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
- 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.