Friday, September 16, 2011

Rockingham House

The unmistakable Rockingham House is located at 401 State Street, on the north side between Middle Street and Fleet Street.

Woodbury Langdon, the older brother of Governor John Langdon, built a mansion at this location in the mid-1700s. Called the Langdon House, the building burned to the ground in 1781 when sparks from a barn fire on Chestnut Street, where the Music Hall is located today, ignited his home.

Judge Landgon, a wealthy Portsmouth merchant, held many public offices, including Judge of the Supreme Court. During the Revolution, he served a year on the Continental Congress. Perhaps to confirm his importance, he built a grand mansion on this site in 1785 that he called Rockingham House. The building stood for over a century, and the Honorable Woodbury Langdon lived here until his death in 1805.

In 1833, Thomas Coburn converted the mansion to a hotel and opened it to the public as the Rockingham House. In 1870, a wealthy Portsmouth industrialist and politician, Frank Jones, bought the Rockingham House, enlarged it, and reopened it as the Rockingham Hotel.

When a fire swept through the building in 1884, all that remained of Woodbury Langdon’s original mansion was his dining room that had served as the hotel’s banquet hall.

1938 Advertisement

Frank Jones extensively remodeled and rebuilt the hotel around the original dining room. When it reopened on February 3, 1886, The Rockingham Hotel accommodated 200 guests and became arguably the most elegant lodging north of New York City.

His improvements included “modern” conveniences such as steam heat, electric lights and fire alarms, a passenger elevator, bath rooms, and electric call-bells to summon room service.

The building remained open to the public as the Rockingham Hotel from 1886 until the early 1970s. Visitors have included seven American presidents: George Washington, James K. Polk, Franklin Pierce, Chester A. Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and John F. Kennedy.

A development company restored The Rockingham as condominiums and reopened it in 1975 with The Library Restaurant occupying Judge Langdon’s original dining room.

The lions guarding the doors were personal symbols of Frank Jones. The bust in the left pediment is Woodbury Langdon, and the one in the right pediment is Frank Jones. Terra cotta sculptures between the third and fourth floors include depictions of the Four Seasons of Man.

Not surprisingly, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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