Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Memorial Bridge Deconstruction

Opened in 1923, the Memorial Bridge between Portsmouth and Kittery is being dismantled and replaced.

The decaying bridge closed to vehicular traffic on July 27, 2011. Pedestrians and bicyclists continued using the bridge until January 9, 2011.

The 89-year-old Memorial Bridge center lift span, weighing 2 million pounds, was detached from the towers on February 8 and lowered onto the barge Cape Cod.

A week later, on February 15, the span left Portsmouth forever, destined for a Boston scrap yard.

On the afternoon of February 21, the upper deck of a tugboat named Miss Stacy collided with the roadway near the west tower, on the north side. The fast Piscataqua River current pushed the hull under the bridge, causing the boat to tilt on its port side. The boat quickly began to take on water.

When the ship threatened to capsize, two crew members were successfully rescued. One of Portsmouth’s landmark tugboats, the Eugenia Moran, towed the Miss Tracy to safety. Coincidentally, U. S. Representative Frank Guinta was onboard the Eugenia Moran during the rescue.

The next major step is for a 750-ton crane barge to remove the two 250-ton counterweights and the 200-foot towers.

The plaques on the bridge, including the large dedication to WWI veterans on the Portsmouth (west) end, are to be refurbished and eventually installed on the new Memorial Bridge.

Most of this information came from news articles on I will add future updates as replacement of the Memorial Bridge continues.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ward-Whidden House

The Ward-Whidden House originally stood at 117 Deer Street, near the northeast corner of Deer and Vaughan Streets. It is now located on High Street at 411 The Hill.

There were three generations of joiners, all named Michael Whidden, who constructed houses in Portsmouth from about 1718 until the early 1800s. Michael Whidden, Jr. built the Ward-Whidden House during the 1720s.

When Whidden died in 1773, Nahum Ward purchased the home from his estate for 94 pounds 10 shillings. Over the next decade, Ward extensively rebuilt and enlarged the house.

The following history of the Ward-Whidden House was researched by the National Park Service for their Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) of 1935:

  • Nahum Ward sold his home to James Hill in 1783.

  • When James Hill died, James Hill, Jr. purchased the home in 1813 from his father’s widow for $1100.

  • When James Hill, Jr. died in 1828, John Hill (his uncle?) bought the home for $1000.

  • John Hill sold the house to Abigail Hill (his daughter?) in 1835 for $1200.

  • Abigail Hill immediately mortgaged the home to John S. Harvey, who bought the home for $1625 in 1863.

  • Harvey sold the home to Charles H. Mendum in 1874, but the price was now $2500.

  • When Mendum died, his estate sold the home to Katherine E. Garland for an unknown amount in 1909.

  • When Garland died In 1919, Angelantonio Mustone purchased the home on Deer Street for $3750.

Mustone was still the owner in 1935 when the photograph below, published courtesy of the Library of Congress, was included in the National Park’s historic buildings survey. Incidentally, the house on the left background is the Underwood House, which was also built by Michael Whidden.

The Ward-Whidden house was moved from Deer Street to High Street around 1970 as part of the ill-advised urban renewal project that destroyed a quaint North End neighborhood of Italian immigrants to make way for future civic improvements.

It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Whitcomb House

The Whitcomb House formerly stood on the northwest corner of Fleet and State Streets, where the TD Bank building is located today.

The Whitcomb House faced Fleet Street and was built around the time of the American Revolution. Joseph and Mary Pitman owned the home in 1779 when the Royal Governor of the Province of New Hampshire, Benning Wentworth, proposed marriage to their daughter.

Molly Pitman was already engaged to a mechanic named Richard Shortridge, so she turned down the governor’s proposal. Her refusal angered Governor Wentworth. Soon after the couple were married, Richard Shortridge was impressed into the Royal Navy by a press gang from a British frigate in Portsmouth Harbor. He was forced to serve for seven years before he managed to escape and returned to his wife.

The house was named after Benjamin Whitcomb, a merchant who ran a candy and ice cream store here for fifty-eight years. His fifteen minutes of fame came in 1847. After the “bad boys” in Thomas Bailey Aldrich’s book, The Story of a Bad Boy, stole an old stagecoach and burned it in a Market Square bonfire, they supposedly ate ice cream at Whitcomb's shop.

