PORTSMOUTH — “Nowadays people of every age are looking for experiences,” says Robin Lurie-Meyerkopf, the walking tour manager at Discover Portsmouth. “And those tours just got bigger and better.”
“It's exciting news," Robin says. "Starting this year we now offer historic Portsmouth walking tours seven days a week." The 90-minute guided tours leave daily at 10:30 a.m. from Discover Portsmouth at 10 Middle Street. Tours run from early May through late October.
“And there’s more,” Robin says. “We now have whisper-quiet headphones. It’s like a radio channel. The trained guide has the transmitter and speaks into a microphone while the visitors listen through their headsets. Between the traffic and the construction, it can get pretty noisy out there, so now the guide doesn’t have to shout.”
The new system was purchased thanks to a gift from an anonymous donor to the Portsmouth Historical Society that operates both Discover Portsmouth and the John Paul Jones House Museum next door. The nonprofit society currently has a dozen headset receivers and hopes to raise funds to expand that number as tours increase in popularity.
“They work fantastically well,” Robin says of the new amplification system. “They’re ideal for people with limited hearing. And even if people wander a bit from the group or lag a bit behind, the range is such that everyone can hear the guide clearly. It’s a revolution for walking tours.”
One seasoned guide notes that, because he can talk while moving as well as when stopped, he now has more time to deliver lively facts about our 400-year old city. Visitors who tested the hi-tech system were especially pleased with the adjustable volume control on the receiver. “You were clear as a bell.” one walker told the guide. “I can't imagine the tour without it," another said.
And just in time. The number of Discover Portsmouth tours more than doubled to 1,200 walkers in the 2018 season over previous seasons. Tours are $12.00 for historical society members, or $15.00 for non-members. Online reservations are suggested with space usually limited to a dozen walkers, although guides can expand to accommodate more due to walk-ins on busy summer days.
It is recommended that visitors should plan to arrive 30-minutes before departure. This allows time for check-in and equipment set-up. Visitors can also watch a 12-minute orientation video, preview the latest exhibitions, this year on New Hampshire Folk Art, and wander the Museum Shop.
“What people are looking for, I think,” says Robin Lurie-Meyerkopf, "are walking tours that are fun, interesting and dependable and guides who are knowledgeable--we sure have all of those.”
The society website offers an overview of 2019 tour guides, A number are career educators, all are history enthusiasts, and they include a retired engineer, a public policy advocate, a city planner, and a federal service employee.
“You’re not going to be a guide unless you’re charming,” Robin says, “and people love our guides.” She notes that this year the special Preservation Tours conducted by historian Richard M. Candee, author of “Building Portsmouth”, will be held in addition to the daily tour as well as the unique Portsmouth Women’s Tour.
Who is signing up? “We’re getting everybody,” the tour manager replies. “We had somebody on the tour last year who had lived in Portsmouth for 25 years and he learned all sorts of things he did not know about his own city. Some of our participants have loved the tours so much, that they have become sponsors! This year’s sponsors include Peter J. Loughlin Attourney, Flynn & McGee, P.A. and Tate & Foss, Sotheby’s International Realty.
And one more thing. “In addition to our daily and special tours,” Robin Lurie-Meyerkopf, says, “we’re adding a 4:00 p.m. tour every Friday. We want to serve a growing audience of people who are coming into town for weekend events-- and they want to find out what the city is like.”
“Oh,” she adds. “And we now offer private tours too! So call us at 603-436-8433." Tickets for daily and special tours are available at PortsmouthHistory.org online.”
“Portsmouth and its pleasures are smaller scale,” according to an article in the New York Times. “They’re also best approached on foot.”
Specialty Tour Details
The Portsmouth Women Tour runs the fourth Wednesday of the month at 4:30 p.m. (June 26, July 24, August 28, September 25 and October 23) and the third Friday of the month at 4:30 p.m. (June 21, July 19, August 16, September 20 and October 18).
Professor Candee’s 75-minute Historic Preservation Tours depart from Discover Portsmouth on select Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. The 2019 schedule features eight of Portsmouth’s famous neighborhoods, exploring the unique architectural landscape and the stories embedded in the bricks and mortar. (See www.portsmouthhistory.org for a full schedule.) The fee for this special guided series is $15.00 for Portsmouth Historical Society members and $25.00 for non-members.