Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Great Portsmouth Fire of 1813

Sunday, December 22, 2013 is the bicentennial anniversary of the worse disaster to ever strike Portsmouth. Two hundred years ago, around seven o’clock on the evening of December 22, 1813, a blaze was discovered in a barn owned by the widow of Colonel Moses Woodward. 

Stone Church (South Church)
What would become known as The Great Portsmouth Fire began on the northwest corner of Church and Court Streets, where the Stone Church is located today. The burning barn quickly spread flames to the neighboring buildings. As townspeople struggled to limit the damage, swirling winds began lofting flaming material into the air over the heart of Portsmouth.

Conditions were perfect for a firestorm, and soon sparks carried by the wind began randomly setting fire to buildings on State Street and the surrounding areas. The town’s firefighting efforts, consisting of water-bucket brigades and hand-pumped engines, were quickly overwhelmed as blazes burned out of control in various locations and continued to spread. Flames from burning buildings on both sides of State Street, which was much narrower than it is today, joined above the roadway and created an arch of fire over the road. Many volunteers dashed into burning houses to rescue furniture and other belongings. Household objects were stacked in the street.  Looting occurred during and after the fire, and at least one person fighting the fires had his pocket picked. The inferno grew and grew until light from the fires could be seen as far away as Boston, Massachusetts; Windsor, Vermont; and Providence, Rhode Island.

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard
People from neighboring towns, including Exeter, Dover, and Durham, helped fight the flames. Citizens from as far away as Berwick, ME and Newburyport, MA arrived. Hand-pumpers from Exeter and Dover helped save the South End. Commodore Isaac Hull, commander of the Portsmouth Naval Yard, and the crews of Navy ships in port pitched in. 

The inferno raged for six hours, until about 1 o’clock on the morning of December 23, before the firefighters got control. Forty people arrived from Salem, MA around three o’clock in the morning and kept an eye on the smoking ashes while exhausted townspeople who had battled the flames all night found somewhere to sleep. The following night, Christmas Eve, Newburyport sent eighty or ninety men to help guard the charred remains and stacks of belongings that littered the streets.

The fire destroyed State Street from the burning barn to the Piscataqua River shoreline and even torched the Portsmouth Pier and all its warehouses at the end of the street. Among the losses was an historic, castle-like mansion once owned by Sheriff Thomas Packer, who was notorious for hanging Ruth Blay, the last woman executed in New Hampshire. The prosperous merchant, James Sheafe, Jr., lost his home on the north side of State Street opposite Washington Street, and the house where Daniel Webster lived, on the northwest corner of Court and Pleasant Streets, also burned. Portsmouth’s library and about a thousand books were lost.

Destroyed were approximately one hundred and eighty homes and sixty-four barns and shops; some estimates put the destruction as high as two hundred and seventy-two buildings. Fifteen acres of the center of Portsmouth were in ruins: 1/3 of a mile from west to east and 1/8 of a mile south to north.  Property damages amounted to $250,000 -$300,000. Afterwards, charitable donations of precisely $77,273 were collected.

Losses from this fire were so devastating that the NH Fire and Marine Insurance Company, incorporated after the first Great Portsmouth Fire in 1802, went bankrupt. Their building in Market Square was later sold to the Portsmouth Athenaeum.

As a result of the fire, the third Christmastime inferno to devastate Portsmouth in eleven years (1802, 1806, and 1813), the town voted to request state legislation banning wooden structures over 12 feet –one story high – within the town limits. The resulting “Brick Act” was controversial but resulted in the Portsmouth we know today. Most buildings on State Street, from Pleasant Street to Marcy Street, Daniel Street, and Market Street are brick for this reason.

Years later it was discovered that the barn fire that started it all had been deliberately set by a disgruntled servant of the Widow Woodward. Angry that her employer had confiscated some bottles of wine given to her by a boarder, the young woman retaliated by setting fire to the barn.

Amazingly, not one person died in
The Great Portsmouth Fire of December 22, 1813.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Francis House

The Francis House was “the second house from Middle Street on the east side of Union Street” in 1902. It no longer exists.

