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.