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.

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