During the War of 1812, John Francis was a black crewman aboard a merchantman owned by Nathaniel A. and John Haven. On the ship’s homeward journey to Portsmouth after a successful voyage early in the war, the ship was captured by privateers sailing out of South Carolina or Georgia. When a prize crew boarded the ship, Francis agreed to help them sail the empty merchantman back to port. During the voyage, he managed to hide $15,000 of the cargo’s proceeds in a slush tub, a large bucket filled with animal grease that was used to ‘slush’ the masts. The money, an enormous amount for the early 1800s, consisted of sixty pounds of gold coins. When the ship reached land, the privateers allowed him to have the slush tub, not knowing that it contained a small fortune. Francis banked the money and returned it to the Haven family.

To thank John Francis for his service, John and Nathaniel A. Haven built the Francis House for him shortly after the War of 1812 ended. At the time, there were a number of free African-American homes clustered on Union Street, on the west side of Middle Street. He lived here for many years.

Nathaniel A. and John Haven were sons of Reverend Samuel Haven, a pastor of the South Church. Dr. Nathaniel Appleton Haven graduated from Harvard College in 1779 and became a physician. He was a surgeon in the navy during the Revolutionary War, became a merchant after hostilities ended, served as the first President of the Portsmouth Savings Bank, and was elected to Congress in 1809. John Haven was a shipmaster who partnered with his older brother, Nathaniel, to form the N. A. and J. Haven merchant company. They were successful and became enormously wealthy. Legacies of the Haven family include Haven Park, the Haven Block in Market Square, and the Haven School.

Charles W. Brewster, in Rambles About Portsmouth, wrote in 1859 that the Francis House was a “two-story dwelling on the east side of the street, numbered four from Middle Street.” The exact location of the house was in dispute by 1902. C. S. Gurney required the help of two elderly gentlemen, George W. Haven and Peter Emery, to locate it. When he published Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque, he gave the following location for the Francis House:  “the second house from Middle Street on the east side of Union Street, next north of the stable, which was formerly a stocking factory.”

Gurney included the black-and-white photograph of the Francis House shown above. Based on several descriptions of the location, my best guest is that the house was located around 233-235 Union Avenue. The house currently in this location is somewhat similar, but I believe the original Francis House was demolished a number of years ago. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Farmers Hotel

The Farmers’ Hotel, later renamed the Piscataqua House, once stood on the southwest corner of Pleasant and Porter streets.

The first hotel on this lot opened around the year 1818 and was replaced by the larger Farmers' Hotel around 1830. In 1840, Farmers' Hotel was owned by the partnership of Josiah Hadley and Eben Clark. The pair were also the proprietors of the first three-story retail store in town, which was located opposite their hotel on the northwest corner of Pleasant and Porter Streets. 

Hadley served in the army, rose to the rank of brigadier general in 1844, and commanded troops at Fort Constitution in Newcastle during the Civil War. He later served as a state representative in Concord and as a proprietor of the Portsmouth Athenaeum.

By 1902, when C. S. Gurney published Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque, all that remained of the old Farmers’ Hotel was the c.1857 ambrotype he published (below) and a grassy lot to the right of the Custom House where the building once stood.

Today, a 1927 addition to the original granite U.S. Custom House is located where the old Farmers' Hotel used to stand. The building is currently occupied by the 5 Thai Bistro.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

John E. Sise House

The Sise House, for years known as the Sise Inn, is located at 40 Court Street, on the southeast side of Haymarket Square, where Court and Middle Streets intersect.

Before 1881, a three-story Federal mansion stood in this location on the south side of Court Street. Built in 1798 as an L-house for Charles Treadwell, the last owner was the family of L. E. Marsh.

John E. Sise became a relative by marriage of the Marsh family when he wed Lucy Maria Marsh in 1857. The couple had four children, born from 1862-1876. After purchasing the Marsh family mansion in 1879, they immediately had it removed. By 1881, they had replaced it with the current Stick Style house, an elaborate Queen Anne home.

John Sise was an insurance agent with an office in the Peirce Block, where Foye's Store (left) relocated after his death. He served as a proprietor of the nearby Portsmouth Athenaeum from 1865 until 1898.

His eldest child, Mabel Sise, later owned the house. She married Alfred Gooding, a minister of the South Church, in 1887. Reverend Gooding served the parish for thirty-seven years, was president of the Portsmouth Historical Society, and a proprietor of the Portsmouth Athenaeum from 1922 until his death in 1934. While living in the Sise House, Reverend Gooding built an addition that doubled the size of the original home. 

In his book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque, C. S. Gurney refers to this house as the “modern Sise dwelling”. It was only twenty-one years old when he included it in a photograph of Haymarket Square (below). The enlarged close-up of the Sise House in 1902 shows how remarkably similar it looks today.

