The Town of Rye, New Hampshire is located on the Atlantic Coast, a one hour drive by car from Boston, Massachusetts; Portland, Maine or the foothills of the White Mountains. Although Rye has a total area of 35.5 square miles, 64.45% of it (22.9 square miles) is wetland or marsh. The Town of Rye has the longest stretch of coastline of any New Hampshire coastal town and also contains four of the nine islands known as the Isles of Shoals which lie approximately ten miles off the Rye shores.
Three dates are prominent in Rye’s history beginning with 1623 which marks the first permanent settlement in New Hampshire at Odiorne Point. In 1726, as the result of action by petitioners from Sandy Beach (as Rye was then known), the House of Representatives voted the designation of parish to the area naming it the Parish of Rye. Choice of the name Rye is credited to the Jenness family as at the time it was the only one of the founding families that had come from Rye, England; and Richard Jenness was seated as the first member of the general assembly from the Parish of Rye. Rye did not become the Town of Rye until 1785 when by action of the legislature it became a wholly separate and independent town.
First documented in 1605 by Samuel De Champlain and named Smith’s Isles in 1614 by Capt. John Smith, the Isles of Shoals served as a fishing station before mainland New England was settled. Rich in history, the Town of Rye encompasses Odiorne Point at the mouth of the Piscataqua River which is recognized as the site of New Hampshire’s first permanent settlement in 1623. During the 18th century, the area prospered by supplying large quantities of dried fish for the tables of Europe. In 1874, Rye became the site of the first trans-Atlantic communications cable connecting the United States and Europe. The cable terminus and the building housing it, now a private home, were located at Jenness Beach near what is known as Cable Road. During World
War II, an eighty foot observation tower was constructed at Pulpit Rock as part of the Harbor Defense System. Today efforts to preserve the tower are ongoing.
Mystique surrounding the Isles of Shoals involves marauding Indians, murder, pirate treasure and evolution from rough and rowdy outpost to Victorian resort destination where poet Celia Thaxter, daughter of lighthouse keeper Thomas Leighton, was the center of the social scene as she entertained the notable artists and writer of the period including Childe Hassam, John Greenleaf Whittier, Nathanial Hawthorne and Sarah Orne Jewett.
Bountiful fishing drew early settlers and small farms developed through the nineteenth century with a tradition of frugality and hardy self-sufficiency. During the Victorian era, Rye was known throughout the eastern United States as a first class summer resort. None of the numerous large wooden hotels and boarding houses of that period remain on the mainland and today the Town is primarily residential.
The 2010 census credited Rye with a population of 5,298 residents many of whom volunteer to serve through community organizations and our numerous Town boards, committees and commissions. Residents take pride in the degree of civic engagement demonstrated by means of participation in local activities and are dedicated to preservation of a semi-rural environment. Rye voters have consistently supported marsh restoration, acquisition of open space and protection of our coastal resources.