Thursday, September 29, 2011

Underwood House

John Underwood’s House once stood on the northeast corner of Deer and Vaughan Streets.

Michael Whidden, a local joiner, built the house around 1750, and John Underwood lived here in the early 1800s. At that time, Vaughan Street ran straight south, crossed Deer Street at what became known as “Underwood’s Corner”, and continued through today’s Vaughan Mall to Congress Street.

John Underwood was a rope maker who owned a ropewalk, a long, covered lane where hemp and yarn were spindled and twined into cordage and rigging for Portsmouth's shipyards. Underwood's ropewalk was across the street from his house and stretched west, from the southwest corner of Deer and Vaughan Streets to the North Mill Pond.

In 1815, Portsmouth ropemakers manufactured a huge rope at this ropewalk for the 74-gun warship U. S. S. Washington being built at the new Navy Yard. The rigging required a parade of 80 sailors to haul it to the shoreline.

My recent photograph shows the approximate location of John Underwood's house, where Vaughan Street would have intersected Deer Street. Today the area is overflow parking for the Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tobias Lear House

The Tobias Lear House is on the north side of Hunking Street between Mechanic and Marcy Streets.

The building is a simple Georgian Colonial mansion. Tobias Lear III purchased the land in October 1738 and built the house around 1740.

His son, Captain Tobias Lear IV, lived here starting in 1759 and worked for his cousin, John Langdon, a wealthy ship builder and patriot. Tobias Lear IV was a shipmaster and crew chief in charge of building John Paul Jones’s famous ship, the Ranger.

The most famous Tobias Lear, the fifth generation, was born in this house on September 19, 1762 and spent his childhood here.

After graduating from Harvard  in 1783, Tobias Lear V became George Washington’s Private Secretary and personal friend for 16 years, until Washington’s death in 1799. 

On the afternoon of November 3, 1789, the first President of the United States strolled down Hunking Street and called upon this house for a short visit with his Private Secretary's stepmother, her children, and her grandchildren. Also living in the house were Tobias Lear's sister and her husband, a merchant named Samuel Storer whose dry goods store was located on the corner of Hanover and Market Streets.

While a small crowd gathered in front of the house, George Washington sat in the front parlor, on the left side of the house, chatting with the families while bouncing youngsters on his knee and tousling their hair.

Tobias Lear’s stepmother lived here until 1829, and his sister continued to reside here until she sold the home in 1860. At the time, this area of Portsmouth had become a seedy warren filled with saloons, brothels, and rundown boarding houses. The Tobias Lear mansion became a tenament house.

Wallace Nutting acquired the mansion as part of his Wentworth-Gardner Mansion purchase in 1917 but then sold it. The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now known as Historic New England, bought the building in 1935 and began restoring it. In 1940, the Wentworth-Gardner and Tobias Lear Houses Association purchased the mansion and continues to mantain it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Memorial Bridge

Memorial Bridge, located at the eastern ends of Daniel Street and State Street, carries U. S. Route 1 from Portsmouth, NH to Kittery, Maine. Officially named the World War Memorial Bridge, it is locally known as Memorial Bridge or simply the Lower Bridge.

A plaque over the New Hampshire entrance to the bridge reads:

Memorial to the Sailors and Soldiers of
New Hampshire
Who Participated in the World War 1917-1919

Before Memorial Bridge opened, regular ferry service connected Portsmouth and Kittery.

Construction began in 1920, two years after the end of World War I, and the bridge opened on August 17, 1923. New Hampshire Governor Fred H. Brown and Maine Governor Percival P. Baxter met in the middle of the bridge during opening ceremonies.

This was the first vertical lift bridge in New England, and the first bridge across the Piscataqua River to open without a toll charge for vehicles. The towers are 200 feet high, and the 297-foot-long lift span raises 170 feet to allow for river traffic.

Pedestrian Walkway
Despite a spirited effort to save the historic bridge, engineers closed the roadway to vehicular traffic on July 27, 2011. The bridge is due to be replaced by 2014.

There are very few days remaining to walk across before War Memorial Bridge closes to pedestrian and bicycle traffic forever!

The bridge offers scenic views of the Portsmouth and Kittery shores. At the Maine end of Memorial Bridge are John Paul Jones Park and the Maine Sailors and Soldiers Memorial, a bronze bas relief sculpted by Bashka Paeff and framed by granite.
River Side of Bow Street in Portsmouth

Maine Lobster Shack

Maine Sailors and Soldiers Memorial
Moran Tugboats
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard
Below are two rare videos showing bridge construction and opening ceremonies. The 5-year-old girl who cuts the ribbon to officially open Memorial Bridge is Eileen (Dondero) Foley, who later served eight terms as the Mayor of Portsmouth!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Governor Goodwin Mansion

The Goodwin Mansion is located at Strawbery Banke, on the north side of Hancock Street between Washington and Marcy Streets.

A bricklayer named James Hazeltine built this mansion around 1811 on the northwest corner of Islington and Cornwall Streets, opposite a field now known as Goodwin Park.

Ichabod Goodwin, a retired sea captain, purchased the home in 1832 and moved in with his wife, Sarah, and daughter, Abigail. The same year, he partnered with Samuel Coues to establish the shipping firm of Coues & Goodwin  and became a founding member of the short-lived Portsmouth Whaling Company.

Goodwin served six terms as a NH state legislator between 1838 and1856 and as a member of the Constitutional Conventions of 1850 and 1876. The citizens of New Hampshire elected him Governor of New Hampshire for two terms, from 1859-1861, during the difficult first year of the Civil War. He invested his own money to equip the First and Second Volunteer Regiments of New Hampshire.

