As Portsmouth turns 375, call goes out for party planners

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PORTSMOUTH — Portsmouth turns a ripe old 375 years old in 2013 and a committee is hard at work to make sure the town receives a fitting birthday party.

Plenty of good ideas have surfaced so far, said Doug Smith, the man who launched the 375 Steering Committee. The challenge will be finding people to “adopt some of these ideas and help make them happen … We welcome volunteers to join us. I’d like to get as many people involved in Portsmouth as possible.”

“Some weeks ago it just struck me and some others that the 375th was coming up and nobody was doing anything,” Mr. Smith said.

One who took no convincing of the need was new Town Administrator John Klimm. Barnstable, Mass., where he was formerly the town administrator, celebrated its 350th not long ago.

“It was a gigantic thing there,” Mr. Smith said. “We, being smaller,” have more modest goals but “I know we can still do something special.” The hope, he said, is to spread the celebration over several big weekends in different seasons throughout the year.

Of course there should be a parade, committee members agree. Discussion has included the possibility of combining it with the town’s only regular parade, that put on by Portsmouth High School for Homecoming.

“When possible, it would be nice to piggyback with good things that already happen here,” Mr. Smith said.

Fireworks would be nice too — perhaps these could dovetail with the show that Louis Escobar produces every year at his Middle Road dairy farm.

“We could pitch in money to give the show extra punch for Portsmouth’s birthday,” Mr. Smith said.

Sports could play a big part in the year-long celebration, committee members think — such events as a 5K race, a swim race across the Sakonnet River perhaps, and a polar bear plunge.

Bob Hamilton, who for years has organized the New Year’s Day plunge at Island Park, thinks that would be a good fit.

Having ” “375” hearty souls jumping into the Sakonnet River on January 1″ would be a bracing way to start the celebration, Mr. Hamilton said.

Town historian Jim Garman has agreed to help out by offering a historic talk each month through the year at the town library.

And there is talk of a barbecue, music and festivities at the Glen and Glen Manor House, perhaps meshing with efforts such as the annual 4-H Fair.

“We are fortunate to have some absolutely beautiful places to celebrate,” Mr. Smith said.

When Portsmouth turned 350, a highlight included a visit by the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, England who, by all accounts, had a fine time here. Committee members have discussed bringing the Lord Mayor back if he/she would like.

Schools should be part of the celebration, the committee says, a notion embraced by Superintent of Schools Lynn Krizic who has already talked with others in the schools about special events, speakers and essay contests.

Tom Roskelly has developed a logo for the year-long event, there is now a website, http://www.portsmouthri375.com/, and the first wave of Portsmouth 375 T-shirts will be out soon.

The steering committee meets next this Thursday,  Oct. 4, at 5 p.m. in the Portsmouth public library — anyone is welcome to attend.

Volunteers are needed to help plan and organize this and other events: e-mail to SC@portsmouthri375 or call 842-8853.

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