Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Islington Street Jail

The old Islington Street Jail is on the north side of Islington Street, opposite the intersection of Islington and Summer Streets.

Portsmouth built its first jail in 1699, on the south side of Congress Street, near the corner of Congress and Fleet Streets.

The second Portsmouth jail was located on the southeast corner of Porter and Chestnut Streets. This jail burned down during a major fire in 1781, when boys accidentally ignited a barn where the Music Hall is located today. The blaze also destroyed Langdon House, the home of Woodbury Langdon, and now the site of Rockingham House.

The following year, in 1782, Portsmouth built this wooden jailhouse (below). For twenty years or more, a pair of iron posts positioned in front of this building was used to immobilize recalcitrant prisoners while they were lashed with cat-o’-nine tails. Horse thieves were branded with a crossbar across their foreheads and a vertical stripe down their noses to form a ‘T’ tattoo. Fifty years later, these harsh punishments had been eliminated, and an adjoining (west) one-story stone jail was constructed, with a second story added later. This jail was used until 1891, when Portsmouth built a new jail on Penhallow Street, a building that still exists.
Portsmouth sold the old Islington Street Jail in 1907, the year these vintage photographs from the Library of Congress were taken.

When I walked Islington Street in search of the location where this old jail once stood, I was amazed to discover that the building still exists, although in a drastically modified state. At least, I believe this is the same building. I will let you be the judge by comparing the old pictures with my 2012 photographs.

Three dormer windows have been added, the left (west) side has been truncated, and the two second-floor windows on the right have been replaced by a single window. If you look closely, however, the bay window seems to be the same in both photographs, minus shutters today. Also, the second-floor window on the right is closer to the center window than the one on the left.

Friday, July 27, 2012

C. S. Gurney’s Photography Studio

The commercial building that included C. S. Gurney’s offices and photography studio stood on the north side of Congress Street, a block west of the Vaughan Mall.

I idly looked for this building for months while walking Portsmouth’s streets and  documenting other locations. Its distinctive features include four bay windows on the second floor, eight windows with triangular pediments on the third floor, and geometric designs – circles, rectangles, and diamonds.

The building seemed familiar to me but I never did find it, not even a heavily-modified version.

After a frustrating search, I found a few postcards and photographs on Portsmouth Athenaeum's Website that show portions of the building. I confirmed the location using the 1905 Portsmouth Directory that gives the address of Canney's Music Store, the first shop on the right, as 67 Congress Street. At that time, the Franklin Block was listed as 43 Congress Street and the YMCA (now Sake Japanese Restaurant) was 83 Congress Street.

This Athenaeum photograph shows the old Langdon Hotel that once stood on the northwest corner of Congress Street and Vaughan Street (now Vaughan Mall). The C. S. Gurney building is next door to the left. It is in the right foreground of this photograph looking west up Congress Street towards the old YMCA building.

The commercial building in the old photograph is from C. S. Gurney’s 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. This extensive photographic survey of the city is an invaluable resource for my WalkPortsmouth blog. At the time the book was published, Gurney’s offices and studio occupied the top two floors of this building. Caleb Stevens Gurney lived from 1848-1924. He became a resident of Portsmouth in 1889 and worked at the Portsmouth Shoe Company.  He retired to Boston later in life. 

On the ground floor, the shop on the right was Canney’s Music Store. According to the 1905 Portsmouth Directory, they sold and tuned pianos and organs, and also offered photographic supplies, photos, pictures, and picture framing.
Next to it was the fruit and confectionary shop of Joseph Dondero. A. G. Sides & Company, a Millinery shop, was next, and the leftmost shop was owned by P. J. Flanagan.

This is the approximate location of C. S. Gurney's studio, between the 
Vaughn Mall and the Sake Japanese Restaurant.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sheafe Warehouse

The Sheafe Warehouse is located east of Marcy Street, on the waterfront in the middle of Prescott Park.

The Sheafe Warehouse was built in the early 1700s, probably around 1740 but possibly as early as 1705, by Sampson Sheafe. The problem for the historian is deciding which Sampson Sheafe built it.

The first Sampson Sheafe  was born in London in 1646 and was a merchant and landowner. He moved to Great Island (Newcastle) around 1693. He was the first of many Seacoast N.H. Sheafes, one of the most significant families in Portsmouth history. The original Sampson was a deputy collector of customs. In 1698, he was named Clerk of the Superior Court, a member of His Majesty’s Council, and Secretary of the province. In 1711, he was Commissary of the New England military forces during an ill-fated expeditionary force against Quebec. He died in 1725.

