Friday, March 30, 2012

Old High School

The former Portsmouth High School is located at 20 Islington Street, near the southwest corner of Middle and Islington Streets. It is the next west of The Academy Building and across the street from the Buckminster House.

During summer vacation of 1905, Portsmouth High School moved from the overcrowded building on Daniel Street (Old High School and City Hall) to their new facility on Islington Street.  Because of the extra space, eighth grade students also attended classes there.

A report by the Superintendent of Schools in Receipts and Expenditures of the City of Portsmouth for the 1905 school year states that “The High School shows a slight increase in membership. The total registration for the fall term just passed is the largest in the school's history. I suspect that the novelty and attractiveness of the new building have been in part the cause of this, but the principal cause is probably the growing interest manifest everywhere in higher education. It is now generally recognized that high school training not only gives information and culture but has a practical value in cash returns in the school of life.”

The building opened for the first day of school on September 11, 1905, and was initially heated by coal. There were approximately three hundred high school students registered for the 1905 school year, and the estimated cost of education per student was $45-$51. The eighth grade class consisted of ninety-six pupils, giving a total of slightly over four hundred students and thirteen teachers during the first school year.

By 1953, the number of high school students in Portsmouth had risen to seven hundred, and the cost per pupil was more than $200. Overcrowding forced the city to begin planning a new high school on Andrew Jarvis Drive.

The vintage photograph above from the Library of Congress was taken about two years after the school opened (c1907). Today, the Old High School has been beautifully restored as the Keefe House, offering housing for low-income elderly residents.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Leavitt and Pierce Houses

The Leavitt and Pierce Houses were located on Congress Street, near the intersection where Congress Street, Middle Street, Islington Street, and Maplewood Avenue meet. The Cutter House was located on the southeast corner, the Leavitt House was the next east on Congress Street, and the Pierce house was east of the Leavitt House.

The exact construction date of the Leavitt House is unknown. The home was built sometime before 1761, the year when Wyseman Clagett moved here after his residence on Daniel Street (see Noah’s Ark) was severely damaged by the fire that destroyed the original Stoodley’s Tavern.

Later owners included a painter named George Diog, J. Tufts Pickering, and John Abbott. The home became known as the Leavitt House simply because Charles Brewster, in his 1859 book Rambles About Portsmouth, described the house as “now owned and occupied by Miss Leavitt. It was for some years occupied by her father” whose first name he does not mention. The Portsmouth Guide Book of 1876 describes it as “Miss Leavitt’s House”, and "Leavitt House" was the name used in C. S. Gurney’s 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque.

William Sheafe built the house next door around 1785. Upon his death in 1839, his daughter, Emily Sheafe lived here with her husband, Colonel Joshua Winslow Peirce, the house’s namesake.

A merchant who went to school at Phillips Exeter Academy, Peirce served as Captain of the Gilman Blues, a Portsmouth militia company named for Governor John Taylor Gilman, starting in 1813. He was a Major in the First New Hampshire Regiment in 1816, was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1819, then to full Colonel in 1820 and served as the regiment’s commander until 1823. He was an agent of the Salmon Falls Manufacturing Company until 1938, when he retired to this home.

The Leavitt House was later replaced with retail space and  occupied by a Montgomery Ward's catalog showroom until 1973. Flatbread Pizza and the Portsmouth Beauty School are the building's current tenants. The Peirce House location is home to Celtic Crossing, Nahcotta, and Joe's New York Pizza.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Governor John Langdon House

Governor John Langdon’s house is located at 143 Pleasant Street, on the southeast corner of Pleasant and Court Streets.

The Langdon family was already influential when John was born in 1741. He would become one of the most remarkable Portsmouth citizens who ever lived.

John Langdon captained a merchant ship owned by Daniel Rindge when he was twenty-two years old. Before long, he was in business for himself and owned his own merchantman. British trade restrictions, like the Stamp Act, fueled his revolutionary rebelliousness.

