1900s postcard of the falls at Lawton’s Valley

Lawton’s Valley was once a prominent picnic spot in Portsmouth.  We have newspaper clippings of church groups going there around 1900 and there is a lovely postcard of the fall at Lawton’s Valley.  I still make the corn chowder recipe that my dad learned when cooking over a Boy Scout campfire in Lawton’s Valley.  The coming of the reservoir in the Valley has changed the geography of the area, but its history is still part of Portsmouth’s great past.

Captain George Lawton (Layton), one of the signers of the Portsmouth Compact in 1638 and 1648 is probably the source of the name Lawton’s Valley.  Early records show him as owner of the property by the “Wading River” – now called Lawton’s Brook.  He built a mill on his property which was located on either side of what we call West Main Road.  The valley was the site of two mills.  One mill was for “carding and fulling” – a way to wash and prepare wool for use.  Another mill was for the manufacture of “Negro cloth.”  There were grist mills for grinding corn in the area as well.

Julia Ward Howe by a Lawton Valley Mill

Julia Ward Howe first came to Lawton’s Valley around 1850.  Her first home was right by the ravine on the west side of West Main Road.  After her husband sold that beloved property, Julia and her husband bought another home in the Lawton’s Valley area – Oak Glen on Union Street.

1850 map showing Lawton’s Valley

Lawton’s Valley had been a favorite spot for picnics, gatherings and camping.  When the Norman family (associated with the Newport Water Works) owned the property there were restrictions.  Barbara Norman Cook (known as Kittymouse) bought some of the property (perhaps the original 40 acres that George Lawton had) and opened it up to the public.

During World War II the Navy created a reservoir and pumping station to support the war effort.  Looking at maps from 1907 and today, it seems clear that some of the land on the east side of West Main Road was flooded for the reservoir.  This is now property of the City of Newport for a water supply for area residents.

It is difficult to get down into Lawton’s Valley today, so the days of church picnics and Boy Scout outings may be over.  The whole “Lawton Valley” area  still remains rich in Portsmouth history.