Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cutter House

The Cutter House was located on the southeast corner of Congress and Middle Streets.

Charles Treadwell, a wealthy merchant and respected Portsmouth house builder, constructed the home for his son around 1750. Later the house became known as the Cutter House after Dr. Ammi Cutter purchased it. Dr. Cutter served as a surgeon during the French and Indian War and was head of the medical department of the Northern Army during the American Revolution.

Dr. Cutter gave the home to his daughter, who married Colonel Clement Storer. Colonel Storer served during the War of 1812 and later became a United States Congressman. He entertained President James Monroe and General Henry Dearborn here in 1817.

The Cutter House still stood on this spot in 1902 when the photograph above appeared in C. S. Gurney's Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. This location today holds a less elegant building but an excellent seafood restaurant, Jumpin' Jay's Fish CafĂ©.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Academy Building

The Academy building is located at 10 Middle Street, on the southwest corner of Islington and Middle Streets.

A private school called the Portsmouth Academy constructed the building in 1809. For more than 150 years, locals believed that renowned architect Charles Bullfinch designed the Academy. The truth is that a local house carpenter named James Nutter created the design.

The building served as Portsmouth Academy until 1868 and then became a public school. I will always remember it as the old Portsmouth Public Library, which occupied the Academy building for more than 100 years: 1896-2006.

When the library moved to a new facility on Parrott Avenue in 2006, the Portsmouth Historical Society renovated the interior and opened Discover Portsmouth for the 2008 summer tourist season. The building also houses the Seacoast African American Cultural Center (SAACC).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Jacob Wendell House

 Located at 214 Pleasant Street, the Jacob Wendell House is on the northwest corner of Pleasant and Edward Streets.

Jeremiah Hill built the home in 1789. It is named for Jacob Wendell, a wealthy Portsmouth merchant, who purchased the house in 1816. Wendell elegantly furnished his new home with Chippendale furniture and Flemish glassware.

The house is an excellent example of American colonial architecture after the end of the Revolutionary War.

The black-and-white illustration above appeared in E. D. Litchfield's 1921 book, An Architectural Monograph on Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Ninety years later, I snapped a nearly identical picture! I will return this fall when the leaves of the large maple tree obscuring the house have fallen and the sawhorse to the left is gone (the city closed Edward Street during 4th of July fireworks).

A wooden carving of a whale oil lamp perched on a base is built into the pediment over the front door. The same whale oil lamp is repeated in the pediments of the second floor dormer windows.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wentworth-Gardner House

The Wentworth-Gardner House is located at 50 Mechanic Street, on the southwest corner where Gardner Street meets Mechanic Street.

The Wentworths were one of the wealthiest and most influential families in New Hampshire before the American Revolution. Thomas Wentworth, whose uncle and brother both served as Royal Governors of the province, received this house as a wedding gift from his parents in 1760. Thomas and his wife had five children over the next few years; however, he died in this house only eight years after it was built.

William Gardner purchased the house in 1793. A major during the Revolutionary War, he served as General Washington's Commissary, procuring supplies for the revolutionary army. When the new government lacked funds, he used his own money to purchase goods and ended the war nearly penniless. 

To repay him for his sacrifice, President Washington named Major Gardner a United States Loan Commissioner. William Gardner lived in this mansion until his death in 1833, and his widow owned the home until 1854.

During the 1860s, this area of Portsmouth became a seedy neighborhood filled with pubs and brothels. Owners converted the Wentworth-Gardner House and the nearby Tobias Lear House into tenant apartments. They continued boarding guests until author and photographer Wallace Nutting purchased the Wentworth-Gardner in 1915. He restored the Wentworth-Gardner to its 18th-Century elegance.

Wallace Nutting sold the mansion to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1918. The new owners intended to move the building to New York City, but the plan failed with the stock market crash in 1929.

Not surprisingly, the house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.

The South End is a great place to walk in Portsmouth, especially the area around Pleasant Street, Gates Street, Marcy Street, and Mechanic Street. Shady sidewalks along quiet roads, dozens of historic homes, and very friendly residents make any ramble worthwhile. If you go, please respect the property and privacy of the nonpublic homes.

Monday, July 11, 2011

John Paul Jones House

The mansion known as the John Paul Jones House is located at 43 Middle Street, on the northeast corner of Middle and State Streets. This house is sometimes referred to as the Samuel Lord House.

Captain Gregory Purcell, a Portsmouth merchant and mariner, built the home in 1758. After he died, his widow boarded guests in the large house. 

John Paul Jones rented a room during 1781 and 1782 while supervising construction of the 24-gun warship, USS America. When completed, the America was immediately given to France to compensate them for the accidental loss of their warship Magnifique after it ran aground in Boston Harbor, puportedly due to an error by the harbor master.

The vintage black & white picture is from the 1921 book, An Architectural Monograph on Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The shutters have been removed, but otherwise the house has barely changed.

Incidentally, the brick building in the background on the left is the same in both pictures. Formerly the North Church Parish, built in 1876, it is now home to the Salvation Army in Portsmouth.

Friday, July 8, 2011

C. W. Brewster House

The Brewster House is located at 198 Islington Street, on the south side almost opposite the intersection with Brewster Street.

An unknown builder constructed the home in 1817. Charles W. Brewster was its most famous owner. A descendant of William Brewster, the pilgrim who arrived in this country on the Mayflower, Charles Brewster edited the Portsmouth Journal from 1825 until his death in 1868. Like me, he enjoyed walking the streets of Portsmouth learning of its history. He published two books that describe his Rambles About Portsmouth.

A developer has extensively remodeled the building as part of a condominium project called Islington Place.

There are hidden gems on and near Islington Street, including Buckminster House, The Pearl, and Goodwin Park. This is not, however, one of the best places to walk in Portsmouth. The streets are lined with commercial buildings and developments and there are many active parking lots. Crossing busy Islington Street can be dangerous because there are few crosswalks and many delivery trucks, parked cars, and turning vehicles.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Buckminster House

Located at 7 Islington Street, Buckminster House is on the northwest corner of Islington and Bridge Streets, almost directly across from The Academy (Discover Portsmouth).

A more accurate name for this mansion would be the Warner-Buckminster House because Daniel Warner built the home in 1720 soon after he moved to Portsmouth. At the time, Daniel's wealthy son, Jonathon, lived in the Warner House on Daniel Street.

Eliphalet Ladd, an important businessman in early Portsmouth history, purchased the house in 1792. Ladd Street in Portsmouth is named after him. Eliphalet lived in the mansion until his death in 1806.

Six years after her husband died, Ladd's widow married Reverend Joseph Buckminster, who moved here from the Old Parsonage on Pleasant Street. This mansion has been popularly known as the Buckminster House ever since, although the reverend only lived here for two years. A respected theologian, Reverend Buckminster served the North Church for thirty-three years, starting in 1779.  President George Washington attended his worship services in the North Church of Portsmouth on November 1, 1789. Rev. Buckminster died on June 10, 1812 while visiting Readsborough (now Readsboro), Vermont.

The house looks remarkably similar to the way it did in the vintage photograph above, taken in 1921 for An Architectural Monograph on Portsmouth, New Hampshire: An Early American Metropolis.

From the 1930s – 1950s, a funeral parlor called Buckminster Chapel (J. Verne Wood Funeral Home) occupied the building before moving to Broad Street. Over the years, the house has also been used as a boarding house and bookstore.