Thursday, December 29, 2011

Daniel Webster House

The Daniel Webster House is located at the northeast corner of Washington and Hancock Streets, at Strawbery Banke. Its original location was on the corner of High Street and Webster Court, south of the Jabez Fitch House.

This house was built around 1784 by an unknown (by me) builder. It is named after Daniel Webster, the famous orator, who first came to Portsmouth in 1807 and stayed for ten years. In 1817, he moved to Boston.

Daniel Webster, lived in this home from 1814 until 1817. He moved here after his previous home, located on the northwest corner of Pleasant and Court Streets (across Pleasant Street from the Treadwell Jenness House), burned in the Great Portsmouth Fire of 1813.

This was the last Portsmouth residence of Daniel Webster, who served on the Board of Trustees of the Portsmouth Academy from 1810 to 1816.

The Daniel Webster House was moved to Strawbery Banke Museum when urban renewal decimated the North End during the 1960s. The building is not currently open to the public.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Haven Block

The Haven Block is in Market Square, on the northwest corner of Market Square and Market Street – the building directly east of the Portsmouth Athenaeum.

John Melcher’s wooden house, located on this corner in 1802, burned to the ground in the Great Parade Fire, the first of the three Great Portsmouth Fires. The Haven family purchased the ashes soon after and erected this brick building.

Reverend Samuel Haven served as pastor of the South Parish for 54 years (1752 -1806). His home occupied the space now known as Haven Park. After he died on March 3, 1806, his daughters left Portsmouth $25,000 to create the public park between Livermore Street and Edward Street, the location of the General Fitz-John Porter statue. Portsmouth established Haven Park in 1898.

Around the year 1900, the third floor was converted into Conservatory Hall by music director Gerald Bertrand Whitman, who used the space for a music school and social gathering place.

At the time the vintage photograph below was published in C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque, the building housed Frank W. Knight’s Footwear Store, Moorcroft’s Millinery Store, and Whitman's Conservatory Hall.

Today, the Haven Block has retail space, including Market Square Jewelers, on the first floor and (I believe) all apartments above.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Governor John Wentworth Mansion

The Governor John Wentworth Mansion, also known as the Mark Wentworth Home, is located at 346 Pleasant Street, opposite the intersection with Washington Street and just southeast of the Pleasant Street Cemetery.

The Wentworth name is synonymous with Colonial Portsmouth. William Wentworth, the first Wentworth to live in Portsmouth, is mentioned in Nathaniel Adams’ Annals of Portsmouth as a resident in 1629. His son, John Wentworth (not the one who resided here), was the first Wentworth to hold office. He served as Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of New Hampshire from 1717 until his death in 1730.

Lt.-Governor John Wentworth’s son, Benning Wentworth, served as New Hampshire’s Royal Governor and Surveyor of the Woods in North America from 1741 to 1767. Britain released Governor Benning Wentworth in 1767 because he was sympathetic to the patriot cause in America. To replace him, they appointed his nephew and Lt.-Governor John Wentworth’s grandson, John Wentworth.

The Governor John Wentworth mansion was constructed around 1763 for Portsmouth merchant Henry Appleton. The following year, Appleton sold the mansion to Mark Hunking Wentworth for 4000 pounds.

Mark H. Wentworth purchased the home for his son, the newly-appointed Royal Governor John Wentworth. The property included a parcel of land diagonally across Pleasant Street where the new governor kept a stable and coach house with sixteen exceptional horses.

Governor John Wentworth was in office when the Superior Court of New Hampshire found Ruth Blay guilty of concealing the birth of her illegitimate child. He could have pardoned her but did not, and she died on the gallows on December 30, 1768.

The following year, Governor Wentworth married his cousin, Francis Atkinson, at Queen’s Chapel (now St. John’s Church) on November 11, 1769. On December 13 of the same year, he chartered Dartmouth College and established the school in Hanover.

