Thursday, December 6, 2012

Conant House

The Conant House, once known as the Captain John Hill House, is located on the southeast corner of Jefferson and Washington Streets, within the boundaries of Strawbery Banke Museum.

Researching historic buildings in Portsmouth can be tricky! I found three versions of this house's origin. The first was from an
Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), compiled in 1961 by the National Park Service, that refers to this residence as the Captain John Hill House.

The HABS report states that "this lot was sold in 1697 by Samuel Cutt to Captain John Hill." It goes on to say that Captain Hill was a British Army officer stationed at Fort Mary in Saco, Maine who built this house between 1697-1705. After Hill's death, the house was sold to George Walton, a Portsmouth merchant, in 1736.

Strawbery Banke offers two histories, both of which do not mention Captain Hill. Their online-page dedicated to the Conant House says, “The original house was built by William Ham, a tailor, shortly after he purchased the corner lot  in 1791.”

A new museum sign on the building (right), however, states that “this house was built for George Walton prior to 1778”, the year that Walton sold or deeded (according to the HABS report) the house to his granddaughter, Temperance Walton, who then sold it to the tailor named William Ham.

I suspect that after the 1961 report was published, Strawbery Banke may have discovered that Captain John Hill's original house was later replaced by the current Conant House. And after the Webpage was written, they confirmed that George, and later Temperance, Walton were previous owners.

Whatever the house's origin, all histories agree that the next owner was a merchant sea captain named Joseph Brown, who purchased the home from William Ham in 1795. When Captain Brown moved in, the small house faced Jefferson Street. 

His growing family required him to enlarge the home by building an extension on Washington Street that became the front of the house. Strawbery Banke's online information states that "at his death in 1800 he left five children under the age of fourteen and a wife who was expecting another."

The HABS report, however, says that Captain Joseph Brown's name was listed in Portsmouth's town directories until 1827.

Conant House is named for Aaron Conant, whose family lived here for over twenty-five years, starting around 1834. Originally from Topsfield, Massachusetts, Conant moved to Portsmouth when he was hired to drive horse-drawn stagecoaches
between Boston and Portsmouth
(the "Boston Accomodation (sic) Stage").

Eventually, stagecoaches were made obsolete by the railroads, and he found employment in a shoe factory. After Aaron's death in 1856, Mrs. Conant continued living here until 1861.

The black-and-white photographs in this article were taken from the 1961 HABS report. As you can see from my recent shots, the building is being extensively restored by Strawbery Banke Museum. The house in the left background of both photographs above is the Chase House.


  1. Nice photos! My great-grandfather Pridham and family lived at this house (if my research is correct) in the 1920-30's. Is this one the public can walk through as part of Strawbery Banke?

    1. Thank you for writing, Steve,

      The Conant House has been too dilapidated to open to the public and is currently under extensive restoration. According to the information I found, within the next two years it will be available as two residential apartments: a one-bedroom and a two-bedroom. For that reason, I suspect the interior will not be open to the public. You can read about the restoration and see photographs of the interior at The Heritage House Blog:

      While researching your question, I found a photograph of a John H. Pridham House at 14 Charles Street (now Puddle Dock) on the Portsmouth Athenaeum Webpage:;id=F3450364-9313-4CE1-89BB-431310517950;type=102.

      This house no longer exists. Could he have been a relative of yours?

  2. This is the house that I was born into in 1952 My grandmother lived on one side and we on the other side. I have many great memories of living here and remember well the struggle my father and grandmother went through to hang onto it. He fought in WWII and the Korean War and sent money home to his mom to buy the house. Shortly after I was born, Strawberry Bank was starting up and they were pressured for years to sell. It was sad, the displacement of many families. The museum is awesome, but people just don't know about those displaced to achieve it. The final straw that made my dad and grandmother sell was Shanley threatening to take the house by Eminent Domain. Now it is sad to see it sit there unused I'm glad it is being restored. It would be wonderful to see wonderful gardens in the back yards like my grandmothers maternal grandmother lived in the side we lived in after we moved out. I was basically raised in the Strawberry Bank area.