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.

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