Friday, April 27, 2012

Doctor Mitchell House

The Doctor Mitchell House is located at 154 South Street, on the south side, between South School Street and Blossom Street.

Very little is known about this home’s history. Its claim to fame occurred in the mid-1700s when a Doctor Mitchell lived here. He is such an obscure figure that even his first name and his wife’s name seem to have been forgotten. Their daughter, Lettice, however, will always be remembered in Portsmouth for the scandal she caused.

You can see her portrait on the website of the Brooklyn Museum in New York. She was a beautiful, vivacious, social climber who attracted all of the young gentlemen in town.

Buckminster House
During the 1750s, she fell in love with Nathaniel Warner, a wealthy resident who captained merchant ships. When they became engaged, her future father-in-law, a prominent citizen and Provincial Councilor named Daniel Warner,
promised to give them the Buckminster House on Islington Street as a wedding present. 
Unfortunately, Nathaniel suffered from ill health. He left Portsmouth for a short while to travel abroad, hoping that the European spas could restore his vitality.

While he was away, his lovely fiancée caught the eye of Wyseman Clagett, an impressive newcomer with the title of King’s Attorney for the province of New Hampshire.  Lettice’s mother persuaded her daughter that Wyseman was a better catch than Nathaniel. Despite Lettice’s misgivings, she married Wyseman Clagett in 1759. 

When Nathaniel returned to Portsmouth and found his fiancée married to another, his health continued to decline. He died soon after, supposedly of a broken heart.

At the time of their marriage, Lettice was eighteen years old and Wyseman was thirty-eight. Mr. and Mrs. Clagett first lived in Noah’s Ark on Daniel Street. When fire severely damaged that home in 1761, they moved to the Leavitt House on Congress Street and later to a large estate in Litchfield. The couple had eight children, but Lettice did not live happily ever after. Her mother’s choice for a husband was a harsh taskmaster with a fiery temper.  Lettice endured twenty-five years of hardship until Wyseman died in 1784.

After six years of widowhood, Lettice married Simon McQuesten and died in Bedford, NH at the age of eighty-five.
The old photograph was taken around 1902. Since then, the two chimneys have been replaced by a single, central chimney. The most recognizable feature is the addition with a doorway on the right side of the house.
Doctor Mitchell's front lawn has been replaced by a widened South Street.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Samuel Gardner House

The Samuel Gardner House is located at 244 South Street, on the south side, between Newcastle Avenue and Mt. Vernon Street.

The date of construction for this house is unknown. The first record of the property is from 1768, when Captain Peter Shores purchased the estate. Captain Shores and his wife, Sarah Ayers, had six children. One of their daughters, Susannah Shores married Samuel Gardner on December 15, 1782.

Samuel Gardner was the brother of Major William Gardner, who served as Commissary for the Revolutionary Army and became a United States Loan Commissioner after the war. Major Gardner lived in the Wentworth-Gardner House on Mechanic Street.

Samuel and Susannah inherited her parents' home, which became known as the Samuel Gardner house. They had three children:

John Gardner, who inherited this house after his parents died.

Samuel Gardner, who apprenticed with the New Hampshire Gazette and later published the newspaper as a partner in the printing firm of Peirce & Gardner.

Susan Gardner, who married Abraham Wendell, a successful Portsmouth merchant and brother of Jacob Wendell.

The house is easily identifiable as the one in the photograph that appeared in C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. Both chimneys have been removed, the shutters are gone, and the front entryway has been altered; however, the two windows on the west (right) side are distinctive. The houses on either side are also the same in both photographs.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Langdon Park

Landgon Park is south of the South Mill Pond, on the west side of Junkins Avenue across from the Cottage Hospital.

Unconventional lawyer and author John Langdon Elwyn was the grandson of Governor John Langdon. Born near Bristol, England in 1801 while his parents were traveling abroad, John Elwyn studied at Harvard and lived most of his life in Portsmouth. 
According to The Portsmouth Guide Book of 1876 by Sarah Haven Foster, “he was a gentleman of some eccentricities, but a scholar of great acquirements, especially in history and philology.”

