Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Whipple School

The Whipple School is located at 609 State Street, on the northeast corner of State and Summer Streets.

Towards the end of the 19th Century, Portsmouth appropriated approximately $75,600 for the construction of two new modern school facilities. The city built them in 1889-1890, and they opened in 1890 as the Whipple School and the Farragut School. That year, Portsmouth abandoned five old school buildings: the Bartlett, Cabot Street, Jones, Peabody, and Walker. All of the faculty and students from these old facilities were transferred to the new Whipple and Farragut Schools. Both of the new buildings held 14 classrooms for Primary students. 

The following excerpt, written by the Superintendent of Schools, C. H. Morss, is taken from Receipts and Expenditures of the Town of Portsmouth for 1890, the year the two schools opened:

“One of the greatest evils of the graded system is the tendency to place too large a number of pupils in charge of one teacher. This is a great mistake, as it prevents individual instruction. The teaching of a class as a whole can never produce the best results. It is only when the teacher knows the needs of each and every pupil, and can base her instruction upon these, that we look for the true school work. A class of fifty is so large as to compel the teacher to handle them as a whole, and prevent her giving that particular attention to the requirements of each so necessary to their advancement. Forty pupils properly taught will furnish all the work one teacher can possibly do. Add more to the number, and more class teaching and less individual work must result. As the time spent by the average child in school is very short, our endeavor should be to train him as thoroughly as possible, to strengthen his weak places, and to give him as much instruction as he can receive. If we take forty as the number of pupils to a teacher of a one-grade room, a two-grade room should not have above thirty-five, and a school having more than two grades ought not to have over twenty-five or thirty pupils. The tendency everywhere at present seems to be to decrease the number of pupils to a teacher, and no mistaken notion of economy should allow us to retard a child's progress by placing him in a crowded room.”

The Whipple School is named after Portsmouth resident and signer of the Declaration of Independence, General William Whipple, who resided in the Moffatt-Ladd House.

This area of State Street is known as Mason Hill and was named for Jeremiah Mason, a prominent lawyer and politician, who lived across the street in the Mason House.

The photograph below appeared in C. S. Gurney's invaluable 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. My 2012 picture shows the difficulty of photographing this building due to the foliage surrounding it.

The building is now an 11-unit housing complex known as the Whipple School Condominium.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Shapley Townhouse

The Shapley Townhouse is located at 454 Court Street, on the southwest corner of Court Street and Horse Lane and is owned by Strawbery Banke Museum.

The Shapley Townhouse was built around 1814, after the Great Portsmouth Fire of 1813 had destroyed the center of town. It was constructed to conform with the new Brick Law that required all new buildings in downtown Portsmouth to be built of “fireproof” brick. 

The builder was wealthy mariner and merchant Reuben Shapley, who lived nearby on Court Street. A workshop or store he built that used to adjoin his house is now known as the Reuben Shapley House. His brother, John Shapley, also lived close by at the Shapley-Drisco House.

These photographs were taken in 1961 for the National Park Service’s Historic American Building Survey (HABS). The HABS report refers to the building as the Kelly Property, the owner at that time.

Today, the Shapley Townhouse has been completely renovated as a business condo. One of the first tenants is Euchlora, “the private aesthetics studios and skincare line of aesthetician and artist Jane Balshaw.” Ameriprise Financial and Opus Advisors, LLC also have offices here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Wheelwright House

The Wheelwright House, once referred to as the John Clark House, is located on the northwest corner of Jefferson Street and Horse Lane and belongs to the Strawbery Bank Museum.

I am confused about the history of this house. The old photographs included in this article were taken in 1961 as part of an Historic American Building Survey (HABS) by the National Park Service, and are part of the Library of Congress's Online Digital Collections.

According to the HABS report, this house was built around 1750, and they refer to it as the John Clark House, named after a Portsmouth mariner.

Black Portsmouth: Three Centuries of African-American Heritage, a book by Mark J. Sammons and Valerie Cunningham, call this the Wheelwright House. They wrote that Jeremiah and Demaris Wheelwright moved to a previous home on this lot when Jefferson Street was known as Jose’s Lane. The Wheelrights lived here for a number of years with their children, John and Mary, and three slaves: Cato, Nero, and Jane. When Jeremiah died, John inherited the house and probably replaced it with the current structure around 1780.

According to Strawbery Banke Museum, John Wheelwright, like his father, was a Portsmouth mariner. Captain Wheelwright lived here with his wife, Martha, and two children, Elizabeth and Jack. He commanded the brig, Abigail, on eight voyages to the West Indies prior to the Revolutionary War. His ship was hauling lumber off the New Hampshire coast when the British Navy captured and confiscated it in September, 1775.

During the war, he served as a Second Lieutenant onboard the USS Raleigh, the ship that appears on the N.H. state seal, and he later commanded privateers out of Boston. He died at sea in 1784, a poor man whose house was sold at auction to pay his creditors. His wife and their children were forced to move out.

I do not know the connection between the Wheelwrights and Captain John Clark. It is possible that Clark was the person who purchased the home at auction from Captain John Wheelwright's estate.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Marden-Abbott House and Store

The Marden-Abbott House, sometimes called simply the Abbott House or 'The Little Corner Store', is located at Strawbery Banke Museum, on the south side of Jefferson Street, between Atkinson Street and Horse Lane.

A mast maker named John Marden constructed this building in the 1720s. Over the years, there have been many alterations to the original house. Not very much is known about the home before the Abbotts moved in.

