Friday, September 28, 2012

Leonard Cotton House

The Leonard Cotton House, sometimes referred to as the Captain Robert Blunt House, is situated at 144 Washington Street on the southwest corner of Washington and Richmond Streets. The property also extends to the northwest corner of Washington and Hancock Streets, directly opposite the Daniel Webster House.

An early record of this property dates from 1779, when Benjamin Bigelow, a Portsmouth market trader or grocer, purchased the land, which included an old house. A second house, probably the one that still exists today, was constructed on the lot around 1789, the same year that Bigelow sold the land to his son, also named Benjamin Bigelow.

The first prominent owner of the house was Captain Robert Whipple Blunt, a respected Portsmouth mariner and Captain of the schooner, James.

Captain Blunt married Elizabeth Sherburne in 1792, and they had five children. The Blunts purchased this house from the junior Benjamin Bigelow around 1799. Captain Blunt shipwrecked in the West Indies and died in Santo Domingo in 1825.

Leonard Cotton purchased Captain Blunt’s estate in 1826. Born on December 20, 1800 in Portsmouth, Cotton was a merchant and cooper – a barrel maker – who, like many wealthy Portsmouth merchants of the time, traded with the West Indies. He married Martha Clarkson, whom he first met while on a trading voyage to that area. They had seven children in this house, and lived here for forty-six years, from 1826 until Cotton died in 1872.

The house has been remarkably preserved. The black-and-white photograph above, taken in 1961, is courtesy of the Library of Congress’s online Digital Collections.

A sign in front of the building gives a construction date of c. 1747. This may refer to the original house that stood here when Benjamin Bigelow, Sr. purchased the lot. My construction date of 1789 came from an Historic American Building Survey (HABS) of the "Captain Robert Blunt House" by the National Park Service.

The Leonard Cotton House is now office space occupied by Attorney Peter J. Loughlin and Robert A. Lucas and Associates, Public Insurance Adjusters.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Reuben Shapley House

The Reuben Shapley House, sometimes called the Shapleigh House, is located at 420 Court Street, at the southeast corner of Court and Atkinson Streets, on the property of Strawbery Banke Museum. It is directly across Atkinson Street from the William Pitt Tavern.

Captain Reuben Shapley was a Portsmouth mariner, merchant, and shipbuilder born on the Isle of Shoals’ Star Island in 1750. He was married to Lydia Blaisdell Shapley, and they had one daughter, Nancy, who died in 1802 at the young age of 17.

In 1789, Captain Shapley purchased a three-story home next door to this house – a building that no longer exists – on the lot just east on Court Street. He subsequently bought this lot in 1790 and constructed either a workshop or a store here.
On the evening of August 13, 1811, a sailing ship owned by Captain Shapley, the Wonolanset, caught fire. According to Nathaniel Adams' 1825 book, Annals of Portsmouth, the ship “had arrived from sea about an hour before, laden with hemp, cotton, molasses, naval stores and flour, and lay at Shapley’s Wharf.” Although townspeople tried to extinguish the blaze, the fire persisted, and they were forced to cut the vessel loose and let it drift safely out into the river and away from other vulnerable ships and warehouses. Captain Shapley’s loss was estimated at $12,000.

By the year 1813, he had converted this workshop or store to the house that exists today. Captain Shapley died in 1825, but the house continued as part of his estate until 1831.
A devout member of St. John’s Parish, a marble tablet in the church in tribute to him reads:

“Whatever virtues could command respect and insure attachment were united in the character of this estimable man. Kind, liberal, and humane, his good deeds have erected a monument to his name more lasting than marble, and now that he rests from his labors his works do follow him.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Traill-Spence House

Sometimes referred to as simply the Spence House, the Traill-Spence House was once located on the southwest corner of State and Fleet Streets.

During the mid-1700s, a shipping merchant named Robert Traill, from the Orkney Islands in Scotland, lived in this substantial house with his wife, Mary Whipple. Mary was the sister of General William Whipple of the Moffatt-Ladd House, who signed the Declaration of Independence. Before the Revolutionary War, Traill served as the Comptroller of the Port of Portsmouth. In 1766, he was the first person in New Hampshire to brew strong beer, and an outbuilding behind his house, on the corner of Fleet and Court Streets, became known as the “Old Brewery”. As a representative of the British Government for the Province of New Hampshire, Trailll opposed the American Revolution and returned to England once the war began. Robert Traill died in 1785, and Mary in 1824.