In 1771, Governor Wentworth authorized the construction of the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse off New Castle Island. He also divided New Hampshire into five counties, which he named after his British friends: Rockingham, Strafford, Grafton, Hillsboro, and Cheshire.

At this time, he appointed Captain John Fenton to the positions of Clerk of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas and Judge of Probate for Grafton County. Fenton, a former captain in the British army, was a devoted Royalist who spoke heatedly against the American patriot movement. In 1775, patriot sympathizers chased him out of Grafton County.

He found temporary sanctuary at Governor John Wentworth’s mansion; however, when Portsmouth patriots found out, a mob formed in front of the governor’s house. They aimed a cannon at the front door and threatened to fire unless Captain Fenton surrendered to them. When Fenton did surrender, the  mob broke in and ransacked the house.

Governor Wentworth and his household escaped through the back garden to Fort William and Mary and later to England.

John Wentworth was the last Royal Governor of the Province of New Hampshire. He became a Baronet in England, and the British government appointed him Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia in 1792. He died at Halifax in 1820.


The Governor John Wentworth Mansion is now named the Mark Wentworth Home and functions as a senior living community that provides Assisted Living.

Many Wentworth mansions still exist in Portsmouth, but a few have been lost:
  • Benning Wentworth lived on Little Harbor, in the home now known as the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion.
  • His brother, Mark Hunking Wentworth, lived in Thomas Daniel’s mansion on Daniel Street, where the old High School and City Hall are located today.
  • Another brother, Hunking Wentworth, lived in a house beside the North Church, on the southwest corner of Congress and Church Streets, that has been demolished.
  • John Wentworth, the son of Mark Hunking Wentworth, lived in this mansion on Pleasant Street.
  • Thomas Wentworth, Governor John Wentworth’s brother, resided in the Wentworth-Gardner House on Mechanic Street.
  • A seventh-generation Wentworth, Mark Hunking Wentworth, lived from 1813-1902 and owned the Captain Thomas Thompson home on Pleasant Street, next door to the Governor John Langdon mansion.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Stoodley's Tavern

The historic Stoodley’s Tavern is on Hancock Street, directly opposite the entrance to Strawbery Banke Museum.

Stoodley’s Tavern originally stood on the north side of Daniel Street between Linden and Penhallow Streets. Linden Street no longer exists; it ran north-and-south on the west side of the old High School and City Hall, parallel to Chapel and Penhallow Streets. The tavern was located on the lot where the U. S. Post Office is located today.

Colonel James Stoodley fought as one of Rogers Rangers during the French and Indian War. At the same time, he owned his first tavern, the King’s Arms, starting around 1753. When a fire destroyed his original tavern on January 25, 1761, he immediately built this establishment known as Stoodley’s Tavern.

James and Elizabeth Stoodley lived here with their children, Elizabeth and William, as well as two slaves named Frank and Flora. The tavern and inn became a popular Portsmouth gathering place. The upper story, with its dormer windows, is a spacious arched hall that served as a Masonic Hall, ballroom, and function room. Slave owners held auctions here in 1762 and 1767. Before and during the Revolutionary War, American patriots congregated at Stoodley’s Tavern. It became the most popular stopping place for stagecoach passengers traveling between Boston and Maine.

After Colonel Stoodley died in 1779, his widow remarried and boarded lodgers in the house.

Colonel Stoodley’s daughter, Elizabeth, married Elijah Hall, and they inherited Stoodley’s Tavern around 1786. Hall was a shipwright who served as one of John Paul Jones' lieutenants on the Ranger and was aboard when the Ranger captured the Drake in 1778. Later, he was the State Councilor and Naval Officer for the Portsmouth district.

The North Parish sold thirty-eight acres of church land during an auction at Stoodley’s Tavern on October 27, 1791. Some of the proceeds were used to build the Old Parsonage on Pleasant Street.

After Elijah Hall died on June 22, 1830, the old tavern became a boardinghouse. During the early 20th Century, owners converted the first floor for commercial use, and it became a restaurant and later an appliance store with apartments above.

