First documented in 1605 by Samuel De Champlain and named Smith’s Isles in 1614 by Capt. John Smith, the Isles of Shoals served as a fishing station before mainland New England was settled. Rich in history, the Town of Rye encompasses Odiorne Point at the mouth of the Piscataqua River which is recognized as the site of New Hampshire’s first permanent settlement in 1623.
In 1726, as the result of action by petitioners from Sandy Beach (as Rye was then known), the House of Representatives voted the designation of parish to the area naming it the Parish of Rye. Choice of the name Rye is credited to the Jenness family as at the time it was the only one of the founding families that had come from Rye, England; and Richard Jenness was seated as the first member of the general assembly from the Parish of Rye. Rye did not become the Town of Rye until 1785 when by action of the legislature it became a wholly separate and independent town.
During the 18th century, the area prospered by supplying large quantities of dried fish for the tables of Europe.
Bountiful fishing drew early settlers and small farms developed through the nineteenth century with a tradition of frugality and hardy self-sufficiency. During the Victorian era, Rye was known throughout the eastern United States as a first class summer resort. None of the numerous large wooden hotels and boarding houses of that period remain on the mainland and today the Town is primarily residential.
In 1874, Rye became the site of the first trans-Atlantic communications cable connecting the United States and Europe. The cable terminus and the building housing it, now a private home, were located at Jenness Beach near what is known as Cable Road.
In 1876, four of the Isles of Shoals were annexed to the town, the only New Hampshire town with Atlantic islands. The remaining five islands belong to Maine.
During World War II, a harbor defense system was built in Rye. In 1942, Fort Dearborn was built upon Odiorne Point, bringing numerous military structures to house personnel, armaments and supplies. Massive concrete casements, often called bunkers, were constructed and camouflaged with thick vegetation. An eighty foot observation tower was also constructed at Pulpit Rock. In the late 1950s, Fort Dearborn was declared surplus property and sold to the State of N.H., which created Odiorne State Park.
The town is named for the borough of Rye, a flourishing English Channel town. Home to more than half of New Hampshire's Atlantic coastline, Rye's eight-mile coastline is dotted with old names such as Wallis Sands, Jenness Beach, Locke's Neck, Ragged Neck, Rye Harbor, and Odiorne Point. As of the census of 2010, there were 5,298 residents. The town has a total area of 35.5 sq. mi. 12.6 sq. mi. of it is land and 22.9 sq. mi. of it is water, comprising 64.45% of the town. The highest point in Rye is Breakfast Hill (151 feet above sea level).