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Home » TRAVEL AND LODGING in NH » NEW HAMPSHIRE (all topics) » The Sunken Forest of Rye
A Historic Photo of the Sunken Forest
The Sunken Forest of Rye

By Michael F. Bisceglia, Jr. | August 24, 2012

There’s a great cedar forest in Rye, New Hampshire, at least there was one. At extremely low tides, stumps of this once great forest can be found just northeast of Jenness Beach.

It has to be an extremely low ebb tide, since the last times they were exposed in recent history were in 1940, 1958, 1962, and 1978.

A Visible Tree Stump at Jenness Beach

This might have been a truly mighty forest.   The stumps of these trees measure between eight and ten feet in circumference.   When they were last visible, the rings on the fifty-six found stumps were counted.   The trees were all over one hundred years old.   Further, the stumps have been carbon dated, which indicates the trees were alive some 3,600 years ago (give or take two hundred years).   In all probability, the stumps were submerged when the early settlers arrived here.   No mention of them is recorded from the Colonial era.

There is speculation as to how large the forest may have been.   Current thinking is that the Atlantic rose after the last ice age, and the New England of that era was very different from what we know today.   It is highly possible that the current New Hampshire coastline was actually some miles inland from the ocean at that time.   Best estimates are that the shoreline might have been about 75 miles east of where it is at present.   If true, it may have been possible for early hunters to walk from southern Cape Cod to Nantucket Island without putting their feet in the Atlantic Ocean.   One clue that points in that direction is that the stumps of the cedars and pines currently underwater do not thrive if their roots are in salt water.

The Sign Indicates the Location of the Sunken Forest

A similar “sunken forest,” or possibly part of the same forest, is located just south of Odiorne’s Point.   It has not sunken as low as the Rye forest and is visible at many low tides.   At present, there is no indication how far these forests may extend to the east.   A vast forest may have existed as fishermen have hauled up the teeth of mastodons dozens of miles from shore.

Interestingly enough, the last few yards of the Transatlantic Cable may have been laid directly through the sunken forest.   The Amabassadore brought the cable from the Faraday and up on the beach on July 15, 1874.   There is no indication that any damage was done, since messages were sent to Europe using the cable almost immediately.

There is a small green sign on the side of the road in Rye which marks the location of both the sunken forest and the Old Cable House.

These treasures are representative of the wonders of the history of New England and of southern New Hampshire in particular.

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