In December 1774, almost exactly one year after the Boston Tea Party, armed patriots led by Major John Langdon, Major John Sullivan, and naval Captain Thomas Pickering raided Fort William and Mary (now Fort Constitution) on New Castle Island. This was the first military confrontation between armed American rebels and British troops. The raiders confiscated British gunpowder, muskets, and small cannons stored at the fort. Some of the gunpowder was later used at the Battle of Bunker Hill in Boston.

In 1775, he was a delegate to the first Continental Congress, and from 1776-1782, served as Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

During the Revolutionary War, he commanded his own company of volunteers. His shipyard on Langdon's Island (now Badger's Island) built privateers and warships during the war, including the Raleigh, the Ranger, and the America.

The 32-gun Raleigh, launched in 1776 and captained by Captain Thomas Thompson who lived next door, is featured on the State Seal of New Hampshire.

The famous 18-gun Ranger was launched in 1777 and captained by John Paul Jones when he captured HMS Serapis.

After years of delays, the 74-gun America was finally launched in 1782. It was intended for Captain John Paul Jones but was given to France instead as compensation for the accidental loss of the Magnifique in Boston Harbor.

John Langdon married Elizabeth  Sherburne in 1777, the cousin of Woodbury Langdon’s wife.  They had two children, Elizabeth and John, who died in infancy.

After the Revolutionary War, in 1884, he built this house on Pleasant Street and lived here for the rest of his life.
 John Langdon signed the United States Constitution in 1787 as a representative of the state. His illustrious career also included two terms as President of New Hampshire; U. S. Senator from 1789 – 1801 and President of the first U. S. Senate; member of the state legislature from 1801-1805; and Governor of New Hampshire from 1805 – 1809 and 1810-1812.

He was nominated to run for Vice President with James Madison in 1812 but declined the offer.

Many distinguished visitors have walked through the front door of this mansion. President George Washington visited in 1789 and President James Monroe in 1817. A future King of France, Louis Philippe, once stayed here when the William Pitt Tavern had no vacancy.

John Langdon spent his retirement years here and died in this house on September 18, 1819.

The 1907 photograph below is from the Library of Congress.

 After John Langdon's death, other influential Portsmouth families occupied the house. Navy officer Joseph Wilson owned it from 1833-1836. A rector of St. John’s Church on Bow Street, Dr. Charles Burroughs, and his wife lived here for more than forty years, from 1836-1877.

The next owner was Woodbury Langdon, a descendant of and named after John’s brother. His mother, Frances Bassett, lived here from 1877-1902. After her death, Woodbury Langdon deeded the house to his wife, Elizabeth. During their years here, they revived the home in a Colonial style. President William Howard Taft visited them here in 1912.

Elizabeth Langdon deeded the house to Historic New England in 1947. Not surprisingly, the mansion is a National Historic Landmark.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Stone Church

The Stone Church, also known as the South Church, is located at 292 State Street, on the southwest corner of State and Church Streets.

Moses Woodward once owned the plot of land where the Stone Church stands today. On December 22, 1813, the worst fire in Portsmouth’s history started here. A female servant, angry with Woodward’s wife for confiscating some wine bottles, intentionally set fire to his barn. Conditions on that night were perfect for a firestorm, and by the time townspeople extinguished the blaze six hours later, almost every building on State Street from here to the Piscataqua River were destroyed. Large portions of Court Street and Daniel Street also burned.

The South Parish built the Stone Church between 1824-1826 as a replacement for the Old South Church on Meeting House Hill, where the South Meeting House is located today. It is constructed of Rockport granite.

Nathan Parker House
The first minister was remarkable Reverend Dr. Nathan Parker, who lived in the Nathan Parker House at 46 Livermore Street. After Reverend Parker’s death in 1833, Andrew P. Peabody preached here for 27 years, followed by Reverends James De Normandie in 1862 and Alfred Gooding in 1884.

During the 1850s, the parish made significant improvements and enlarged the building by moving the rear wall seventeen feet towards Court Street. South Church reopened on December 25, 1858.

Today, the South Church has a Unitarian Universalist congregation and two ministers: Reverends Chris Holton Jablonski and Lauren Smith.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Portsmouth Cottage Hospital

The Portsmouth Cottage Hospital is located at 5 Junkins Avenue, on the hill south of the South Mill Pond.