The John E. Sise House opened as the Sise Inn with thirty-four guest rooms in 1986. It was sold to new owners in November 2013 and will soon reopen as The Hotel Portsmouth.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wallace Hackett House

The Wallace Hackett House address is 351 Middle Street, on the southwest corner of Middle Street and Miller Avenue.

Construction of this elaborate Colonial Revivalist house for Wallace Hackett began in 1891 and completed in 1892. The architect, a Portsmouth native named Harry Ball who worked out of Boston, also remodeled the Portsmouth Atheneaum's Reading Room in 1892 and designed the 1895 Cottage Hospital.

Wallace Hackett was destined to be a lawyer when he was born in 1856. His father, a lawyer named William Henry Hackett, was the son of another lawyer and politician named William H. Y. Hackett. The elder Hackett lived on Congress Street for more than fifty years, and after his death in 1878, his home became the city's Y.M.C.A. Building.

My knowledge of Wallace Hackett is limited to his civic record. He was a director of the First National Bank, a trustee of the Piscataqua Savings Bank, and a director of the Concord & Portsmouth Railroad. He became a member of the Federal Fire Society of Portsmouth in 1883. During a short term as Portsmouth's Mayor from 1907-1908, Hackett played a key role in preserving the Aldrich House and creating a permanent memorial to the author, Thomas Bailey Aldrich.

The vintage photograph above was published in James A. Wood's 1895 book, New Hampshire Homes, just three years after the home was constructed. The old photo below is from C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque.

St. John’s Lodge No. 1, the oldest continuously-active Masonic Lodge in the United States, purchased the Wallace Hackett House in 1920. The Masonic Temple behind the original home was constructed in 1928.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Exchange Block – Montgomery’s Music and Art Store

Montgomery's Music and Art Store once occupied the northernmost retail space in the Exchange Block, currently 15 Pleasant Street.

Nathaniel Adams, the Portsmouth chronicler who published the Annals of Portsmouth in 1825, is thought to have been born in a home near the corner of Pleasant and State Streets. His father, also Nathaniel Adams, owned the land where the Exchange Block sits today. After the Great Portsmouth Fire of 1813 destroyed the Adams’ home as well as other buildings in this area, the current Exchange Block was built. The commercial building was later extensively remodeled during the 1890s.

D. H. (David Henry) Montgomery founded Montgomery’s Music and Art Store at the north end of the Exchange Block in 1862, just when the American Civil War was heating up. He became the sole agent in Portsmouth of Knabe pianos from Germany, and his showroom included pianos by Chickering, Ives & Pond, Briggs, and Vose. He also carried organs by Mason & Hamlin, Wilcox & White, and the Smith American Organ Company.

D. H. Montgomery built a modest home on the corner of Merrimac Street and Miller Avenue in 1880. A later owner extensively remodeled and expanded the building, and it is now known as the Montgomery-Eldredge House. When D. H. Montgomery died in 1885, his son, Horace P. Montgomery, became the store’s owner and manager.

Montgomery's Music and Art Store ran the above advertisement in The Portsmouth Directory of 1905, and the shop was listed under the following categories: Artists’ Materials; Cameras; Engravings, Pictures, Etc.; Music and Musical Instruments; Photographic Supplies; Piano and Organ Tuning; Pianos and Organs; Picture Framing; Pictures and Picture Frames.

On the floors above Montgomery's shop were the publishing offices of three Portsmouth newspapers: a morning edition called the Chronicle, first published in 1852; an evening edition called the Herald, previously known as the Penny Post; and the weekly New Hampshire Gazette, the oldest newspaper in the United States.

According to Portsmouth’s annual reports, Montgomery’s Music and Art Store was in business at least through 1923, when the city paid H. P. Montgomery $14.50 for music.
The vintage photographs above were published in C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. The Piscataqua Savings Bank moved into the space once occupied by Montgomery’s Music and Art Store around 1924 and has been located there ever since.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Strawbery Banke Museum

The Strawbery Banke Museum Visitors Center is located at 14 Hancock Street. The property includes forty structures located within the boundaries of Court Street on the north, Washington Street to the west, Marcy Street to the east, and Hancock Street to the south.

Aldrich House

Portsmouth native Thomas Bailey Aldrich, a noted poet and author, wrote a book called, The Story of a Bad Boy, about visiting his grandparents at this house in the mid-1800s. 

