the Star Island Corporation since 1915 as a place for family, youth, and individual conferences and retreats.[4] The Star Island Corporation has close ties to the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Conferences vary from a week to a few days, with some focused on religious themes and others on secular subjects (photography, arts, yoga, writing, science, etc.). In 2008, "personal retreats" were created to allow members of the public to stay on the island for up to one week.[13] In 2015, Star Island Corporation held a year-long centennial celebration with both island and mainland events, a ribbon cutting and historical reenactments.[14]

Star Island Corporation is a not-for-profit United States Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3) membership organization and incorporated in the state of Massachusetts.[citation needed]


Conferences at Star Island last from two days to a full week and may overlap other conferences. A number of those in June and July, plus LOAS in August, tend to have a Unitarian Universalist orientation, while those marked "UCC" are affiliated with the United Church of Christ. Other conferences may or may not have a particular religious orientation.

June conferences[edit]

  • Yearly Adults Conference (4–7 days)[15]
  • Star Island Paranormal Weekend (3 days)[15]
  • Meditation Week (7 days)[15]
  • Star Arts (7 days) [16]
  • Natural History Conference (NHC) (seven days) [17]
  • Youth Empowerment Spirituality and Health (YES) (7 days)[15]
  • Isles of Shoals Historical and Research Association (ISHRA) (4 days)[15]
  • Road Scholar June [Arts conference] (7 days)[15]

July conferences[edit]

  • All Star I Family Conference (7 days) [18]
  • All Star II Family Conference (7 days) [19]
  • Lifespan Religious Education Conference (7 days) [20]
  • International Affairs Conference (7 days) [21]

August conferences[edit]

  • Star Gathering I (UCC) Family Conference (7 days) [22]
  • Star Gathering I (UCC) Youth Conference (7 days) [22]
  • Island Watercolor Intensive (4 days)[15]
  • Craniosacral Therapy Alliance (4 days)[15]
  • Star Gathering II (UCC) Family Conference (7 days) [22]
  • Star Gathering II (UCC) Youth Conference (7 days) [22]
  • Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS) (7 days) [23]
  • LOAS Site Life On A Star (LOAS) I (7 days) [24]
  • LOAS Site Life On A Star (LOAS) II (7 days) [24]
  • Star Island Experience Week (7 days)[15]
  • New England Heritage (7 days)[15]
  • Road Scholar August [Arts] (6 days)[15]
  • Couple’s Retreat (3 days)[15]

September conferences[edit]

  • Pelican Reunion (2–3 days)[15]
  • Laity Family Weekend (UCC) (2–3 days)[15]
  • Road Scholar September [Arts] (6 days)[15]
  • Yoga Teacher Training (8 days)[15]
  • Transformative Mediation (3 days)[15]
  • Creative and Professional Practice [Arts] (2 days)[15]
  • Midweek Retreat I (4 days)[15]
  • Writelines [creative writing] (4 days) [25]
  • Nourishing the Goddess (2–4 days)[15]
  • NHSPA Photographers’ Retreat (3 days) [26]
  • Writers in the Round (3 days)[15]
  • Fall Back to Star (Isles of Shoals Association) (2 days)[15]
  • Isles of Shoals Historic & Research Association, September (2 days)[15]
  • Chamber Music (2 days)[15]
  • Nourishing the Practitioner (3 days)[15]
  • Midweek 2 & Quaker Retreat (4 days)[15]
  • Star Women (formerly A Women's Gathering of Renewal) (2–4 days)[15]
  • Yoga Retreat (3 days)[15]
  • Star Hampshire Music and Dance Weekend (3 days)[15]
  • Star Island Harmony (2 days)[15]
  • Fall Birding Weekend (2 days)[15]

Getting to the island[edit]

Several ferry companies have provided transportation to Star Island. The Isles of Shoals Steamship Company,[27] Island Cruises,[28] and We Like Whales[29] bring visitors for day trips and overnights or run tours around the island and the rest of the Isles of Shoals.

Gosport Harbor, which is created by the islands and connecting breakwaters, is deep and fairly protected, and moorings are available for visiting boats.


  1. ^ "GRANIT".
  2. ^ "Seacoast NH - Isles of Shoals Map".
  3. ^ "Community Profiles - Rye", NH Economic & Labor Market Information Bureau
  4. ^ a b "History and Geography".
  5. ^ "Seacoast NH - Isles of Shoals History".
  6. ^ "As I Please -- The Ugliest Monument in New England".
  7. ^ "New Hampshire Missing Places: Gosport, Isles of Shoals". 3 May 2007.
  8. ^ "Isles of Shoals History".
  9. ^ "On Star Island". Harper's Magazine. 63: 550–551. September 1881.
  10. ^, Deborah McDermott. "Solar array 'a big deal' for Star Island".
  11. ^ Carlson, Brady. "Granite Geek: A Solar 'Microgrid' On Star Island May Be A Model For The Mainland".
  12. ^ "Visiting For The Day".
  13. ^ Personal Retreats, Star Island Corporation.
  14. ^ "Centennial".
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae "Conference Listing (2015)".
  16. ^ "Star Arts".
  17. ^ "NHW Home Page".
  18. ^ "All Star 1".
  19. ^ "/ All Star II Family Conference".
  20. ^ "Lifespan Religious Education Week at Star Island -". Lifespan Religious Education Week at Star Island.
  21. ^ "International Affairs Family Conference – Star Island, New Hampshire".
  22. ^ a b c d "Home - Star Gathering Conferences". Star Gathering Conferences.
  23. ^ "IRAS". IRAS.
  24. ^ a b "Life On A Star Conferences".
  25. ^ "Home". WriteLines.
  26. ^ "Conference Listing".
  27. ^ "Isles of Shoals Steamship Company".
  28. ^ "Island Cruises, Inc. - Rye Harbor, New Hampshire".
  29. ^ "We Like Whales".

External links[edit]