Thursday, December 6, 2012
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.