Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pease Tradeport - 2012 Boston-Portsmouth Air Show

The United States Navy's Blue Angels highlighted the 2012 Boston-Portsmouth Air Show over the June 30-July 1 weekend.

Photographing these aircraft is always difficult because of the contrast between the navy blue fuselages against bright summer skies.

Saturday was the kind of weekend that all aircraft photographers crave: arguably the best military flight demonstration team in the world and an interesting sky as a backdrop.

I will let you decide whether I succeeded: these are some of my best photographs this weekend of the six crack pilots and their F/A-18 Hornets.

Please be kind: these were taken with a compact digital camera.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Haven School

The Haven School building is at 50 South School Street, on the south side just east of where South Street and South School Street meet.

The first building in Portsmouth constructed specifically for educational purposes was a one-story wooden schoolhouse very near this location. Built between 1709 and 1713, the school served until 1846, the year when the Haven School opened for classes.

The new facility was designed to accommodate four grades: infant, primary, intermediate, and grammar. At the time, townspeople protested the excessive amount of money spent for its construction. The Haven School was the first school in Portsmouth with more than two rooms, and many residents felt  the South End would never require that much class space.
They were wrong.

The first kindergarten in Portsmouth opened at the Haven School during the 1895 school year, and before the turn of the 19th Century, the school was filled to capacity.

Kindergarten and First Grade classes were temporarily moved to the South Meeting House.

C.S. Gurney published the photograph below in 1902. 

Little Harbor School on Clough Drive in Portsmouth replaced the Haven School in 1969, and in 1978 the old schoolhouse was converted to condominiums.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

National Mechanics & Traders' Bank

The former National Mechanics & Traders' Bank building is at 31 Market Street, on the southeast corner of Market Street and Commercial Alley.

A two-story residence stood on this corner from 1750 until 1802. For many years, it was the home of Benjamin Dearborn, inventor of the Dearborn Gold Standard Balance. In 1780, Dearborn opened a private school in a large room of his home. His was the first school in Portsmouth that allowed girls to attend classes as well as boys. Eventually his school became so popular that he built an Academy behind his house. More than a hundred students attended, and he hired assistant teachers to help him. The school closed when he moved to Boston in the early 1790s.

The entire property burned to the ground during the inferno known as the Great Portsmouth Parade Fire of 1802.

Records for these brick buildings on Market Street are difficult to find. This one was probably built within one year after the 1802 fire. For around seventy-five years, it served as a bank building.

The Commercial Bank opened here in 1825 and was succeeded by the Mechanics & Traders' Bank in 1845.

Business must have been booming, because in 1864 the name changed to the National Mechanics & Traders' Bank. The old photograph below from 1902 shows how this building looked back at the turn of the 19th Century.

The National Mechanics & Traders Bank remained in business until the 1930s, although it moved to the Fay Block on Congress Street in the early 1900s.

The Paper Patch sold fine stationery here from 1981 until they moved across the street in 2009. The building is currently occupied by an innovative
clothing store called I Like That;).


Friday, June 22, 2012

Rectory of St. John’s Parish

The former Rectory of St. John’s Parish is located at 214 State Street, on the south side between Pleasant and Penhallow Streets.

I can find very little information about this building. It once was the Rectory of St. John’s Church and probably dates from the late-1800s. The old photograph below appeared in a 1907 North Church publication called, An Historical Calendar of Portsmouth. Next to the photo is an entry dated April 17, 1883: “The present Rectory on State Street was occupied by the family of the Rector of St. John’s.”

A handcrafted jewelry store called ellenette currently occupies the first-floor shop. Based on the lack of information about this building, it is obviously not historically important. Still, it is a shame to see its century-old bricks marred by ugly graffiti.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Peirce Mansion

The Peirce Mansion, sometimes misspelled Pierce Mansion, is located at 1 Court Street, facing Haymarket Square, on the southeast corner of Court and Middle Streets.

The Peirce family homestead was a two-story ell house on the northeast corner of Market Square and High Street, where the Peirce Block (Starbucks) is located today. Generations of Peirces had lived there for a century.

Portsmouth native John Peirce built this new homestead in 1799. In addition to other family members, he lived here with his wife, Mary Pearse, and six children until his death in 1814. At the time of construction, this home was the only one in the area and considered to be a great distance away from the center of town.  In fact, Portsmouth erected a hay scales in front of the house at around the same time, and this is why the area became known as Haymarket Square.

