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Visit Star Island and the Oceanic Hotel

New Hampshire's Star Island, the only one of the nine Isles of Shoals openly accessible to visitors, is famous for its stunning scenery, history, commitment to sustainability, and (last but not least) one of the best porches in New England.

4.22 avg. rating (84% score) - 9 votes
Star Island

Welcome to Star Island!

The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive on Star island (how could you not?) is the Oceanic Hotel. Large and rambling (though not exactly grand) on the relatively small island, it was built during the “island hotel” tourist boom of the mid 19th century, and sure looks the part. In the 1600s, the island was the busiest fishing port on the East coast, but the 1800s ushered in an era of creative artists, writers, and intellectuals.

By the end of the 19th century, mountain hotels were becoming more popular than coastal ones, so the Oceanic was fortunate to have Thomas Elliott and his wife Lilla as guests in 1896. The Elliotts were Unitarians, and thought the picturesque Oceanic would make the ideal spot for church conferences, so they made a deal with the manager to fill the rooms the following year. They did, and the Oceanic held on.

In 1915, the Isles of Shoals Summer Meeting Association bought the hotel and the island, forming the nonprofit Star Island Corporation. Though the island maintains close ties to the Unitarian church, the many conferences still held each year are based around a variety of family, youth, and individual themes, including faith, music, art, yoga, and history. In 2008  “personal retreats” were introduced, allowing guests not participating in a conference to stay on Star for up to one week.

Of course, Star also welcomes daytrippers. As we docked for our hour-long “walkabout,” the captain gave us a brief rundown of the island, its facilities, and a few suggestions on what to see (the view from the gazebo) and what to avoid (the poison ivy on the walking paths).

DAYTRIP TO STAR ISLAND

Star Island

Welcome to Star Island!

I can’t imagine the Oceanic looks much different today than it did a century ago, and in truth, it doesn’t. As we strolled closer I could see the vast front porch was scattered with large wooden rocking chairs, most of them holding guests with books in their laps.

The Oceanic Hotel i

The Oceanic Hotel in a postcard from c. 1910.

Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

To the right of the hotel lies the old burial ground and gazebo with (it was true) stunning Atlantic views — a perfect spot for a picnic lunch.

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The old burial ground.

star-island-gazebo

The gazebo, with seagull.

After checking these out we headed to the other side of the hotel and back towards Gosport Church. Along the way were charming little sea-air scrubbed cottages, like something right out of Anne of Green Gables.

Touring Star Island.

Touring Star Island.

star-island-cottage

The quintessential coastal cottage.

Stone cottages, too.

Stone cottages, too.

Aimee Seavey

Gosport Church, as the sign inside says, was built twice out of wood, beginning in 1685, before the current stone version was constructed in 1800. Perched on the highest point of the island, the church serves as a chapel and meetinghouse. The Star Island website paints a pretty picture of the building’s role on the island:

“At the close of each day, Shoalers gather at the foot of the hill and form a procession, carrying candle lanterns as the villagers of long ago carried their whale-oil lamps up the same winding path. Inside the chapel, the candle lanterns are hung on brackets from the walls, providing the only source of light.”

Gosport Church.

Gosport Church.

Inside Gosport Church.

Inside Gosport Church.

Aimee Seavey

Gosport Chapel in a postcard from c. 1930–1945.

Gosport Church in a postcard from c. 1930–1945.

Digital Commonwealth/BPL/Tichnor Bros. Collection

Outside of Gosport Church I looked to my right and saw the roof of a little stone cottage and some sort of tower, so we headed that way to check them out.

The cottage was Vaughn Cottage. It serves as a small library, museum, and archives for the island. We didn’t go inside, but it’s open to the public during the summer months if you’re interested.

star-island-vaughn

Vaughn Cottage

The monument proved to be Tucke Monument, a large granite obelisk built to honor Shoals minister Rev. John Tucke. You get to the monument by passing through a wooden turnstile, and follow a path bordered high with flowering hedges until you reach the base.

star-island-tower

Tucke Monument

After seeing the monument, we took a loop around the back of the Oceanic, past the bustle of machinery (a lot of it solar-powered) that keeps the island running, then headed inside to check out the lobby and grab some refreshments at the snack bar before making our way back to the boat that would return us to the mainland.

The gleaming lobby had a parlor-meets-classroom look, with daily schedules on display and the permeating aroma of home-cooked food, ocean air, sunscreen, and the faint whiff of grade-school chalkboard.

star-island-hotel-lobby

The Oceanic Hotel Lobby

Since the emphasis for visitors is on the conference seminars, outdoor activities, and an unplugged peace-of-mind, the rooms and amenities at the Oceanic are simple. The only public television is in the front lobby, power is produced by three large generators, and showering is only available every other day to conserve water (which comes from rain runoff). Star is magnificently self-sufficient, but not without a lot of organization and hard work from its staff.