Their daughter, Mary Traill, married a native of Scotland named Keith Spence, the purser onboard the frigate, USS Philadelphia who later became the Navy agent to New Orleans. They resided in this house after her father left the country, and their families lived here for many generations. Keith and Mary Spence were the grandparents of the poet, James Russell Lowell.

The Traill-Spence House and the Old Brewery have been demolished. The southwest corner of State and Fleet Streets is now occupied by a drive-up banking facility for TD Bank.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Colonel Joseph Whipple House

The Colonel Whipple House was located on the northeast corner of State and Chestnut Streets. It still exists, at 599 Middle Street, on the northeast corner of Middle and Park Streets.

This house was constructed in 1760 and is best known as the residence and Customs Office of Colonel Joseph Whipple.

Joseph Whipple was one of the five offspring of Captain William Whipple. Sr. and Mary Cutt Whipple of Kittery, Maine. He was the younger brother of General William Whipple, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, who lived in the Moffatt-Ladd House on Market Street.

Around 1759, the Whipple brothers ran a trading company on Spring Hill in Portsmouth called, appropriately, the firm of William and Joseph Whipple. They ran the store together until shortly before the Revolutionary War.

Colonel Whipple married Hannah Billings from Boston in 1762. Their house nearly burned down on March 15, 1781, when children set fire to a barn where the Music Hall stands today. The first of many major fires in Portsmouth’s history, the blaze consumed the town jail and Langdon Woodbury’s stately Langdon House. Exhausting work by firemen manning the pumps of a fire engine saved Colonel Whipple’s home by directing a continuous stream of water onto the end nearest the inferno.

He later became a Collector of Customs and Harbor Master for the port of Portsmouth. The Custom House was an office adjoining Colonel Whipple’s home until the Custom House and Post Office on Daniel Street opened around 1817.

He was the developer of the town of Dartmouth, New Hampshire, which was incorporated as Jefferson, NH. In 1986, a mountain in Jefferson, NH was named for him, Mount Joseph Whipple. For more information, try this article: Mount Joseph Whipple: How and Why It Got Its Name.

Chestnut Street has been divided into two segments. One segment connects Congress and Porter Streets, and the other connects State and Court Streets. For some reason, the middle section between Porter and State Streets no longer exists. It has been replaced by a lawn and parking lot for the Abraham Shaw House at 379 State Street. The former location of the Colonel Joseph Whipple House is now part of the TD Bank parking lot at 333 State Street (below).

The vintage photograph above appeared in C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. The Colonel Joseph Whipple House was the home of the History Club from 1961-1968 and moved to 599 Middle Street in 1969.
I was ready to publish this article, assuming that the building was gone forever, when I read a Portsmouth Athenaeum article that said the building had been moved to "399 Middle Street" in 1969. Of course, a bit more research revealed that "399" was a typo. I walked Portsmouth and found the building at 599 Middle Street, as shown in my 2012 photograph above. For amazing pictures of the move from State Street to Middle Street, go to the Portsmouth Athenaeum site for "Whipple House Being Moved".

The extension to the right, which now has an extra floor, was the Customs House when Colonel Joseph Whipple was the Collector of Customs for the Port of Portsmouth. The entire building is now an apartment house.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

W. E. Peirce & Company

The W. E. Peirce & Company Insurance and Investments was located at 53 Market Street, on the east side between Commercial Alley and Bow Street.

William E. Peirce was born in Portsmouth, NH in 1866, the son of Elbridge Peirce and Frances Hadley Peirce. He married Annie Frances Conlon.

He worked as a clerk at Portsmouth Savings Bank and later opened his own insurance, investment, and securities firm on Market Street called the W. E. Peirce & Company Insurance and Investments.
 William Peirce served as City Clerk of Portsmouth from 1901-1905 and died around 1910.
Below is a 1902 photograph of his Market Street establishment that appeared in C. S. Gurney's book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. The building was constructed after 1802, when its predecessor would have been destroyed in the Great Parade Fire. It likely dates from around 1846, since another earlier structure probably burned in the Great Market Street Fire of May 4, 1845.

Today, the N. W. Barrett Gallery of fine crafts is located in the retail space. The building has been considerably modified and is barely recognizable as the location where W. E. Peirce sold insurance and investments.