The first Sampson Sheafe had five children and named one of his sons Sampson. The second Sampson Sheafe was born on Great Island (Newcastle) in 1683 and graduated from Harvard in 1702. Like his father, he was a merchant involved in the fishery business and the West India trade. This Sampson Sheafe was appointed a member of His Majesty’s Council in 1740 and served until 1761. He would have been fifty-seven years old in 1740 and is likely the Sampson Sheafe who built the Sheafe Warehouse. He died around 1772.

The second Sampson Sheafe had ten children, and he named his second son, (what else?) Sampson Sheafe. The third Sampson Sheafe was born in 1713. He would have been twenty-six years old when the Sheafe Warehouse was constructed, so he may have been the builder.

The third Sampson Sheafe had two children during his lifetime: a girl named Mary Sheafe and a boy named (you guessed it!) Sampson Sheafe, probably born in 1750. The fourth Sampson Sheafe had one son named (wrong!) Samuel Sheafe. There are an amazing number of texts and records about Portsmouth’s early history; unfortunately, they do not distinguish between the Sampson Sheafes by adding Roman numerals at the end of their names.

The old photographs of the dilapidated Sheafe Warehouse on this page are from the Library of Congress and were taken in 1935, before the structure was moved to Prescott Park.

Whichever Sampson Sheafe built the Sheafe Warehouse, the original location was on a pier opposite the corner of Mechanic Street and the Pierce Island Road. It faced north in the old location but today faces east. The second floor overhangs the river for easier loading and unloading of small merchant ships, like the gundalow that is often docked nearby. Historians believe that the U.S.S. Ranger, a sloop-of-war built at John Langdon’s Portsmouth shipyard and commanded by Captain John Paul Jones, was probably equipped at the Sheafe Warehouse in 1777.

The Sheafe Warehouse in Prescott Park is sometimes confused with a Sheafe Wharf that stood on the waterfront opposite the east end of Deer Street. Thomas Sheafe, the grandson of the second Sampson Sheafe, owned this wharf, and it is best known as the origin of a yellow fever epidemic of 1798.

Here is a fact that may only interest me:
Sheafe Wharf is my 100th posting to
the WalkPortsmouth blog!

Friday, July 20, 2012

South Cemetery

South Cemetery, also known as South Street Cemetery, is located on the southeast corner of South Street and Sagamore Avenue.

South Cemetery actually consists of at least four cemeteries: Cotton’s Burying Ground, Proprietor’s Burying Ground, Harmony Grove, and the Sagamore Cemetery. This is a great place to Walk Portsmouth.

The land was originally uses as a pasture by Goodman William Cotton. In 1721, the area that became known as Cotton’s Burying Ground was enclosed by a fence. This is in the northeast corner of South  Cemetery, opposite the intersection of Richards Avenue with South Street.

Grave of Levi Woodbury

The surrounding area was used as a military training field, where Captain John Pickering drilled his company of Puritan soldiers. Starting in 1735, Reverend Shurtleff also used the field as pastureland for his livestock, followed by every minister of the South Parish. Not surprisingly, the area became known as Minister’s Field.

Proprietor's Burial Ground Vault

Portsmouth publicly executed Ruth Blay in what would become Proprietor’s Burying Ground in 1768, for concealing the birth of her illegitimate baby. She is buried in an unmarked grave somewhere at the bottom of the hill, north of the lake.

Peter Jenness Tomb

A few years after the South Parish moved to the Stone Church on State Street, around 1830, the field became a privately-owned cemetery. It was named the Proprietor’s Burying Ground because it was the first cemetery in Portsmouth that was not public.

Cotton’s and Proprietor’s Burying Grounds are adjacent to South Street and occupy the northern section of South Cemetery. South of them are the Harmony Grove Cemetery, added in 1847, and the Sagamore Cemetery that was added in 1871.

The vintage photograph was published in 1902. Amazingly, some of the "new" tombstones that did not appear in the original photo are now a century old. The tall monument to the left marks the final resting place of Frank Jones, a remarkable Portsmouth resident who once owned one of the largest breweries in the United States, the Frank Jones Brewing Company on Islington Street. He also owned and extensively remodeled the Rockingham Hotel on State Street.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Dr. Hall Jackson House

Dr. Hall Jackson’s house was on the northwest corner of Court and Washington Streets.