John Peirce was born in 1746, the son of Daniel Peirce. He apprenticed in the counting house of Daniel Rindge. In 1767, he took over the management of his uncle’s business and property. These holdings were extensive, because his uncle was Mark Hunking Wentworth, father of John Wentworth, the Royal Governor of the Province of New Hampshire. Mark Wentworth trusted his nephew and named him executor of his will.

Peirce opposed the American rebellion against England but did not serve either side during the war. He was known for his honest and fair business transactions and legal dealings. After the Revolution, in 1789, John Peirce was one of the leading citizens appointed to escort President George Washington around Portsmouth.

In 1791, Portsmouth elected him to the State Legislature, and he was re-elected several times. John Peirce, together with Thomas Thompson, oversaw the construction of the first Piscataqua Bridge between Newington and Durham in 1794, and also the turnpike from the bridge to Concord. He served as United States Loan Officer for New Hampshire during the Presidency of John Adams.

In addition to his other business concerns, Peirce managed an insurance office over the New Hampshire Bank. A fire in the building on December 26, 1802, led to the Great Parade Fire that destroyed Market Street. His office and all of the company’s valuable papers were lost in the fire.

John Peirce died on June 14, 1814, a very respected and highly regarded man. The mansion remained in the Peirce family until the 1950s.

The vintage photograph above appeared in a North Church pamphlet printed in 1907 called, An Historical Calendar of Portsmouth.

The Peirce Mansion is now owned by the Middle Street Baptist Church and connected to the church via a brick wing. The parish purchased the home from the Peirce family in 1955 and then extensively modified it to serve as a vestry and meeting space. The building was moved back from the road, the curved iron fence was dismantled, and the four tall chimneys were removed. A garden in the rear of the house has been replaced by a parking lot.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Universalist Church

The old Universalist Church was once a landmark on Pleasant Street, near the southwest corner of Pleasant Street and Junkins Avenue.

Reverend John Murray, a founder of Universalism, preached the first Universalist Sermon in Portsmouth in 1773. A decade later, in 1784, a Universalist Church was built on Vaughan Street. Reverend Noah Parker was the first Universalist pastor in town.

The parish built a large wooden church here on Pleasant Street in the early 1800s and held its dedication on January 28, 1808. The church served for almost ninety years; however, a fire on March 28, 1896, destroyed the building. The parish began rebuilding almost immediately. A new, brick church was dedicated on April 21, 1896, and this is the one that appears in the old photograph below from C. S. Gurney’s 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque.

The Universalists suffered another catastrophic fire when their brick church burned in 1947. Afterwards, they merged with the Unitarians in the South or Stone Church.

The old books about Portsmouth do not give a specific location for the Universalist Church. They simply say that it was south of Reverend Samuel Langdon’s house, probably in the belief that it would always be there, and that anyone walking by could not miss it. Today, the church and Reverend Langdon's house are gone – replaced by Citizens Bank and the Parrott Street parking lot – and it is difficult to know exactly where the church stood.

The vintage photograph gives us a couple of clues. The church is close to the road, not set back with a parking lot in front. Also, the corner of Pleasant Street and Junkins Avenue is not visible in the old picture. My best guess is that the Universalist Church was located near the north side of the Parrott Avenue parking lot.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jeremiah Mason House

The Jeremiah Mason House is located at 634 State Street, on the southeast corner of State and Summer Streets.

Born in Connecticut, Jeremiah Mason graduated from Yale in 1788 and received his law degree three years later. An imposing man who was 6’ 6” tall, he came to Portsmouth in 1797, when he was twenty-three years old, and married Mary Means two years later. They lived in the Meserve-Webster House on Vaughan Street, a home that no longer exists, until Jeremiah Mason built this home in 1808. The area became known as “Mason’s Hill”.

Mason was appointed Attorney General of New Hampshire in 1802. In this office, he argued many court cases against a worthy opponent: Daniel Webster. His law office was on the second floor of the Market Square bank that became known as the Oldest Bank Building. He was elected to the United States Senate in 1813 and served through 1817. Later, he was elected to the New Hampshire Legislature.

When Portsmouth received word in 1814 that British troops had burned government buildings in Washington, including the President’s House and the Capitol, the town organized a twelve-person committee of defense that included Daniel Webster and Jeremiah Mason. The committee apportioned over $9,000 to equip a force of 4,500 militia volunteers.