In 1749, Portsmouth purchased a small island with a house to be used as a quarantine hospital for patients with small pox and other contagions brought on merchant ships from overseas. The building was known as the pest-house, or The Pest, and the island is still known as Pest Island. In 1782, the hospital moved to Henzell’s Island and provided small pox inoculations. Patients had to remain on the island for at least twenty-one days and could not leave until they received a clean bill of health from a physician. 

Aldrich House

The future Portsmouth Hospital opened at the Aldrich House on Court Street in 1884. With only ten beds, the building soon proved to be too small.

During the 1890s, Portsmouth built a new brick hospital overlooking South Mill Pond. Known as the Cottage Hospital, the facility opened in 1895. The building could accommodate thirty patients in large wards with lines of hospital beds.

Portsmouth Cottage Hospital
Portsmouth Cottage Hospital was in use for seventy years, until 1965, when the city built a more modern hospital facility nearby. In 1987, Portsmouth Regional Hospital moved to its present location on Borthwick Avenue. The replacement hospital on the hill, east of the old Cottage Hospital, became and remains Portsmouth City Hall.

Developers refurbished the vacant building and reopened it as senior housing in 2004. It is now known as Connors Cottage, named for Timothy Connors, a former mayor of Portsmouth who developed the property.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Slavery in Portsmouth

The first African slave arrived in Portsmouth around 1645, the trade peaked before the American Revolution, and most enslaved servants were emancipated by the early 1800s.

Sheafe Warehouse
Victims of the slave trade in New Hampshire usually arrived through the port of Portsmouth. They worked in the shipyards and waterfronts, in tradesmen’s workshops, on farms and in family homes. Upon their owner’s death, the Africans were willed to the next of kin along with the rest of the estate.

African servants were scattered throughout the households of Portsmouth. Only the most wealthy had more than one or two slaves, and very few residents owned more than four. Slaves were assigned a first name by the person who bought them and used the family’s last name to identify their owner.

Stoodley's Tavern
Slavery was never a large industry in Portsmouth. Slave auction venues included Pitt Tavern, Stoodley's Tavern, and Market Square near the old State House. Slaves were sold to buyers on the waterfront from slave ships, the docks and warehouses. Many traders advertised their victims in local newspapers, including The New Hampshire Gazette.

Moffatt-Ladd House

The largest known shipment of African slaves to Portsmouth occurred in 1755 when the Exeter, owned by John Moffatt, arrived at the docks with sixty-one slaves: twenty men, fifteen women, seventeen boys, and nine girls.

Warner House

Many of the prominent people mentioned in my Walk Portsmouth blog who lived before the 1800s owned slaves, including the following:

Census records show the rise and fall of slavery in Portsmouth. There were 52 slaves in 1727, 187 in 1767, 140 in 1775, and 26 in 1790. The last enslaved person to be included in a New Hampshire census was in 1840. The state abolished slavery in 1857.

In October 2003, utility crews discovered an African burial ground while excavating Chestnut Street. State archeologists subsequently found the remains of thirteen people of African descent beneath the road and believe there are as many as two hundred more in the area. They were unable to determine whether they died as slaves or free men.

Maps as early as 1705 refer to the area west of Chestnut Street, between State and Court Streets, as the "Negro Burying Ground". It was originally located on the outskirts of town; however, as Portsmouth grew during the late 1700s and early 1800s, roads and buildings were constructed over the graves, and the burial ground was forgotten.

Portsmouth is currently raising funds for an African Burying Ground Memorial Park, to be constructed on Chestnut Street, that will sanctify the location. The memorial will be called We Stand in Honor of Those Forgotten. Below is a photograph of Chestnut Street. The west (left) side of the street is the location of the African Burying Ground and future memorial park.

For more information about slavery in New Hampshire, I recommend the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail, an informative self-guided walking tour with twenty-seven markers commemorating the history of Blacks in Portsmouth. The Seacoast African American Cultural Center and Black Portsmouth: Three Centuries of African-American Heritage, a book by Mark J. Sammons and Valerie Cunningham, are also invaluable resources.