Dr. Hall Jackson, the son of another prominent Portsmouth physician, Dr. Clement Jackson, was born in Hampton, New Hampshire in 1739. The family moved to Portsmouth when Hall Jackson was ten years old. He studied in Portsmouth public schools, then learned medicine from his father and perfected his skills in London hospitals.

Dr. Jackson had great success treating patients with smallpox. He resided in Boston for a few months in 1764, fighting a smallpox epidemic carried from merchant ships sailing from abroad.

During the Revolutionary War, he was the chief surgeon for the New Hampshire troops enlisted in the Continental Army and served as an artillery captain.

In 1782, Portsmouth granted Dr. Jackson and a few other physicians permission to create a hospital on Henzell’s Island – at no expense to the town – for the quarantine of smallpox patients.

Dr. Hall Jackson became the Grand Master of the NH Masons. Harvard College bestowed him a Doctor of Medicine degree in 1783, he was an honorary member of the Massachusetts Medical Society, and one of the founding members of the Federal Fire Society of Portsmouth in 1789.

In September 1797, he was visiting patients in his horse-and-sulky on Middle Street when the carriage overturned. He fractured some ribs, developed a fever, and died tragically in his home on Court Street on September 28, 1797. He was only fifty-eight years old.

The old photograph of his home below was published in 1902's Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque.

Dr. Hall Jackson's former home is now part of Temple Israel's rear parking lot.

The epitaph on his gravestone in the North Cemetery was written by Jonathan M. Sewall:

To heal disease, to calm the widow’s sigh,
And wipe the tear from Poverty’s swol’n eye
Was thine! but ah! that skill on others shown,
Tho’ life to them, could not preserve thy own.
Yet still thou liv’st in many a grateful breast,
And deeds like thine enthrone thee with the blest.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Temple Israel

Temple Israel, formerly a Methodist Church, is located at 200 State Street, on the south side opposite the corner of State and Penhallow Streets.

The Methodist society of Portsmouth organized at the Hutchings House on Washington Street in 1808. Around 1784, they purchased the Universalist Church on Vaughan Street (later renamed the Cameneum) and then moved to State Street after constructing this edifice in 1827 at a cost of $9,000. The first pastor to hold services in this church was a revivalist named Reverend John H. Maffit. The Methodists worshipped here until 1911, when the church was sold to the Jewish population of Portsmouth.

Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque published the photograph below of the Methodist Church in 1902.

 My photograph of Temple Israel, taken in 2012 while walking in Portsmouth, shows how the old building has changed over the past century after converting to Judaism in 1912.

The first known Jewish family in Portsmouth was Abraham and Rachel Isaac, who arrived from Prussia around 1780. During their lifetimes, they were the only Jewish people in town. Abraham made a good living as an auctioneer and built a sturdy home on the south side of State Street opposite the Rockingham House. Rachel ran a china shop out of their home, which was always closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays. After Abraham died in 1803,  Rachel lived in Portsmouth until 1813 and then moved to New Ipswich to live with their adopted son.

The Jewish population in Portsmouth remained low until around the turn of the 19th Century. There were about sixteen families during the 1890s and  perhaps thirty in 1900. They organized into the Temple of Israel in 1905 and began worshipping in a rented room. Harry Liberson was their first religious leader. The society became a legally-recognized religious entity in 1910.

Temple of Israel, which shortened its name to Temple Israel in the 1940s, purchased the synagogue on State Street from the Methodists in 1911, and they have continued to worship here since 1912.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Haymarket Square

Haymarket Square is the triangle formed by the intersection of Court and Middle Streets.

This area was pastureland on the outskirts of Portsmouth during the early days. The town built scales for weighing hay here in 1755, and it became a thriving farmers marketplace for almost a century, until the 1840s. For this reason, the corner became known as Haymarket Square.

On September 12, 1765, angry citizens gathered in Haymarket Square to protest the new British Stamp Act that was to tax merchant goods. Their outrage was aimed at the newly-appointed stamp agent, George Meserve, who had recently arrived in Boston from London to begin levying the tax in New Hampshire. Unbeknownst to the townspeople, Meserve had been forewarned about the colonial opposition to the Stamp Act and resigned his commission. Nonetheless, on that day his likeness, along with effigies of the Devil and Lord Bute the head of the British Ministry were hanged in Haymarket Square. That evening, Portsmouth citizens cut them down, paraded them through the streets, and then publicly burned them.