Over the years, Ichabod Goodwin served as president of the Portsmouth Steam Company, the First National Bank, and the Portsmouth Gas Company. He was also president of the Eastern Railroad and the Portland, Saco & Portsmouth Railroad for twenty-five years.

His daughter, Susan Goodwin, married the future Spanish-American War hero and admiral, George Dewey, in this mansion in October 1867.

Governor Goodwin died in his home on July 4, 1882.

To preserve the historic home from Urban Renewal wrecking balls, Strawbery Banke moved the Goodwin Mansion to its present site in 1963. The mansion is the centerpiece of Strawbery Banke Museum.

Its original site across from Goodwin Park is now occupied by a used furniture store:
Original Location of Governor Goodwin Mansion


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.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Warner House

The Warner House, sometimes called the Macpheadris-Warner House, stands at 150 Daniel Street, on the northeast corner of Daniel and Chapel Streets.

Captain Archibald Macpheadris completed this mansion, the oldest brick house in Portsmouth, around 1716-1718.

The Warner House, three stories high with 18-inch-thick walls, is considered to be one of the finest examples of an early  18th-Century urban brick home in America.

A native of Scotland, Captain Macpheadris served in the King’s Council and became an extremely wealthy Portsmouth merchant. His company started the first iron works in America, located in Dover. He married Sarah Wentworth, one of Lieutenant Governor John Wentworth’s daughters, about 1717 and died in 1729.

The house next passed to Mary Macpheadris, the daughter of Captain Macpheadris and Sarah, who married Jonathon Warner around 1760. Warner, for whom the mansion is named, inherited the house when Mary died in 1776. Jonathon Warner was also a wealthy merchant and member of the King’s Council until the Revolutionary War ended British rule in New Hampshire. His father, Daniel Warner, built the mansion on Islington Street known as Buckminster House, where Jonathon was born in 1726.

A local legend claims that Benjamin Franklin oversaw the erection of the first lightning rod in New Hampshire on the west end of the mansion’s roof in 1762.

Descendents of  Archibald Macpheadris and Jonathon Warner owned the home for six generations, until 1931.

The Warner House is one of the few structures that survived all of the great Portsmouth fires of the 1800s. In 1932, developers considered demolishing the mansion and building a gas station in its place! Thankfully, the Warner House Association stepped in and saved the historic mansion from destruction. Today the Warner House, named a National Historic Landmark in 1960, is open to the public from April through October.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Paper Patch

The Paper Patch is located at 36 Market Street, on the northwest corner of Ladd and Market Streets.

A hardware store occupied this location for many years, dating back to at least 1902, when the vintage photograph below appeared in C. S. Gurney's book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. Frank L. Pryor and Edward C. Matthews owned the business at the turn of the 19th Century, from about 1892 to 1910. Pryor & Matthews advertised the following categories in the 1905 Portsmouth Business Directory:
  • Agricultural Implements
  • Artists' Materials
  • Carriage Varnish
  • Cutlery
  • Garden & Farming Tools
  • Hardware
  • Paints Oils and Glass
  • Paper and Twines
  • Plumbers
  • Pumps
  • Scales
  • Weather Strips

More recently, Peavey Hardware occupied this building from before World War II until 2004.

The Paper Patch, a purveyor of fine stationery and paper products, has been a Portsmouth staple since 1981. Previously located in the building directly across the street, the store moved to this location in 2009.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Friday, September 2, 2011

Treadwell Jenness House

The Treadwell Jenness House is located at 93 Pleasant Street, on the northeast corner of Pleasant and Court Streets.

After the death of Robert Treadwell, an affluent Portsmouth merchant, his widow built this mansion in 1818. Construction of the house complied with the 1814 Brick Act that required every new building in downtown Portsmouth over one story high to be built of bricks. The controversial Brick Act was a legislative measure meant to prevent another devastating "Great Fire of Portsmouth".

When Richard Jenness moved to Portsmouth in 1829, his family and descendants lived in this home for a number of years.  A successful hardware merchant, Jenness later went into politics. He served as a N. H. State Representative from 1838 – 1841, Navy Agent for the district from 1845 – 1849, and N. H. State Senator from 1849 – 1851. He also served as Mayor of Portsmouth in 1856.

At the turn of the 20th Century, Elias G. Merrick owned the mansion and ran a boardinghouse he called the Hotel Merrick, as seen in the 1902 photograph below.

Today the mansion is occupied by Northeast Auctions whose owner, Ronald Bourgeault, frequently appears on the PBS hit program, Antiques Roadshow.

The castle-like mansion that previously stood on this corner had an even more amazing history. The High Sheriff of the Province of New Hampshire, Thomas Packer, lived here during the 1700s. Sheriff Packer is best known for executing Ruth Blay, a woman found guilty of murdering her illegitimate newborn because there were no witnesses to testify that the baby was actually stillborn.

According to Portsmouth lore, shortly after her death on a gallows on December 30, 1768, at the highest point of Proprietors’ Burial Ground (now part of the South Cemetery), Ruth Blay received a belated reprieve from the Governor. That night, angry townspeople gathered in front of her executioner's house on this corner and hanged an effigy of Sheriff Packer in protest. Today, these lurid details are known to be false and were based on rumors and oral histories passed down for generations.

Colonel William Brewster later converted the old mansion into a boardinghouse, and President George Washington stayed here during his four day visit to Portsmouth in 1789. Unfortunately, the original, historic mansion that could truthfully boast, “Washington Slept Here”, burned to the ground during the Great Portsmouth Fire of 1813.