112-year-old Star Island makes 21st century upgrades
By Karen Dandurant

November 23, 2008 6:00 AM

PORTSMOUTH — People have been visiting Star Island since 1987, 112 years.

At that time, the rates at the island retreat were $10 a week and covered the room and three meals a day for a week.

Times have changed, but the island hasn’t changed much. It still has that unique 19th-century feel that is guaranteed to put anyone’s mind at ease.

Today, the island is changing in subtle ways designed to maintain the character that makes people want to visit, but add amenities important today.

While a lot of people are involved in Star Island’s operation, its evolution is the work of the new head of the corporation, Victoria Hardy.

“Someone said to me that there’s a new sheriff in town,” Hardy said in her easygoing manner. “I think it’s important to send a signal to the people that we understand what we’re doing now.

“My goal is for Star Island to be here for another hundred years. There are so many options for ways families can spend time together. The changes are marketing tools, but Star Island is unique. Our niche is who we are. We have a 19th-century ambiance that’s different from the Balsams. So, we’re adding gentle additions to the basic Star Island.”

Hardy said $435,000 was put into the facility last spring and summer as officials continue to upgrade the life-safety elements of the Oceanic Hotel and the other buildings scattered across the island.

Hardy said this year, Star Island sent three signals to the community to get its attention.

“First, we restored the flagpole,” she said. “It had been down for many years. “When the season opened, the flag was there and that’s a symbol. It is also a memorial for a man who died at war. It needed to be done.”

For those who have visited the island, it’s no secret that the back, or west wall, was in deplorable condition.

“It faces the Atlantic, with the harshest weather,” Hardy said. “We renovated it. We scraped and painted. The signal that (it) sends is that we understand the basics have to be done.”

Hardy said she never realized how many boats passed between Star Island and White Island until people started letting her know they had seen the new and improved wall.

“The other day I was at the Seacoast Science Center looking out toward the island,” Hardy said. “The sun hit the wall and it was like a big white light.”

The third change concerns a part of Star Island that is one of the most well-known and visited places.

“We improved the path to the chapel,” Hardy said. “If there is one, the chapel is the iconic symbol of Star Island. It’s been there since 1800 and is in pristine condition. It was the linchpin in getting Star its Natural Historic designation.”

The path was in poor condition, making it hard for seniors and people with disabilities, and impossible for a person in a wheelchair.

“My goal became to be able to bring a wheelchair to the base of the path,” Hardy said. “We put a lot of stone dust down on that path. Now we can use our golf cart to bring the chair to the base and go to the chapel.”

Making Star Island more accessible to the general public is another goal of Hardy’s.