We've given the island an award or two...

We’ve given the Oceanic Hotel an award or two…

Special kudos is given to the Pelicans, a Yankee pick for “one of the top ten summer jobs in New England.” The Pelicans are a crew of 100 or so young adults (mostly college students) that spend the summer on the island and do everything from housekeeping, maintenance, gardening, and cooking. It’s a job, but it’s also an opportunity to be part of a unique and close-knit community, and form lifelong friendships. Former Pelicans even have their own website, Pelicans are Pelicans, to keep in touch and plan reunions.

Beyond the lobby was the snack bar and dining room. While lunch reservations for meals are required at the Oceanic, the snack bar is perfect for a quick ice cream cone, hot dog, or raspberry lime rickey.

star-island-blackboard

The Oceanic Hotel Snack Bar

Family-style meals in the dining room are included for conference attendees and personal retreaters, with Pelicans doing the cooking, serving, and cleaning.

Porch entrance to the dining room

Porch entrance to the dining room

star-island-hotel-dining-hall

The dining room

Thankfully, no reservations were needed for the hotel’s front porch, so I settled into a rocker with my book and enjoyed a few chapters (plus the view of a determined seagull eating peanuts out of a neglected drinking glass further down the porch) before it was time to head back to the boat — the clean, crisp ocean air working on me like a tonic.

The famous Oceanic Hotel porch.

The famous Oceanic Hotel porch.

Aimee Seavey

Grab a rocker and enjoy the view.

Grab a rocker and enjoy the view.

Sooner than I would have liked, it was time to head back to the mainland. Until next time, Star Island.

goodbye-star-island

Goodbye, Star Island!

As you sail away, keep an eye out for the island’s very own dinosaur…

star-island-dinosaur

Do you see the dinosaur?

I’ve found myself thinking about the simplistic beauty of the Star Island often in the weeks since, its pull going to work on me, urging me back for a longer stay, offering what so few collectively can — community, solitude, nature, mediation, nourishment, peace…and yes, the chance to see seagulls eating peanuts from the view of a comfy rocking chair.

Who could resist?

Getting to Star Island is easy, thanks to ferry services in either Portsmouth through the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company or Uncle Oscar’s in Rye.

Would you like to visit Star Island as a daytripper, on a personal retreat, or as part of a conference?

Comments
  • My late aunt, Janet Taylor, Of North Hampton, NH, used to say that, “a day at the Isles of Shoals (Star Island) is like two weeks anywhere else.” I only regret that “Personal Retreats” weren’t available until after she was too old and infirm to negotiate the terrain. She passed away in January 2010, at the age of ninety.

    Reply
  • Thank you for the photos of my Mecca, my Israel, where I spent a total of a half a year in weekly increments through the years, mostly at the Arts Conference. I can no longer negotiate the terrain, but the island & the friends I made there with my music remain in my heart and memory forever.

    Reply
  • Great article!! Great place! You can only really “get it” with an overnight(s) stay. It’s being in a place where life is as it was meant to be……..

    Reply
  • Can I make a reservation for one for an overnight stay just to get away and if so, how do I go about doing it?

    Brenda Harlow

    Reply
  • I very nice review. I’ve been going to Star Island with my family for years first as a kid and then as a parent. One truly unique feature of a Star Island conference for parents is the absolute safety you feel for your kids as they roam freely within the conference community. This results in the most relaxing vacation you’ll ever take with your kids. I’ve never found a similar situation anywhere else.

    Reply
  • Our family has been attending conferences at Star Island for years. Your article was perfect!! Your photos help to capture the experience there. To really experience Star, though, you HAVE to be there to see a glorious sunset and then later attend a candlelight service in the stone chapel. Even if you have only been there for a few days, Star Island will never leave you. Jane

    Reply
  • As a long time attendee at the IA conference and an “old shoaler “, I really appreciate this account and photos.

    Reply
  • You delightfully captured the essence of Star. A longer stay will reveal even more beauty, peace, and camaraderie.

    Thanks for pointing out T-Rex. I haven’t seen him before but will be on the look out.

    Hope to see you there soon. You will come back!

    Peace,
    Susan Stibler

    Reply
  • There is no place better then Star Island to vacation with your family. Our family has been attending the LOAS II for years. I appreciate the Islands respect of nature and the ability to have great friend time and unplug from most of the world. Our kids have made friends there each year some new, some returning.

    Reply

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