Jeremiah and his wife Mary attended a grand ball at Franklin Hall, where the Franklin Block is located today, on May 21, 1823. Almost four hundred people gathered at the gala in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the first New Hampshire settlement. All of the most prominent citizens of Portsmouth attended, including Daniel Webster and his wife, the Wendells, the Sheafes, and the Wentworths.

 Jeremiah Mason lived in this home until he moved to Boston in 1832, where he died in 1848. During his lifetime, he received an honorary Master of Arts degree from Yale, and Doctor of Laws degrees from Bowdoin, Harvard, and Dartmouth. In his autobiography, Daniel Webster said the following about Mason: “As a lawyer, as a jurist, no man in the Union equaled him and but one approached him.” The man to whom he referred was John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Joseph Haven House

The Joseph Haven House, also known as the White House, is located at 229 Pleasant Street, on the southeast corner of Pleasant and Richmond Streets.

This area was once an orchard belonging to Reverend Doctor Samuel Haven, who lived almost across the street in what is now Haven Park. During the 1790s, Reverend Haven's son, Joseph, bought an old gambrel-roofed house that had been built here, moved it next door, and completed this large home around 1801.

A successful merchant, Joseph Haven was one of the founding members of the Federal Fire Society of Portsmouth when it was organized in 1789.

He was married to Eliza Wentworth.
They insured their mansion in 1803 with the Marine and Fire Insurance Company that incorporated after the Great Parade Fire of 1802.

Following the death of his first wife,
he married Sarah Appleton, who inherited the house when Joseph passed away in 1829.

Later, John W. Foster, popularly known as Deacon Foster, lived here. Deacon Foster was a bookseller who came to Portsmouth from Boston and became a prominent member of the Stone Church.

The old photograph is from C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. Mine was taken from the exact same spot, but foliage now blocks the view. I will try to re-take the photograph next fall in hopes that the building is less obscured.

Joseph Haven's home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has now been divided into four condominium units.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Oldest Bank Building

The Oldest Bank Building is located at 22-26 Market Square, the second building south of the southeast corner of Daniel and Pleasant Streets.

Buckminster House

A wooden gambrel-roofed building stood here in 1802. One half served as a boarding house, and the New Hampshire Bank rented the other half. The building looked similar to the Buckminster House on Islington Street although not quite as large.

About 4 o’clock on the morning of December 26, 1802 – Christmas night – this wooden building caught fire, and the blaze spread north and destroyed all of the buildings on the north side of Market Square – the side where the Portsmouth Athenaeum stands today. It spread north and east, destroying the western end of Daniel Street to Penhallow Street, every structure on Market Street – on both sides of the road – from Market Square to the Moffatt-Ladd House, and a row of wooden warehouses opposite the Moffatt-Ladd House on the east side of Market Street, where Merchants’ Row is now located. Every building on High Street burned, all but one on Ladd Street, Bow Street to Church Hill and Hanover Street from the intersection with Market Street to the top of the hill were destroyed. This was the Great Parade Fire of 1802 that burned 132 structures.

Main Bank Room, 1924

The following year, designs by Portsmouth resident Eliphalet Ladd were used to construct the New Hampshire National Bank on this site.  This was the oldest building in the United States to be constructed as a bank and continuously used for banking purposes. Multiple banks occupied the building from 1803-1977, a span of almost two centuries.

Bank Vault, 1924
The structure has been heavily modified. In 1869, the building was divided into two banks, with the Portsmouth Savings Bank occupying the north half and the First National Bank in the south half. The fa├žade was remodeled in 1882 and again in 1904, when the current granite front was added and a glass dome was installed in the ceiling.

Over the years, offices above the bank were used by several distinguished lawyers, including Jeremiah Mason, Governor Levi Woodbury, and U. S. President Franklin Pierce.

The vintage photograph above appeared in C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. The picture was taken before the granite facade was added in 1904.

Ri-Ra Irish Pub now occupies the building. Their owners extensively renovated the building's interior from 2008-2009, adding a restored bar from the Pulpit Pub of Waterford, Ireland. Inside the oldest bank building, you can still view the original vault doors and a magnificent stained glass dome, installed in 1904, that depicts the State Seal of New Hampshire.

The oldest bank building in the United States is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.