The Chronicles of Island Shores
By Stephen J. Shurtleff
As residents of Penacook, we have a wonderful history. A part of this history is reflected in the street names at Island Shores. Our story starts at the David Poulin Community Room. On the walls there you‘ll see post cards, ads, and other items relating to Contoocook River Park.
The Contoocook River Park opened in July of 1893 on twenty-six acres of land that abuts what is now Island Shores. The park was originally owned by the Concord Street Railway. To travel round trip from downtown Concord to the park, in the 1890’s, by the horse drawn trolley, cost twenty cents. Within twenty years, when the Concord Street Railway was electrified and become the Concord Electric Railway, the cost dropped to only ten cents.
The park consisted of several buildings. One of the first built was the Pavillion. This building was used for dances and outings, as well as a place for hundreds of people to seek shelter in the event of rain. The park also had a theater, store, restaurant, miniature railroad, outdoor theater, baseball diamond and the boathouse. The boathouse provided storage for one hundred fifty privately owned Canoes.
One Individual was responsible for most of the construction at the park and that was John Whittaker, as well respected Penacook resident who spent thirty years as a lumberman. He lived on Washington Street in the house that is now the Wendell Butt Funeral Home. He also built a steam boat that was christened the Modena on August 10, 1893.It was a two story, coal powered vessel that could accommodate two hundred passengers. It was operated by Mr. Whittaker, who knew every inch of the Contoocook River and he was respectfully given the title of Commodore.
This area of Penacook was known as the Boroughs and a dam was constructed just below the park that was known as Borough Dam.Just below the dam is an area along the river where the rocks rise fifty feet, this area is known as the Bluffs. The Whitewater of the Contoocook River flows through the Bluffs, as it begins its one hundred eleven foot drop to the Merrimack River; these rapids are called the Great Falls.
“Commodore” Whittaker took passengers six miles up the Contoocook River to an area of the river called “Broad Cove”. The passengers would disembark and climb a wooden stairway to a grove of trees. From there they would have a wonderful view of the river. I believe, this was called the Look Out. They would re-board and return to the park.
As to the name Franconia, I can only speculate. In addition to building the Modena, Mr. Whittaker built two other boats that he used to bring people on a river tours. I believe the second boat he built was named the Franconia. Lastly we come to how Vinton Dr. was named. This street is named for Eleanor Vinton a well known, award winning poet. In 1972, then Governor Walter Peterson named her the Poet Laureate of New Hampshire. She had a summer cottage just above the park on Riverhill Avenue.
As attendance fell in 1925, the B & M railroad, who now owned Contoocook River Park, decided to close it. Today there are about two miles of walking trails of the area.
In a dedication to David G. Poulin, our community room was given his name in August, 2002.We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for the commitment, and leadership shown by the late David G. Poulin (1942-2001) and for the wonderful legacy he left behind. A New Hampshire native, Dave chose to be a 14 year resident of Penacook, who was affectionately known as the “Mayor of Penacook.” He also worked tirelessly for 10 years as a public servant as a City Council Member, NH State Legislator, Real Estate Broker, Penacook Community Center’s Board Member and Property Manager of Island Shores.
If you have a moment, visit the gazebo in Poulin Park at the corner of Village and Washington Streets in the center of Penacook to show a debt of gratitude to Dave for all his hard work and dedication to the City of Concord and the village of Penacook for all those years.
Sources: Penacook Historical Society, History of Penacook, Reflections along the Contoocook River, Historical records, Dedication Ceremony