Scenic Hero: Martha Fuller Clark

A Legacy of Scenic Service

Martha Fuller Clark, source: WMUR

When New Hampshire state senator Martha Fuller Clark retired in 2020, she left behind a 30-year record of service as one of the state’s most ardent advocates for historic preservation and scenic conservation. While no longer serving in public office, her commitment to these causes continues today. For her accomplishments as a lawmaker and preservationist, among many other roles, Martha is truly a Scenic Hero. 

Martha joined Scenic America’s board of directors in 2000, served as its chair from 2004 to 2006, and currently sits on its executive committee. Through this involvement with Scenic America, Martha carries on the legacy of her mother, Marion Fuller Brown, who co-founded the organization in 1982 after famously leading the charge to ban billboards in Maine. Unlike her mother, who became involved in the scenic movement due to her interest in environmental concerns, Martha found her own inspiration in art, history, and preservation. 

“I came about it not from an environmental point of view but as a preservationist,” she explains. “I have always felt that we need to preserve the character of urban and rural communities and that we need to protect the scenic areas of our towns and cities.”

Martha discovered an appreciation for scenic cities, communities of character, and historic places early in life. Born in York, Maine, she grew up on her family’s farm before going away to boarding school. Eager to see more of the world, she studied art history at Mills College in California and spent her junior year in Paris. Upon graduating, Martha moved to New York to work first as an educator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and later as a photo researcher and editor for Time Life Books.

She left New York for Boston, where she taught at a private school while pursuing a master’s degree in art history. While there, she met her husband, Geoffrey Clark, a gastroenterologist. In 1973, they moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire– a mere nine miles from her childhood home– where Geoffrey established a medical practice and where their three children, Nathan, Caleb, and Anna, were born. 

Martha immediately fell in love with Portsmouth’s rich history and distinctive architecture. 

“It was a remarkable city that deserved to be preserved,” she notes. Inspired by her surroundings, she pursued a master’s degree in American art and architecture from Boston University and taught related courses at the University of New Hampshire. 

From there, she recalls, “I just got involved.” 

As part of this involvement, Martha helped create Portsmouth’s historic district commission in 1976 and served on the same commission from 1977 to 1980. Building on that experience, she collaborated with colleagues to establish the Portsmouth Advocates, a group focused on preserving the city’s architectural character through outreach, including an awards program that recognizes buildings that have been appropriately renovated or restored.

While motivated by different forces, Martha shared her mother’s distaste for visual blight and its impact on the roadways and landscapes. She became a member of the Piscataqua Garden Club and served as the chair of its conservation committee. Martha also took on the billboard issue, albeit from a different lens, considering the impact of signage in communities, where the visual blight ran counter to her preservationist sensibilities.   

“We came at it from a different door but ending up in the same place,” she explained. “We both believed that it was really important to minimize the pollution of our visual externals. I felt it was important to deal with billboards everywhere, not just the ones out in the countryside. We see a lot of billboards in cities in low-income areas, further devaluing the character and economic value of these places.”

As Martha became more engaged in community affairs, she became inspired to again follow in her mother’s footsteps by running for office. In 1990, Martha was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives, a post she held for the next twelve years. She won a seat in the New Hampshire State Senate in 2002, which she held onto until 2010. After losing her re-election bid in 2010, she won in a different district in 2012 and kept her seat until she decided to retire in 2020. 

Martha’s legacy as a lawmaker is a strong reflection of her interests and priorities. As a member of the House, she advocated for a scenic byways program in New Hampshire. She also prompted the creation of the Land and Community Heritage Program in 2000, which awards grants to protect both historic properties and land, an accomplishment of which she is particularly proud.

In her retirement, Martha now keeps a close watch on scenic issues in Portsmouth. “Portsmouth has become a desirable place to live, and now we see more of the rectangular box developments on the edge of its downtown. We’ve been able to prevent that type of building from eroding our downtown and its character.”

She also continues to be an active force on Scenic America’s Board of Directors and its Executive Committee. Throughout her long involvement, she has played a significant part in major moments for the organization, including the drafting of Taking the Long View, its signature issues white paper. 

“It was a very significant and important step forward for Scenic America, actually put together by the Board. It helped us to expand the objectives and goals of Scenic America into five key areas,” she remarked.  

In considering Scenic America’s future growth, Martha points to opportunities to connect with a new network of supporters who are motivated by health and human services-related issues. In order to do so, she suggests, we need to remind people about the impact of scenic beauty on their sense of well-being as well as their financial health. 

“We need to be able to make the case that people flourish when they live in pleasing environments. Beauty strengthens the economic values of communities. Communities that have done well in managing their land and built resources are the places where people want to live.”