Portsmouth intended to demolish Stoodley’s Tavern during the 1960s and replace it with a new U. S. Post Office. Strawbery Banke Museum rescued the historic building in 1966 by moving it from Daniel Street to Hancock Street, where it still stands today.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pleasant Street Cemetery

The Pleasant Street Cemetery is on the west side of Pleasant Street, across from the intersection of Washington and Pleasant Streets.

During Portsmouth's early days, Captain John Pickering owned all of the land that now comprises the South End, from Puddle Dock (south side of Prescott Park)  to the South Mill Bridge. Locals referred to his land as Pickering’s Neck.

The Pickering family donated land to Portsmouth for the creation of the Point of Graves Burial Ground, where the senior John Pickering was buried, in 1671; for Pleasant Street in 1673; and for the Old South Church, later replaced by the South Meeting House, in 1731.

In 1754, they gave this plot of land, on the west side of Pleasant Street, to the town of Portsmouth to be used as a burial ground. The Pleasant Street Cemetery contains the remains of some of the wealthiest merchant and seafaring families who thrived between 1770 and 1860. The oldest existing stone in the cemetery dates from 1763.

A prominent landmark is the tomb of the John Wendell family on the west side of the burial ground that dates from 1818. An interesting fact about the cemetery is that the wives of three privateer captains are buried here, but their husbands were presumably buried at sea or somewhere overseas.

The majority of stones comprise four families: Manning, Coues, Salter, and Wendell.

The most significant change between 1902, when the black-and-white photograph above was taken, and today is that a large cedar tree now prevents photography from the Pleasant Street sidewalk. For this reason, my picture is taken at a lower angle and from a vantage point at least five feet closer to the stones in the foreground. There is a noticeable seam through the middle of my photograph because the closer view forced me to build a composite picture from two photographs.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Samuel Larkin House

The Samuel Larkin House, sometimes referred to as the Henry Ladd or Ladd-Richter House, is located at 180 Middle Street, on the west side between State and Austin Streets.

The home of Colonel Joshua Wentworh occupied this space until the early 1800s. Colonel Wentworth, grandson of former Governor John Wentworth, led the first New Hampshire regiment in 1776, became a U. S. Congressman, and served as Supervisor of New Hampshire starting in 1791. One of his daughters, Ann Jaffrey Wentworth, married Samuel Larkin in 1796.

The Larkins purchased the lot, and a local joiner built this brick mansion for them, sometime between the years 1808 and 1815. Like the Academy Building on the corner of Middle and Islington Streets, the Samuel Larkin Building design has been incorrectly attributed to the famous Boston architect, Charles Bulfinch.

Major Larkin, as he was known, came to Portsmouth from Boston in the late 1700s and established a bookstore and stationers in the Parade (Market Square). After his shop burned to the ground in the Great Portsmouth Parade Fire of 1802, he became a successful auctioneer. He gained enormous wealth by selling captured British ships and their cargoes during the War of 1812. The fourteen privateers working out of Portsmouth are said to have captured 419 British ships.

Major Larkin was the Chief Fire Warden of Portsmouth from 1817 to 1825. He was also one of the seven-man delegation who welcomed the Marquis de Lafayette to the state in 1824, along with Gideon Beck, Eben Wentworth, Joshua W. Peirce, Samuel Lord, Ichabod Rollins, and W. H. Y. Hackett.

The Larkins lived in this brick mansion for about twelve years. During their marriage, they had twenty-two children, although many of them died before reaching adulthood. Samuel Larkin died in 1849 at the age of 75.

Joseph Hurd of Exeter later owned the property. His daughter, Hannah, married Henry H. Ladd, a son of Colonel Eliphalet Ladd, and they acquired the property from her father. A prosperous Portsmouth shipping merchant, Henry Ladd served as President of New Hampshire Bank and Portsmouth Savings Bank.

At the turn of the 20th Century, when the picture below appeared in C. S. Gurney's book, Portsmouth . . . Historic & Picturesque, the home was owned by a Dr. Richter.

