In 1833 a group of prominent Portsmouth merchants organized The Marine Railway Company and installed a set of tracks from the water to the brick machine house still standing near this site. When coupled with two horses, the machinery would, as the owners proclaimed, "draw vessels of 500 tons and upwards, entirely out of the water, placing them in a situation where any part of their hulls can be inspected or repaired with great dispatch." The Portsmouth Marine Railway Company continued to operate until the mid- 1850's. Thereafter the wealthy merchant Leonard Cotton bought it and ran it as a private venture. The railway ceased operations somewhere around 1875, though the tracks remained in place well into the 1980s.
Three Masted Schooner on the Gloucester Marine Railway This image, from the 1800's while not of the Portsmouth Marine Railway, is typical of marine railways of the time. It frequently was necessary to repair the damaged hull of a ship, to clean it of barnacles, or to recopper it.
Headhouse on the Marine RailwayThis structure housed the machinery associated with the Marine Company operations. In subsequent years it has served as a private dwelling, a fish store, and a theatre company.
Walling's 1850 Map In the 1800's Portsmouth was lined with commercial wharves. This map from
the 1850's shows at least 37, most of which were named for their owners. The largest, not far from the marine railway, was nearly 400 feet long.
A "Careened" Ship Before the invention of the marine railway, ships were "careened" (beached on their sides) in order to provide access to their hulls. This was done by attaching lines to their masts and rolling the vessels onto one side as that the opposite side was accessible for work at low tide.
Ships along the Portsmouth Waterfront A forest of ship's masts circled the Portsmouth waterfront through most of the 1800s.
Funding for this historic marker was provided by the City of Portsmouth, 2015. www.cityofportsmouth.com