The corner of Fleet and Court Streets is now the downtown location of TD Bank. All traces of the home are gone; however, you can see the Rockingham in the left background of both photographs.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pickering Block

The Pickering Block, also known as the Sheafe Block, is located in Market Square on the northeast corner of Daniel and Market Streets.

This corner lot was originally owned by Captain Richard Cutt, a very early Portsmouth pioneer who helped build the first South Meeting House near the South Mill Bridge in 1657. He was appointed the first commander of the new fort on Great Island (now New Castle) in 1666. Upon his death in 1676, the lot on this corner was willed to his daughter, Bridget.

Bridget Daniel Graffort and her first husband, Thomas Daniel – the namesake of Daniel Street – lived in a mansion where the old High School and City Hall are located today. They owned a large two-story house on this corner that was home to Ichabod Plaisted and later Daniel Rindge. The Great Parade Fire of 1802 destroyed the building.

The Pickering Block was built around 1812. It was originally intended to be a hotel; however, during construction, the builder modified the block to be used for retail stores and apartments.

The vintage photograph of Pickering Block (below) appeared in C. S. Gurney’s 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. At that time, the retail stores were Lewis E. Staples Dry Goods and Furnishings Store on the left and J. H. Hutchinson & Company, Jewelers and Opticians on the corner. The center store appears to be vacant.

According to the Portsmouth Directory of 1905, a jeweler named Arthur B. Duncan had succeeded J. H. Hutchinson & Company in the corner shop.
The central space had become a shoe store called Duncan & Storer (owned by C. T. Duncan and W. E. Storer), and Lewis E. Staples still sold dry goods.

The corner shop appears to have been a jewelry store since at least the 1890s. Today it is a family-owned business called Alie Jewelry. The store where Duncan & Storer sold "fine boots, shoes, slippers" is still a shoe store, called Footnotes, and Lewis E. Staples' Dry Goods Store has been occupied by the G. Willikers! Toy Shop since 1978.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Livermore House

The Livermore House, also known as the General Fitz John Porter House, is located at 32 Livermore Street, on the south side facing Haven Park.

Matthew Livermore moved to Portsmouth in 1724 to teach grammar school. He taught for seven years while also studying law and became a lawyer in 1731.

He built the home now known as the Livermore House around 1735. When the building was constructed, Livermore Street did not exist, and the home stood in what is now Haven Park, facing east towards Pleasant Street. It was built back from the road and featured a large front lawn and a backyard that stretched to the South Mill Pond.

In 1736, Matthew Livermore became King’s Advocate in the Admiralty Courts and Attorney General of the British Province of New Hampshire. A relative, Samuel Livermore, also lived here starting about 1758. Probably a nephew of Matthew, Samuel served as the chief advisor to Governor John Wentworth, Attorney General in 1769, a member of the first Congress of the United States, and a U. S. Senator in 1799.

John Sullivan worked here as Matthew Livermore’s office boy and apprentice. During his spare time, he studied law by reading the books in his employer’s law library. Sullivan went on to become a renowned Revolutionary War general, President of New Hampshire, a District Judge, and Chief Justice of the state.

Matthew Livermore died on February 14, 1776. Samuel Livermore died in 1803.

Around 1809, Portsmouth created Livermore Street, and the Livermore House was turned to face the new avenue; however, it was still on the north side of Livermore Street, in what today is Haven Park.

Fitz John Porter was born in the house in 1822. General Porter was one of the Union’s most talented leaders at the beginning of the Civil War. After the U. S. Army dismissed him for disobeying a suicidal order during the Second Battle of Bull Run, he spent the rest of his life fighting the charges. The army cleared his name in 1879.

In 1898, the city moved the Livermore House to its current location on the south side of Livermore Street to make room for the creation of Haven Park. General Fitz John Porter’s birthplace now faces his equestrian statue, which was dedicated in 1906.

The photograph from C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque, shows the Livermore House on the left and the Nathan Parker House on the right.

Recently, the facade of the Livermore House has changed with the addition of five dormer windows.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Nathan Parker House

The Nathan Parker House is a three-story brick building located at 46 Livermore Street opposite Haven Park.