Chase House

Built around 1762, the Chase House was the home of Stephen Chase, a prominent Portsmouth merchant whose family entertained President George Washington here in 1789. It later became the Chase Home for Children, a precursor of the Cottage Hospital.

Conant House

The Conant House is named for Aaron Conant, a stagecoach driver whose family lived here from 1834-1859.

Cotton Tenant House

This modest home was a rental property owned by Leonard Cotton, a prosperous Portsmouth merchant.

Gookin House

William Cotton, the son of Leonard Cotton, moved a small utility shed here and converted it to another Cotton tenant house.

Governor Goodwin Mansion

Originally located on Islington Street, the Goodwin Mansion dates from 1811 and became the home of retired sea captain Ichabod Goodwin and his family in 1832. Governor Goodwin led the state of New Hampshire from 1859-1861.

Hough House

Thomas Hough was a ship's carpenter who lived in the Hough House from 1851-1896.

Jackson House

This modest home was built around 1800 by the Jackson family of Portsmouth, who had owned this lot since 1695.

Jones House

Joshua Jones, a farmer and laborer, lived in this large house from 1796-1843.

Lowd House

A prosperous Portsmouth merchant named James Drisco built this home as a rental property in 1810. His widow sold the house to Peter Lowd, a barrel-maker, in 1824.

Marden-Abbott House and Store

After Walter Abbott died in 1938, widow Bertha Abbott single-handedly ran a small grocery and sundries store here during the tough years of World War II.

Built in 1821 as a tiny 1½ story home, the Peacock House was later enlarged in 1880 and 1940.

Penhallow House

Judge Samuel Penhallow constructed this building around 1750 to serve as his home and courtroom.

Reuben Shapley House

This large home was originally built around 1790 as a workshop or store by Reuben Shapley, a wealthy mariner, merchant, and shipbuilder.

Rider-Wood House

Samuel Jackson, who also built the Jackson House, constructed the Rider-Wood House between 1780 and 1800.

Shapiro House

Abraham and Shiva Shapiro, one of the first Jewish families in Portsmouth, lived in this home from 1909-1928.

Shapley-Drisco House

A mariner named John Shapley, brother of Reuben Shapley, built this home in 1794 and sold it to another mariner, James Drisco, five years later.

Sherburne House

The Sherburnes, one of the oldest families in Portsmouth, built this home circa 1695-1702. When Strawbery Banke Museum purchased the building in 1964, it had been converted to a typical suburban home of the period.

Stoodley's Tavern

Built by Colonel James Stoodley in 1761, the tavern hosted African slave auctions in the 1760s, and American patriots often gathered here at the time of the American Revolution.

Walsh House

Captain Keyran Walsh purchased this home in 1797 and died at sea ten years later.

Wheelwright House

John Wheelwright served as a 2nd Lieutenant on the USS Raleigh during the Revolutionary War.

William Pitt Tavern

Originally named the Earl of Halifax tavern, local patriots pressured John Stavers to rename his establishment in 1777. He chose to name it for William Pitt, a former British Prime Minister who was sympathetic to the American Independence movement.

Winn House, Yeaton House

Timothy Winn III and his brother-in-law, Thales Yeaton, built these connected houses in 1795.

Yeaton-Walsh House

Thales Yeaton rented this home to local workers, including Michael Walsh, a sawyer who lived here around 1850.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Music Hall

The Music Hall is located at 28 Chestnut Street, on the northwest corner of Chestnut and Porter Streets.

This corner of downtown Portsmouth has a long and storied past. 

The town voted to build an almshouse, or poorhouse, on the corner of Chestnut and Porter Streets in 1711 and completed construction in 1716. This was believed to be the first almshouse anywhere in the world, as the first in England was not built until 1723. The Portsmouth Almshouse remained open until 1755, when it moved to Court street and replaced the Old County Court House, where the Central Fire Station is located today.

According to the Annals of Portsmouth, by Nathaniel Adams, a two-story “gaol was built in this town, at the corner of Prison-lane and Fetter-lane” in 1759. Prison Lane was later renamed Chestnut Street, and Fetter Lane became Porter Street. Some sources claim the jail stood on The Music Hall's location; however, the jail was actually built on the southeast corner of Chestnut and Porter Streets, currently the TD Bank parking lot.

In 1781, boys accidentally started a fire in a barn here that soon got out of control, burned the town jail and destroyed the original Rockingham House.