Near the end of his life, in 1867, John Elywn gave about five acres of land near the South Mill Pond to Portsmouth for the establishment of a public park. Nothing was done about the project, however, until 1875, when the Langdon Park Association organized.
Originally conceived as Elwyn Park, it officially opened as Langdon Park on May 25, 1876, after Portsmouth citizens had donated and planted more than six hundred trees.

Speeches were made by Ichabod Goodwin, a former governor of N. H.; author Charles Levi Woodbury, son of former Governor Levi Woodbury; Reverend Alfred Langdon Elwyn, a relative of John Elwyn; and Reverend James DeNormandie, pastor of the Stone Church 

John Elwyn did not attend the opening ceremonies. He had died in the mansion built by his great-uncle, Rockingham House, on January 30, 1876.

It is nearly impossible to determine where the photographer was standing when he captured the old photograph above. My best guess is on the north side of Lincoln Avenue, looking south towards South Street.

The park had been open for only tweny-six years when the picture appeared in C. S. Gurney's Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. More than a century later, Langdon Park continues to be a popular recreational spot. The city held its annual Easter Egg Hunt here one week after I took this picture.

The benches, markers, and flagpole in the center of my photograph surround a monument to the United States servicemen who were prisoners of war or missing in action during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hutchings House

The Hutchings House was located on the east side of Washington Street, between Court and Hancock Streets. Strawbery Banke Museum’s Carter Collections Center now stands on the site.

The first Methodist sermon in Portsmouth occurred in the early 1790s, when an itinerant preacher from North Carolina named Jesse Lee spoke to a gathering in Market Square. Town authorities denied him the use of the old Courthouse – at that time, Methodism was not considered to be a “real” religion – so he climbed the stairs and preached from in front of the door.

The Hutchings House in 1902

In 1808, Portsmouth Methodists organized and began meeting in the south parlor of J. Brackett Hutchings' home on Washington Street. The first Methodist Sunday School class in town was organized here by George Pickering. Hutchings later owned a drugstore on Market Street from 1827-1864.

The house looked dilapidated and neglected in this 1907 photograph from the Library of Congress:

Strawbery Banke Museum built their Carter Collections Center at this location in 2007. Although the building appears to date from the 1700s, inside is a state-of-the-art preservation haven for the museum's collection of artifacts.

Friday, April 13, 2012

St. John’s Church

St. John’s Episcopal Church is located at 105 Chapel Street, atop Church Hill on the southeast corner of Chapel and Bow Streets.

There has been a church on this hill since 1732, when British Anglicans built Queen's Chapel here.

Named in honor of Caroline, the wife of King George II, Queen's Chapel thrived until the Revolutionary War, when the Anglican Church of Britain became unpopular in this country. Starting in 1773, there were no regular services held until 1786.

On November 1, 1789, President George Washington attended services at Queen's Chapel, accompanied by the President of New Hampshire, John Sullivan; John Langdon; and Washington’s private secretary, Tobias Lear. The church still owns an antique chair, contributed by Queen Caroline, that the dignitaries used during the services.

In 1791, the Parish changed the name from the Royal-sounding Queen's Chapel to St. John’s Church.

Early on the morning of December 24, 1806, a faulty hearth in a Bow Street store started a fire. The blaze raced eastwards and  consumed almost every building from the corner of Ceres Street to the base of Church Hill. Sparks landed on the roof of St. John's and set the wooden church on fire. Despite desperate attempts to limit the damage, the church burned to the ground.

The cornerstone for a new chapel was laid on June 24, 1807, with the Grand Master of the New Hampshire Masons, Captain Thomas Thompson, delivering the address. The brick St. John’s Church that still stands today opened on May 29, 1808.

President James Monroe attended services on July 13, 1817, and the funeral of Admiral David G. Farragut was held here on August 17, 1870. Today, St. John's Church serves the oldest Episcopal Parish in New Hampshire, and the building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The church has barely changed in the 110 years that have passed since this Library of Congress photograph was taken in 1902. A new Parish House on the right was built in 1953, and now ugly power lines spoil the view. 