I have been walking by this house for months, waiting impatiently for the large tree out front to lose its foliage. I am happy to finally add the Samuel Larkin House to the Walk Portsmouth collection!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Daniel Fernald House

The Captain Daniel Fernald House is number 46 Manning Street, behind the South Meeting House on the southwest corner of Howard and Manning Streets.

Like many homes in Portsmouth, the origins of the Fernald House are questionable. Sarah Haven Foster's 1876 Portsmouth Guidebook and C. S. Gurney's 1902 Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque claim that Samuel Frost built the home in 1732. According to modern researcher Richard M. Candee in his 2006 edition of Building Portsmouth, an unknown builder constructed the original house, and Joshua Lebby moved it to this lot sometime between 1733 and 1739. The old home has been enlarged and modified over the years, including the addition of the gambrel roof. 

Captain Samuel Nichols, a merchant seaman, lived here during the Revolutionary War. The house is named after Captain Daniel Fernald, who married a daughter of Captain Nichols and moved into this home in 1788.

Captain Fernald sailed in merchant ships at the time of the American Revolution. During the War of 1812, he captained the schooner Sally and played cat-and-mouse with British warships as he moved merchandise and armaments along the Atlantic coast between Down East Maine and Boston.

Captain Fernald lived here until he died, an old and respected man, in 1866.

According to a biographical sketch of Charles W. Brewster written by William H. Y. Hackett for the second Rambles About Portsmouth, Captain Fernald was a living historical resource whom Brewster consulted for both of his Rambles About Portsmouth books.

A man named John Lewis Lord lived in this home after Daniel Fernald’s death.

After Portsmouth Preservation, Inc. bought the Fernald House in the late 1960s, George and Erica Dodge restored the home.

I like the two whimsical squirrels with acorns topping fence posts that greet visitors!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Old Custom House and Post Office

The old Custom House and Post Office is located on the southeast corner of Daniel and Penhallow Streets.

This building was erected a few years after the Great Portsmouth Fire of 1813 ravaged the North End. The builders were private citizens who sold the building to the United States government before construction was completed.

It served as Portsmouth’s Custom House and Post Office from about 1817 to 1858. Both operations then moved to a new Custom House and Post Office, the large granite Federal Building on the northwest corner of Pleasant and State Streets.

The Portsmouth Athenaeum, established in 1818, originally occupied a small room in this building. The library moved to Market Square when the Marine and Fire Insurance Company building became available in 1823.

The Federal government rented the building from 1860 to 1867 and then sold it to a private buyer.

The picture below appeared in C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. At that time, a corner shop by Charles N. Holmes and Lyman A. Holmes advertised their services as saw filers, specialists who sharpened and repaired saws. A painter named George H. Tripp occupied the shop around the corner on Penhallow Street.

Today there are two stores that occupy the building, Scallops Mineral and Shell Emporium and Paradiza Boutique.

Don't you think Daniel Street would be much more picturesque if  Portsmouth buried these ugly power and telephone lines?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fowle’s Printing Office

Fowle’s Printing Office was once located at the southeast corner of Washington, Howard, and Pleasant Streets.

Daniel Fowle became an apprentice to a Boston printer and went into business for himself in 1740. His publications during the next ten years, in partnership with another printer, included the American Magazine and a newspaper called the Independent Advertizer. In 1754, the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives had him arrested under suspicion of having published an inflammatory pamphlet, “The Monster of Monsters, by Tom Thumb, Esq.” The House unlawfully imprisoned him in the city jail for two or three days.

The persecution caused Daniel Fowle to leave Massachusetts and relocate to Portsmouth in July 1756. He moved into a wooden building on this corner and published the first edition of a newspaper called The New Hampshire Gazette on October 7, 1756.

His printing press was the first one in New Hampshire, and printers continued using the device until 1890. Daniel Fowle continued publishing until his death in 1787.

The New Hampshire Gazette is the oldest newspaper in the United States and continues to be published to this day, although not at this location.