Over time, this event became blended in oral histories with the execution of Ruth Blay in 1768. A false account of the events was considered a fact for decades: that the effigy of her executioner, Sheriff Thomas Packer, was the one hanged, paraded through the streets of Portsmouth, and burned. For more information, please read my article, "Tragic Tale of Ruth Blay: The Last Woman Hanged in New Hampshire".

Townspeople began building large homes in Haymarket Square at the turn of the 19th Century. John Peirce was first when he built his impressive Peirce Mansion on Court Street in 1799. At that time, the square was still considered to be the extreme outskirts of town.

The Oracle House moved here from Market Square, behind the North Church, in 1800 and remained until relocated to Marcy Street during the 1930s. It stood on the northeast corner of Haymarket Square.

Parrott and Peirce Houses
Ebenezer Thompson built the home next door to the Peirce Mansion (west), in 1801. Across the street, Richard Shapley built his home, now known as the Peirce House, in 1803, the Langley Boardman House dates from around 1806, and the Parrott House between them was built towards the end of the Civil War.

Can you picture the equestrian statue of General Fitz John Porter in the middle of Haymarket Square?

When the town sought a location for the statue, in 1902, they considered two choices: Haven Park and Haymarket Square. A committee organized by the City Council unanimously chose Haven Park as the location. A Portsmouth legend claims that they passed on Haymarket Square because the horse would have had its tail-end irreverently pointed towards the church on Court Street.

The Peirce Mansion (left) was moved back from the road during the 1950s. As you can see in the 1902 photograph from the Library of Congress, it originally stood as close to Court Street as the Ebenezer Thompson home next door.

For many years, the intersection at Haymarket Square served as a traffic circle. The photograph below from the Portsmouth Annual Report of 1970 shows it being dismantled that year.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Thomas Haven House

The Thomas Haven House, also known as the Haven-Decatur or Octagon House, was located at 241 Middle Street, on the southeast corner of Middle Street and Richards Avenue. The current mansion is known as the Jones-Sinclair House.

The son of Reverend Samuel Haven and Margaret Marshall, Thomas Haven was born in 1783.  He previously lived on Pleasant Street, near Daniel Webster’s home on the northwest corner of Pleasant and Court Streets. Both houses burned in the Great Portsmouth Fire of 1813.

Afterwards, Haven built an impressive brick mansion here around 1818. It faced northeast, towards the corner where the two streets meet.

I can find very little about Thomas Haven, perhaps because he was the twelfth of seventeen children (two died in infancy). He was likely a wealthy merchant involved in the Haven family shipping business. He married three women during his lifetime: Eliza Hall, Mehitabel Jane Livermore, and Ann Furness.

Admiral George Washington Storer later purchased the house. The admiral’s claim-to-fame began early in life, when he was barely five months old. During President Washington’s visit to Portsmouth in 1789, he bounced the future admiral on his knee at the Tobias Lear House. The legend goes that George Washington placed his hand on the tot’s head and modestly commented that he hoped the boy would become a better man than “the one whose name he bears.” Admiral Storer’s illustrious U.S. Navy career included a stint as Commodore of the Brazil Squadron between the  years 1847-1850. He retired as a Rear Admiral in 1862.

The very old picture below was published in C. S. Gurney’s 1902 book Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque, but was photographed before the mansion was razed around 1865.

Admiral Storer’s daughter, Mary Washington Storer, inherited the house after her father’s death in 1864. She and her husband, Albert L. Jones, demolished the old octagonal-shaped house around 1865-1867. They replaced it with a villa-style mansion, which became known as the Jones-Sinclair House. This mansion still stands at this location and can be seen in my recent photographs.

Around 1890, Charles A. Sinclair and his wife, Emma, received the house as a gift from her father, the famous Portsmouth industrialist and politician, Frank Jones. They extensively remodeled the house and built a large stable next door.

A later owner was Arthur W. Horton, who was born in Portsmouth in 1878 and went to the Haven School. In 1911, he became proprietor of the mansion that was now called the Sinclair Inn. The stables just south of the villa were converted into the Sinclair Garage, a facility that serviced Studebakers. You can see a photograph of the Sinclair Garage on this blog: The OldMotor.com.

The garage was demolished in the early 1970s to make way for the Margeson Apartments, an elderly and disabled housing unit.