The bell that still rings over Portsmouth was presented to the Parish on March 30, 1745 by New Hampshire military officers. It was captured from the French after the Siege of Louisburg (Nova Scotia). Originally cast in France, the bell was badly damaged in the 1806 inferno and recast in Boston by Paul Revere. It was recast again in 1896.
The graveyard on the northern side of the church contains almost one hundred marked graves and ten underground vaults. The oldest gravestone dates from 1745.

Buried here are some of the most prominent pre-Revolution Portsmouth families.
Surnames include Atkinson, Jaffrey, Sherburne, Sheafe, Manning, and Gardner. Royal Governors John Wentworth and Benning Wentworth and their families are entombed here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Goodwin Park and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument

Goodwin Park is located on the southeast side of Islington Street, east of Cabot Street and across from the intersections of Cornwall and Rockingham Streets with Islington Street.

The park is named for Ichabod Goodwin, the Governor of New Hampshire at the beginning of the Civil War. His home, the Governor Goodwin Mansion, once stood directly across the street from the park and is now the centerpiece of Strawbery Banke Museum.

In 1887, Governor Goodwin's heirs sold the parcel of land to the city for a small fee with the requirement that it be used as a public park. At the same time, Marcellus Eldredge, mayor of Portsmouth and owner of the Eldredge Brewing Company, solicited help from residents to buy a Civil War statue for the new Goodwin Park.

The city unveiled its Soldiers and Sailors Monument on the Fourth of July in 1888. The statue is constructed of a zinc alloy that was advertised as “white bronze” by its manufacturer, the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Lady Liberty stands atop the monument. Beneath her, four Civil War battles are listed, with depictions of a Union soldier and sailor.

The North-facing Gettysburg side has the following words:

In honor of the Men
who gave
their services on the
land and on the sea
in the war which
preserved the Union
of the States
this monument is erected
by the grateful citizens,

During the Civil War, approximately 39,000 New Hampshire men served in the armed forces. Their casualties included about 1,900 killed in action and 2,500 deaths from disease. The Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers suffered more battlefield casualties than any other regiment in the Union Army: officially 295 killed and 756 wounded.

The south, Antietam, side lists some of the battles where New Hampshire regiments saw action:
Fair Oaks
Savage Station
White Oak Swamp
Malvern Hill
South Mountain
Cold Harbor
Monitor and Merrimack
New Orleans
Mobile Bay
Morris Island
James Island
Fort Darling
Port Hudson
Red River
Fort Donelson
Peach Tree Creek
Sherman’s March to the Sea

On the west, Fredericksburg, side stands a Union soldier. The east side has a northern sailor and the word Kearsarge. The USS Kearsarge was a Portsmouth-built sloop-of-war powered by steam and by sail that sank the CSS Alabama off the coast of France in June 1864.

The monument is in an ongoing cycle of decay and repair. Lady Liberty originally stood about twenty-five feet above the park. A 15-foot section of the pedestal had to be removed in 1955 when it became too weak to support Lady Liberty. The lower section of the original pedestal (approximately 10 feet high) was restored in the early 2000s.

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument has also been vandalized. In one attack, an anchor that the sailor was leaning on was broken apart (you can see the damage in my picture of the east-facing side above). In March 2012, some idiot stole the stack of cannonballs on the south-facing Antietam side hoping to sell them for scrap. These are before-and-after pictures of the damage:

May 29, 2011
March 24, 2012

Friday, April 6, 2012

Captain Samuel Chauncy House

The Captain Chauncy House, also known as the Captain Barnes House, is located at 202 Islington Street, on the south side directly across from the intersection of Islington and Langdon Streets.

Captain Samuel Chauncy was born in 1767. Early in his career as a mariner, he captained a merchantman owned by Colonel Eliphalet Ladd, who lived in the Buckminster House. Captain Chauncy married one of his employer's daughters, Betsy, in 1795, and later became a business partner with Ladd’s sons, Henry and Alexander. 

Captain Chauncy and his wife built their large three-story home on the south side of Islington Street, opposite Ann (now Langdon) Street in 1807. They only lived here about five years, then sold the home to Captain Lewis Barnes and moved to a farm in Stratham. Sadly, Samuel Chauncy committed suicide while captaining the Portsmouth trader Hannah overseas, in 1817.