The current editor is Steve Fowle, third cousin - five times removed - of Daniel Fowle.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sewall House

The Sewall House is located on the south side of Gates Street, near the corner of Gates and Washington Streets.

The house is named after Jonathan Mitchell Sewall, a lawyer, poet, and orator who lived here until his death in 1808. During the American Revolution, he wrote popular patriotic songs. “War and Washington” was a favorite in the American military camps during the conflict:

After the war, Sewall delivered the first Fourth of July speech in Portsmouth, on July 4, 1788.

George Washington, the first President of the United States and beloved friend of Portsmouth, died on December 14, 1799. On the 31st, a somber procession of military units, fraternal organizations, clergymen, and citizens marched through the center of town. All of the ships in the harbor lowered their flags to half-mast. After a service by Reverend Willard at St. John’s Church, Jonathan Sewall delivered a eulogy for the fallen hero.

In 1801, William Treadwell & Company of Portsmouth published Miscellaneous Poems, a collection of verses by Jonathan M. Sewell. He is also known for writing epitaphs to honor prominent citizens of Portsmouth upon their deaths.

Gates Street is a beautiful place for a quiet walk! The area became rundown and neglected during the late 1800s but has been restored beautifully. Most of the buildings are originals built more than two centuries ago.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Point of Graves

The Point of Graves burial ground is on the south side of Mechanic Street, opposite Prescott Park, between Marcy Street and the Pierce Island Bridge.

Elizabeth Pike - Died 1719

John Pickering owned the South End of Portsmouth during the mid-1600s. His lands extended along the shoreline roughly from Mechanic Street to the South Mill Pond. Locals called the area “Pickering’s Neck”. 
Captain Tobias Lear IV - Died 1781

When John Pickering died in 1669, his oldest son, Captain John Pickering II, buried him in this plot of land near the Piscataqua River.

Two years later, he donated the burial ground to the town, with the stipulation that he and his heirs could continue to use the land to feed their cattle.

Sarah Macphaedris - died 1719

During Portsmouth’s bustling shipyard days, warehouses and wharves surrounded Point of Graves. Later, the shoreline here became a seedy, rundown slum filled with brothels, tenements, and bars. The graveyard fell into disrepair.

Joseph Small - Died 1720

In his book, An Old Town by the Sea, published in 1909, Thomas Bailey Aldrich describes the Point of Graves as “an odd-shaped lot, comprising about half an acre, enclosed by a crumbling red brick wall two or three feet high, with wood capping. The place is overgrown with thistles, rank grass, and fungi; the black slate headstones have mostly fallen over; those that make a pretense of standing slant to every point of the compass . . ."

That is exactly how Point of Graves looked in the 1902 picture below, untidy and unkempt, with warehouses and shops in the background:

Finding the correct angle to match the photograph from C. S. Gurney's book was a challenge. I determined that the photographer took the picture from the east side of the cemetery with his camera pointing west, towards Marcy Street. I took my 2011 photograph from approximately the same location.

These days the Point of Graves burial ground is well-maintained by the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Cemetery Committee of Portsmouth. Visitors enter through a turnstile that was installed to keep cattle out. Signs highlight some of the more interesting gravestones in this old plot of land.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tibbetts House

The Tibbetts House is located at 212 Pleasant Street, on the southeast corner of Pleasant Street and Junkins Avenue.

I could not find very much history about this house. Records show that Thomas Jackson sold it to Dr. Daniel Peirce in 1774.

The house is named after Captain Richard Salter Tibbetts, who purchased the home in 1799. He and his wife, Sarah Frost Tibbetts, had 10 children born between 1790 and 1808.

A merchant sea captain, Tibbetts died in Jacmel Bay, Haiti, West Indies in October 1821. His wife continued to live in this house until 1852.

The Tibbetts House later became part of the Jacob Wendell estate next door.

Today, the house looks remarkably similar to the old photograph in C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. The building now has two dormer windows, probably added by the Jacob Wendell estate to make the two houses conform.