Portsmouth resident Walter Samuel Abbott was a worker for the railroad. He married Bertha Hiltz, a laundress, in 1896, and they had four children: three daughters and an intellectually disabled boy. 

When they purchased this home on Jefferson Street in 1919, the girls had married and moved out, and only their son lived with them. The Abbotts immediately reconfigured the house, creating a “Mom and Pop Shop”, a small, general goods and grocery store that took up the right side of the first floor. They lived on the left side of the house, which had a separate entrance, and the second floor. After Mr. Abbott died in 1938, Mrs. Abbott operated the store through the difficult rationing years of World War II. Poor health forced her to close 'The Little Corner Store' in 1950, and she passed away in 1959.

These vintage photographs are from a 1961 Natural Park Service study, an Historic American Building Survey (HABS).

Today, the home is another fun and fascinating exhibit at Strawbery Banke Museum, where visitors can see vintage signs and examples of 1950s goods. The adjoining home holds appliances and furnishings from the same era.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Shapley-Drisco House

The Shapley-Drisco House, or the Drisco House, is located on the north side of Puddle Lane (formerly Charles Street), on the east end near Marcy Street. The building is on the property of Strawbery Banke Museum.

The first home to occupy this lot was built in the 1690s. 

John Shapley replaced the original building with this one in 1794 and moved in with his wife, Catherine Huntress, and their three daughters. John owned a small ship that he used for commercial fishing and transporting goods, and like so many Portsmouth residents, ran a shop out of his home. His brother, another Portsmouth mariner, lived a block away in the Reuben Shapley HouseJohn Shapley only lived here for five years before selling the house to a fellow mariner, James Drisco.

Drisco owned a wharf with warehouses across Marcy Street, a shop on Horse Lane, and several nearby dwelling houses, including the Lowd HouseJames Drisco lived here until his death in 1812. 

His widow and a son, Joshua Drisco, continued living here for another forty years. Joshua was a mariner like his father, shipping local goods on the Piscatqua River and eventually becoming an international see captain. He died in the 1850s, and the house sold out of the Drisco family.

The home was converted to a two-family duplex around 1900 and abandoned to Urban Renewal development in 1957. The old photographs on this page are from 1961, when the National Park Service was performing Historic American Building Surveys (HABS) in Portsmouth. The building to the left (west) of the Shapley-Drisco House in the 1961 and 2012 photographs is the Sherburne House before and after restoration.

For me, the two exhibits in the Shapley-Drisco House at Strawbery Banke are some of the most interesting at the museum. On the right side is a reimagined store the way it might have looked when the Shapley family ran a shop here. On the left side is a recreation of a "modern" 1950s home. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sherburne House

The Sherburne House, once called the Goodwin House, stands on the northeast corner of Puddle Lane (formerly Charles Street) and Horse Lane, on the property of Strawbery Banke Museum.

While researching historic Portsmouth buildings on the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, I found pictures from 1961 of the Goodwin House. They were photographed by the National Park Service for an Historic American Building Survey (HABS). 

The report gives its address as 55 Charles Street, which places it between the Lowd House at 43 Charles Street and the Drisco (now Shapley-Drisco) House at 65-67 Charles Street. Today, the Goodwin House lot is occupied by the Sherburne House.

This led to a mystery for me: How could the Goodwin House have been located on the same lot as the Sherburne House, when my research suggests the Sherburne House has been here since around 1700? For example, on, an article about the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail states that, “The white Sherburnes built this steep roofed house in two phases c. 1695 and c. 1702, when this neighborhood was new.” 

As shown below, the National Park Service’s photographs prove that, in 1961, the Goodwin House occupied the lot that now holds the Sherburne House.

The house to the right of the Goodwin House is obviously the Shapley-Drisco House, the same building that appears to the right of the Sherburne House in my recent photograph. Notice also that the granite marker on the corner appears to be the same in both pictures. 

This is a 1961 photograph of the Shapley-Drisco House in poor condition. The house next door is obviously not the Sherburne House. A comparison with the fifty-year-old photo above is further proof that the Goodwin House once stood here.

I wondered if the Sherburne House had originally stood here, then been moved to another location like so many other buildings in Portsmouth to make way for the Goodwin House, and later returned to its original location. Then I noticed something: both houses are in the exact same position relative to the Drisco House. This suggested to me that the Goodwin House is in fact the Sherburne House before Strawbery Banke Museum restored it! 

After more research on the Web, I found a 1982 New York Times article, “Strawbery Banke: A Lively Legacy”, that confirms it: “The Sherburne House is a striking example of how Strawbery Banke has reclaimed the past through skillful restoration: When it was acquired in 1964, this was a non-descript two-family dwelling with a jerrybuilt second-floor back porch. Layer by layer, the additions were carefully removed (each stage was recorded by photographs now on display) to reveal the original house, which is typical of the postmedieval style of architecture that the English colonists brought to the New World.”

The Sherburne House was built in two phases, from around 1695-1702, by one of the oldest families in Portsmouth, the Sherburnes. The building is best known as the home of Joseph Sherburne, a shipmaster who owned a nearby wharf, a farm on the Portsmouth Plains, and also ran a shop in this house. He and his wife, Mary Lovell, had five children and owned two slaves. Joseph Sherburne served as a Provincial Councilor of New Hampshire from 1733 until his death in 1744.