Captain Barnes was born Jacobi Ludwig Bäarnhielm at Gottenburg, Sweden in 1776. When he was fourteen years old, he sailed on a military expedition with his uncle, who commanded a flotilla of gunboats. Feeling that his uncle was mistreating him, one day he jumped overboard and swam to a nearby American ship. He ended up in Salem, Massachusetts and changed his name to Lewis Barnes.

By 1803, Captain Barnes commanded a Portsmouth merchant ship on a trade route between Portsmouth, New Orleans, and Liverpool, England. He married in 1803 and purchased the Captain Chauncy House around 1812. Captain Barnes lived here for the rest of his life and died in this home on June 27, 1856.

Upon his death, the house transferred to his wife, Abby Maria (Walden) Barnes. When his widow died, Captain Barnes’ house came into the possession of one of his daughters, Esther Walden Barnes, in 1894. Esther never married and had no children. When she died in 1903, her heirs sold the house to Elizabeth A. Kenney in 1910. The house again changed hands in 1929, 1934, and 1936.

Between 1936 and 1937, the beautiful house on Islington Street where two Portsmouth sea captains had lived was gutted and transformed into a Sunoco gas station.

All of these vintage pictures were taken in the mid-1930s for an Historic American Building Survey.

The first photograph below was captured in 1936 before the transformation. The next one, from 1937, is titled, "Remains of Capt. Barnes House." 

Today, the AR&T Auto Repair and Towing company occupies the building.

I suspect most people in Portsmouth do not realize the history of this building. It looks like an antique gas station of the 1930s, but once was the stately mansion of a Swedish immigrant who became a successful Portsmouth merchant. Captain Barnes lived here with his wife, Abby, for over forty years. They had nine children during their marriage, six of them while they lived in this house.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Captain Thomas Thompson House

Captain Thomas Thompson’s house, once known as the Mark H. Wentworth house,  is located at 179 Pleasant Street, next south of the Governor John Langdon House and directly across from the intersection of Junkins Avenue and Pleasant Street.

Thomas Thompson was a respected Portsmouth shipbuilder and shipmaster. The Continental Congress commissioned him a naval officer on October 10, 1776. His commission was signed by John Hancock.

He supervised the construction of and captained the USS Raleigh, a 32-gun frigate built on Badger’s Island, which at that time was known as Langdon’s Island. The Raleigh is the warship depicted on the Great Seal of New Hampshire.

The Raleigh was the first American warship built in Portsmouth. Launched on May 21, 1776, the ship sailed from Portsmouth on August 12, 1777, accompanied by the 24-gun Alfred. Their destination was L'Orient, France, to embark and transport arms and ammunition to the Continental Army.

The Raleigh captured the British schooner Nancy on September 2. Two days later, they attacked a British convoy and damaged a 20-gun brig named Druid so badly that the British ship had to return to port. The Druid suffered six men killed and twenty-six wounded, while the Raleigh had casualties of three killed and wounded.

After loading the stores in L’Orient, the two American warships sailed for home on December 29, 1777. During the return voyage, they captured a British ship off Senegal. On March 9, 1778 two British warships, HMS Ariadne and HMS Ceres, captured the slower-sailing Alfred near the Lesser Antilles. The Raleigh was too far away to rescue her; however, as a result of Alfred’s loss, the Marine Committee accused Captain Thompson of cowardice and dereliction of duty, and he lost command of the Raleigh.

Captain Thomas Thompson built this mansion on Pleasant Street a year after the Revolutionary War ended, in 1784, the same year that John Langdon built the mansion next door. As Governor of New Hampshire, his neighbor appointed Captain Thompson a Colonel of the Regiment of Artillery on August 10, 1785.

Thomas Thompson, as Grand Master of Masons in New Hampshire, laid the cornerstone for the current St. John’s Church on June 24, 1807. He died in 1809.

The photograph below, from the Library of Congress, was taken around 1907.

One of Thomas Thompson’s daughters married Dr. Josiah Dwight, and they lived in this home for a number of years.

Mark Hunking Wentworth, a seventh generation of Portsmouth’s powerful Wentworth family, lived here until his death in 1902. He was a descendant of the Mark Hunking Wentworth who purchased the Governor John Wentworth mansion for his son in 1764.

This house remains a private residence.