PORTSMOUTH — Portsmouth plunged into its 375th anniversary year on Jan. 1 when the largest turnout ever of Island Park “seals” jumped into sub-40-degree waters off Park Avenue.
It’s only fitting that another group of brave souls will end the gala year the same way, with a noon jump at Island Park Beach on Tuesday, Dec. 31.
The event will cap off a banner anniversary year for Portsmouth, which celebrated the 375th anniversary of the town’s founding in 1638. Volunteers from the Portsmouth 375th Steering Committee and its various subcommittees organized many well-attended events throughout the year, including a town-wide parade, historical lectures, tours, concerts, family picnics and more.
In May, the volunteers helped arrange for the Portsmouth Compact — the 1638 document signed by religious dissenters that marked the town’s founding — to be brought to Town Hall for a one-day visit. It was believed to have been the document’s first appearance here in 374 years. Over the Labor Day weekend, mayors from three other Portsmouths (England, Virginia and New Hampshire) visited town.
Money raised from the events will be used to set up a section devoted to local history — called the Historical Preservation Project — at the Portsmouth Free Public Library.
The plunge is no exception. Each $100 in pledges that were submitted by Dec. 15 earns participants a special “375 Dive” sweatshirt. (Pledge forms and money received after that date will require sweatshirts to be ordered for later pickup.)
All participants also receive a 375th flying disc. Whomever raises the most pledges wins dinner for four at 15 Point Road Restaurant.
The noon plunge on Dec. 31 will be held at the beach across the street from Flo’s Clam Shack on Park Avenue. Like the plunge on Jan. 1, the Dec. 31 jump will feature a big, roaring bonfire to keep participants toasty.
Bob Hamilton, a member of the 375th Steering Committee, is always one of the first ones in.
“This has to be the eighth year or so,” he said, noting that the tradition began with a “bunch of guys” from the Beach House, further north at 505 Park Ave.
An after-dive party for participants will be held from 12:30-2 p.m. at the Beach House, with food and beverages donated by local businesses.
The post-dive celebration will also feature a symbolic passing-of-the-torch to the City of Newport, which is celebrating its own 375th anniversary in 2014.
“We’re going to present Newport with a copy of the 1638 Compact and it’s framed,” said Bob Hamilton, one of the 375th volunteers. “Everybody on the (375th) Steering Committee signed it.”
Although the final formal meeting by the 375th Committee was held Dec. 17, there’s more work to be done. A new committee will be formed to ensure that all the artifacts collected from the year’s celebration will be preserved, and that the Historical Preservation Project is properly managed.