Although a plaque claims this house dates from 1810, the South Parish actually constructed it in 1815. They built the home with bricks to comply with the controversial “Brick Act”,  a state law passed after the Great Portsmouth Fire of 1813 to prevent future catastrophic fires in the city.

The stately home was a wedding present for the South Parish’s minister, Reverend  Doctor Nathan Parker, upon his marriage to Susan Pickering, the daughter of New Hampshire Chief Justice John Pickering and a descendant of the original John Pickering.

Reverend Parker was pastor of the South Church for twenty-five years, from 1808 until his death in 1833. During his ministry in Portsmouth, he introduced Unitarianism and moved the congregation from the Old South Church (see South Meeting House) to the Stone Church on State Street.

Reverend Nathan Parker, the first Unitarian minister in Portsmouth, should not be confused with Reverend Noah Parker, the first Universalist minister in Portsmouth who lived in Noah’s Ark on Daniel Street and in the Noah Parker House on Market Street.

Although the South Parish had originally intended to board all of their future ministers here, Noah Parker and his wife purchased the house towards the end of his life, and it became a private home.

A Portsmouth merchant named Stephen E. Simes bought it from Reverend Parker’s widow in 1834. Captain Thomas Tarlton purchased the home from Simes in 1843. From 1914-1915, Reverend L. Weston Attwood lived here, and then the Wendell family (see Jacob Wendell House) owned the house from 1919-1968.

The original picture from C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque, shows the Livermore House on the left and the Nathan Parker House on the right. At the time of this writing, the Nathan Parker house is for sale.

For more on the controversial Reverend Nathan Parker, I recommend this excellent article at by J. Dennis Robinson:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Jaffrey House

The Jaffrey House was located on Linden Street, about halfway between Daniel Street and Bow Street. It faced south with a large front lawn that extended to Daniel Street, approximately where the Portsmouth Post Office is located today. The Jaffrey home and Linden Street no longer exist.

George Jaffrey, 2nd, built his house around 1730. At a time when Portsmouth was the government center of colonial New Hampshire, Jaffrey served as a court Councilor, Treasurer of the Royal Province, and Chief Justice of the Superior Court.

After the death of his first wife, Sarah Jeffries, George Jaffrey, 2nd, remarried in 1738. His second wife was Sarah Wentworth McPheaderis, the widow of Archibald McPheaderis and daughter of Lieutenant Governor John Wentworth.

George Jaffrey, 2nd, was an extremely wealthy landowner who had inherited his wealth from his father, George Jaffrey of New Castle.  In 1737, the records show that George Jaffrey, 2nd, sold a road that ran across his property to the town of Portsmouth that became known as Middle Street. Court Street was originally named Jaffrey Street, presumably because he owned that one too.

After his father died, George Jaffrey, 3rd, also lived in the Jaffrey House and served as Treasurer of the Province of New Hampshire and Chief Justice of the Superior Court, as well as a member of His Majesty's Council. In 1773, Portsmouth resident Governor John Wentworth named the city of Jaffrey, New Hampshire in his honor.

George Jaffrey, 3rd, was a loyal Tory who was bitterly opposed to the American independence movement and continued to be an outspoken royalist until his death in 1802. Being childless, he left his house and all his property  to his 13-year-old grandnephew, George Jaffrey Jeffries, who lived in Boston. The will required that, in order to inherit, the boy had to shorten his name to George Jaffrey, move to the home in Portsmouth, and “never follow any profession but that of being a gentleman.” George Jaffrey, 4th, complied with these stipulations. For many years the Librarian of Portsmouth Athenaeum, he lived in the Jaffrey home until his death in 1856. He was the last George Jaffrey to reside here.

During the Great Portsmouth Fire of 1813, every building on the opposite side of the road – the south side of Daniel Street – burned to the ground. All of the buildings on the north side, including the George Jaffrey House, survived the conflagration.

In 1902, when the photograph above appeared in C. S. Gurney’s book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque, the house was vacant and suffering from neglect. The George Jaffrey home was located about where the U. S. Post Office is situated today. I believe the driveway into the Post Office parking lot may be a remnant of Linden Street.

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston purchased the home in 1919 and preserved the parlor, which you can view here: Jaffrey House, interior finish. Developers razed the house in 1920.