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.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

Merchant's Row

Merchant's Row is located on the northeast corner of Bow and Market Streets, between Market and Ceres Streets.

Portsmouth began building ships and trading internationally from its earliest days, and by the mid-1700s, the town was a bustling seaport. The shores of the Piscataqua River were lined with wharves and warehouses, while mercantile shops sold the imported goods.

In 1802, tragedy struck: The Great Parade Fire destroyed 120 structures in the heart of the mercantile area. The blaze started in a wooden boardinghouse on the Parade (Market Square). It quickly spread down Market Street and destroyed every building on both sides of the street to the Moffatt-Ladd House, including the wooden buildings of Merchant's Row. 

Portsmouth erected the brick warehouses that still stand on Merchant's Row only months after the fire. When built in 1803, these warehouses were the tallest buildings in the United States. Ceres Street did not exist at that time, and merchant ships sailed right up to the warehouses to be unloaded.

The old photograph below from C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque, shows the southwestern end of Merchant's Row. At that time, the W. E. Paul Plumbing store occupied the space. In the Portsmouth Directory of 1905, the shop advertised in the following categories:
  • Gas Fillers and Fixtures
  • Plumbers
  • Refrigerators,
  • Steam and Gas Fillers
  • Stoves, Furnaces, Ranges, Etc.
  • Tin and Sheet Iron Worker

Today the store that was once W. E. Paul Plumbing is home to Bliss, a women's fashion boutique, and Macro Polo, a one-of-a-kind shop featuring "toys, novelties, games, and more." The two stores are located at 85 and 89 Market Street.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Y. M. C. A. Building

The old Portsmouth Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) building is located at 141 Congress Street, on the north side near the corner of Congress Street and Maplewood Avenue.

Previously at this location stood the residence of William Henry Young Hackett, who lived here for more than fifty years.  W. H. Y. Hackett was a prominent lawyer, banker, and politician who arrived in Portsmouth at the age of 22 in 1822. He began employment at the law office of Ichabod Rollins and four years later was admitted to the New Hampshire Bar.

W. H. Y. Hackett accompanied his boss, Ichabod Rollins, to the Massachusets border in September 1824, as a member of a seven-man delegation who welcomed the Marquis de Lafayette to New Hampshire. Hero of the American Revolution and friend of George Washington, Lafayette was 67-years-old at the time. His visit to Portsmouth included a tour of the Portsmouth Navy Yard, a Great Banquet at Jefferson Hall, and a Grand Ball in Franklin Hall, where the Franklin Block stands today.

When the Piscataqua Bank was established in 1825, W. H. Y. Hackett was the bank’s solicitor. He served as a bank director for many years and bank president from 1844 - 1878. The New Hampshire Senate appointed him President in 1861, where he served as a State Senator until 1863.

In 1869, he edited and published the second volume of Rambles About Portsmouth at the request of  the family of Charles Brewster, who had died the previous year. The book included a biographical sketch of the famous Portsmouth journalist by W. H. Y. Hackett.

After his death in 1878, his home became the Portsmouth Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), as shown in the 1902 photograph below from C. S. Gurney's book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque.

The Young Men's Christian Association was first established in Portsmouth in 1852. They built a new facility, the current building shown in my 2011 photograph above, on the site of Hackett's mansion in 1905. The YMCA occupied this building until 1957, when the organization moved its operations to Camp Gundalow in Greenland.

The Portsmouth YMCA merged with the Portsmouth YWCA in 1980 and still operates today as the Seacoast Family YMCA. They are currently located at 550 Peverly Hill Road in Portsmouth.

The 1905 YMCA building on Congress Street has been occupied by the Sake Japanese Restaurant since around 1997. Restoration of the building is fair. The facade has lost much of its original character, as shown in this 1907 drawing from the North Church's pamphlet, An Historical Calendar of Portsmouth.

The building contains a hidden gem: If you walk around the corner to the Worth Lot off Maplewood Avenue, on the rear of the building you can see original cathedral windows with the triangular YMCA seal.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Old Parsonage

The Old Parsonage is located at 118 Pleasant Street, next to the Joseph Sherburne Ayers House on the southwest corner of Court and Pleasant Streets.

The story of the Old Parsonage starts in 1657, when the North Parish established its first meetinghouse at the southwest corner of South and Marcy Streets. Sixteen years later, Captain John Pickering donated a path through his lands to the growing Portsmouth community to serve as a public way for townspeople traveling to the meetinghouse. This pastoral shortcut became known as Pleasant Street.