The Free Will Baptist Meeting House, or Christian Church, was built here in 1803 and served as their place of worship until 1844. The building was then purchased by a group of  businessmen who converted it into a 1000-seat amphitheater. Starting in 1847, it was briefly owned by the Washingtonian Temperance Society of Portsmouth. This theater, called The Temple, became the most popular lecture and exhibition hall in Portsmouth during the mid- to late-1800s. Prior to the Civil War, black abolitionists spoke here, including Frederick Douglass. Fire destroyed this historic building in 1876.

The Pierce family estate purchased the lot and built The Music Hall on the site of The Temple in 1877, and Portsmouth’s new entertainment venue opened in January, 1878. Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show performed inside, and the first movie in Portsmouth was shown here on an Edison’s Graphophone in 1898.

Frank Jones, the famous industrialist and owner of the largest brewery in America at the time, renovated and restored The Music Hall in 1901. Among its many famous entertainers was Mark Twain, who spoke here in 1908. The theater became an early stop for many Broadway plays, including Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, and No, No, Nanette through the mid-1920s. When Hollywood films became popular between the world wars, the Music Hall was adapted to present movies. Soon, three new theaters opened in Portsmouth. Specifically designed as movie houses, their competition caused The Music Hall to struggle.

Auctioned in 1945 to a resident of Kittery, The Music Hall was renamed The Civic. Later leased to E.M. Loew in the mid-1960s, it remained a Loew’s theater until the early 1980s.

I have been unsuccessful in locating a copyright-free photograph of The Music Hall. This is a link to an image on the Portsmouth Athenaeum Website showing The Music Hall as The Civic, taken in the early 1980s

Auctioned again, it was saved from demolition in 1987 by a Portsmouth organization called The Friends of The Music Hall. Now open as a nonprofit entertainment center, The Music Hall continues to be refurbished and restored while it entertains the community.

In 2003, the U.S. Senate designated the Music Hall an American Treasure of the Arts.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Kennard House

The Kennard House was once located on the northwest corner of Islington and Tanner Streets.

This old building that stood next to the Remick House was constructed around the year 1700 as a public house known as the Eagle Tavern. The Kennard House name originates from a later owner, Oliver P. Kennard, who probably lived here in the mid-1800s.

Very little is known about the old Kennard House, except for an event that occurred during the “Great Snow” of April, 1717. The storm is reported to have dropped eight feet of snow in Portsmouth. As luck would have it, a woman who resided in this home went into labor, and a doctor was summoned. How times have changed: imagine a doctor making a house call at all, let alone in the middle of a blizzard. When the physician and an accompanying nurse arrived at the house, the snow was piled so high that they were forced to climb through a bedroom window to get inside.

The vintage photograph above was published in C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. My recent photo shows the controversial new business and residential condo building that now occupies this Islington block.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Remick House

The Remick House, sometimes called the Remark House or the Jenny Stewart House, was once located on the northeast corner of Islington and Parker Streets.

The house that once stood on this corner was remodeled in 1851. At that time, a board was found with the construction date, 1696, and the names of the original builders, including Daniel Remark, John Thompson, J. Thomson, and John Thomas.

Sometime in the late 1800s, an owner killed his three daughters and then himself in this house. According to C. S. Gurney, the man committed the murder-suicide “after shooting and wounding a person of whom he had convictions was holding improper relations with his family.”

The vintage photograph above appeared in Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. The Remick House was demolished years ago to make way for commercial development. Today, the location holds one of the ugliest of the new residential buildings being erected in Portsmouth.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Shillaber House

The Shillaber House was located at the north end of Langdon Street, on the west side.

View of North Mill Pond from Langdon Street
The Shillaber House was a modest, one-family home off of Islington Street. On July 12, 1814, it became the birthplace of Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber, a once-famous humorist and author. His family kept a large garden behind their house beside the waters of the North Mill Pond, which at that time covered the railroad tracks that exist today.

Shillaber lived from 1814-1890. He began working in a Portsmouth printing office in 1830. After moving to Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1832, he worked in the newspaper business, becoming an editor for the Boston Post in 1838. It was here that he wrote a short news filler featuring an imaginary woman named Mrs. Partington who was notorious for using malapropisms.

Benjamin Shillaber created a humor magazine, The Carpet-Bag, in 1851 that gave Mrs. Partington and her humorous adventures a home for two years. He spent the decade of 1856-1866 working on the staff of Boston's Saturday Evening Gazette. During his lifetime, he compiled many of his stories into a number of books, including Life and Sayings of Mrs. Partington, Ike Partington, and Mrs. Partington's Carpet-Bag of Fun.