Old North Meetinghouse
The North Parish built their centrally
located meetinghouse in the middle of Market Square from 1711-1714. This wooden church was officially called the North Meetinghouse but nicknamed the “Three-Decker Church” because it was three stories high.

When Reverend Dr. Joseph Buckminster became minister of the North Church in 1779, the North Parish did not own a parsonage. For thirteen years, Reverend Buckminster boarded with a deacon of the church, Samuel Penhallow, whose house once stood on the southeast corner of Pleasant and Court Streets.

To raise money for a parsonage, the North Parish sold thirty-eight acres of its donated Glebe land situated around the old powder house on Islington Street. The auction took place at Stoodley's Tavern on October 27, 1791.

The North Parish built the Old Parsonage in 1792.  Reverend Buckminster lived here for 18 years, until 1810, when he moved to the mansion on Islington Street now known as the Buckminster House.

During the Great Portsmouth Fire of 1813, Daniel Webster’s house, which stood on the northwest corner of Pleasant and Court Streets, burned to the ground. Fortunately, the Joseph Sherburne Ayers House across the street and the Old Parsonage next door survived and still stand today.

The house was used as the North Parish parsonage for about 40 years and then sold to Charles Robinson as a private residence.

The Old Parsonage has recently been beautifully renovated. Although the front doorway was reconfigured sometime after the vintage photograph above appeared in C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque, the house is easily recognizable today.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Captain John Laighton House

The Captain John Laighton House is on the south side of Court Street, between Pleasant and Washington Streets, just around the corner from the Governor John Langdon Mansion.

The house was built around 1795 and is best known as the residence of Captain John Laighton, a merchant sea captain who lived from 1784 until 1866.

Captain Laighton held the post of Navy Agent for the port of Portsmouth during the presidencies of William Henry Harrison and Andrew Jackson, and he also served as mayor of Portsmouth in 1851.

Two poets are associated with the house: Thomas Bailey Aldrich, who was born in this house on November 11, 1836 but better known for his days spent at the Aldrich House down the street, and Albert Laighton, the son of Captain John Laighton.

Albert Laighton began writing poetry at the age of fifteen. Compilatons of his poems were published in 1859 and 1878.  He also jointly published a book of poems called, Poets of Portsmouth, in 1865.

A lawyer and Portsmouth bank officer for much of his life, Albert Laighton served as a N. H. State Senator from 1883-1884. He died in this house on February 6, 1887.

The house looks wonderful after a recent exterior renovation. Interestingly, I believe the large tree in the right background of both photographs is the same! C. S. Gurney published the original picture in his 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque, more than a century before I captured the scene on a fall day in October of 2011.

By the way, Albert Laighton’s first cousin, once removed, was another famous poet named Celia Thaxter, who was born on State Street. Her father, and Albert's first cousin, was Thomas B. Laighton, lightkeeper of White Island and namesake of the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company's MV Thomas Laighton.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Old High School and City Hall

The old High School and City Hall building is located at 126 Daniel Street, on the northwest corner of Daniel and Chapel Streets.

Thomas Daniel, another wealthy merchant and landowner from Portsmouth’s early days, built a mansion at this location around 1680. He died a few years later, and his widow, Bridget, married Thomas Graffort in 1684.

In 1700, after her second husband died, Bridget Graffort gave the town a fenced strip of land across her property to be used as a public lane from Market Street to the river. The roadway was known as Graffort’s Lane for fifty years but was later renamed Daniel Street after Bridget’s first husband.

She also donated a plot of her land to Portsmouth on the condition that the town build a schoolhouse there. The lot was opposite her mansion, probably near the northwest corner of State and Chapel Streets, but was destined never to be used as a school. In 1735, the town swapped the “Madam Graffort lot” for an old privately-owned schoolhouse farther west on State Street that was more centrally-located.

Prosperous Mark Hunking Wentworth, a son of Lieutenant Governor John Wentworth, lived in Thomas Daniel’s mansion during the Revolutionary War and died at this location in 1785.

Portsmouth demolished the mansion and constructed the current building as a new High School in 1858. Previously there had been two High Schools in Portsmouth: one for boys and one for girls. Although both genders went to school here, boys and girls continued to attend separate classes until 1873.

This building remained Portsmouth High School until 1905, when a larger facility was needed. At that time, Portsmouth built a new High School next to The Academy on Islington Street, a building that still stands but is now used for Senior Housing.

This building was still Portsmouth High in 1902 when the vintage photograph to the right appeared in C. S. Gurney’s book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque.

When the High School moved out, this building became Portsmouth City Hall. The photo below is from the 1953 City of Portsmouth Annual Report:

Today the old High School and City Hall is used as a business condo.