The Shillaber House still existed in 1902, when the above photograph appeared in C. S. Gurney's Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque
Today, the location is home to the oldest electrical contractor in Portsmouth, Regan Electric Company, Inc.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The USS Constitution at PNSY

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNSY), also known as the Portsmouth Navy Yard, is located on Seavey’s Island in Kittery, Maine.

The USS Constitution, dubbed Old Ironsides because of her strong construction, is a 44-gun heavy frigate built in Boston and launched on October 21, 1797. 
USS Constitution, circa 1920

The history of the renowned warship is well known, especially for the defeat of five British warships during the War of 1812. Although the unlikely victories had little impact on the war’s outcome, they boosted American morale at a time when losses on land had hindered the war effort.

Less well-known is that the aging and obsolete warship spent a number of years parked at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The first visit began on June 14, 1855, when the Navy decommissioned Old Ironsides at PNSY. She remained on the Piscataqua River for the next five years.
USS Constitution in Dry Dock at PNSY, 1857

In 1857, the Navy moved the old frigate into dry dock and converted her into a training ship. Now with only sixteen guns, she was recommissioned in 1860 and sailed to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where she was used to train Union sailors during the Civil War.

Old Ironsides was retired from active service once more in 1881 and towed back to the Piscataqua River.

USS Constitution at PNSY, circa 1900
The training ship entered PNSY's dry dock again, this time to be converted into a receiving ship – a floating dormitory for Navy personnel. During this Seacoast visit, the Constitution stayed at the Portsmouth Navy Yard for fifteen years, from 1881-1897. During her long stay, she looked more like a floating hotel than a proud warship.

The future national treasure remained at Portsmouth Navy Yard until after the Revolutionary War’s centennial celebration. As national pride swept the country and the legendary warship’s hundred-year birthday approached, the Navy towed the Constitution back to Boston in September 1897.

Restoration back to a warship began in 1925 and completed in 1930 after a massive effort to save her. Commissioned again on July 1, 1931, the lofty USS Constitution returned to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard one last time on July 3-12, 1931, as her first stop on a three-year grand tour of ninety port cities before returning to her permanent home in Boston.

The above photographs are courtesy of the United States Navy. Below is a vintage photograph of Old Ironsides taken from the Portsmouth shore. This picture of the Constitution, configured as a floating barracks, appeared in C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. Below that is a recent photo I snapped of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle sailing past the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on August 2, 2013.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Shapiro House

The Shapiro House, sometimes called the Dr. John Jackson House or the Augustus Odiorne House, is located on the southwest corner of Jefferson and Atkinson Streets within the boundaries of Strawbery Banke Museum.

This house was built in 1795 for Dr. John Jackson to use as a home and apothecary. Dr. Jackson, a Portsmouth native and son of Deacon Daniel Jackson, served as the ship’s surgeon aboard the Raleigh, a Continental Navy warship commanded by Captain Thomas Thompson in 1777. After Dr. Jackson's death in the early 1800s, his widow continued to live here. The building was later subdivided, and by 1894 was a two-family rental property.

The story of the Shapiros begins with Abraham Millhander, a Jewish man who was born in the Ukraine of Russia. When he was a young man, Abraham followed the example of his older brothers, Simon and Samuel, by emigrating to the United States. His siblings had adopted the more Americanized name of Shapiro, so after reuniting with them, he became Abraham Shapiro.

In 1905, he married Shiva (Sarah) Tapper, his sister-in-law. Abraham and Sarah Shapiro moved to Portsmouth in 1909, the same year their daughter, Mollie Mary Shapiro, was born. 

At the time, this area of the city was known as Puddle Dock. It was a melting pot of Irish, English, Canadian, Italian, Polish, and Russian immigrants, as well as native-born Americans.

Abraham was an active member of the local Temple of Israel and was instrumental in the negotiations for the purchase of the Methodist Church on State Street in 1912. The building remains the Temple Israel synagogue to this day.

Abraham made his living working in shoe shops and factories. After the end of World War I, he owned a Portsmouth pawnshop. The Shapiro family sold the home in 1928.

The Shapiro House was recorded by the National Park Service's Historic American Building Survey (HABS) in 1961. Strawbery Banke Museum restored it in 1996-1997.