Thursday, March 28, 2013

Davenport House

The Davenport House, also known as the Nathaniel Treadwell House, stood on the northeast corner of State and Fleet Streets. It is now located near Haymarket Square at 70 Court Street.

Charles Treadwell and his wife, Mary Kelley Treadwell, were wealthy Portsmouth merchants who built some of the finest homes in the city, including the National Hotel in 1745 and the Cutter House around 1750. Mary Treadwell built this two-story dwelling on the corner of State and Fleet Streets in 1758 for her son, Nathaniel. 

At that time, the Treadwells owned all of the property from Congress Street to State Street, on either side of Fleet and Chestnut Streets.

The building was named for John Davenport, a Boston silversmith and goldsmith who lived here when he moved to Portsmouth. He specialized in shoe buckles and ran a silversmith shop on the corner of State and Penhallow Streets. When shoe laces were introduced and buckle-making became unprofitable, he converted his silversmith shop into a public house, which he called Ark Tavern. (At that time, Penhallow Street was known as Ark Street; see Noah’s Ark for more information). The tavern was destroyed during the Great Portsmouth Fire of 1813.

Davenport later turned his home into a boarding house known as the Davenport Hotel. During the War of 1812, Governor John Taylor Gilman kept his headquarters here. In 1814, Governor Gilman commanded 5,000 militia troops who ringed Portsmouth and the harbor, expecting an attack by the British that never transpired.

The Davenport House was owned by the Mechanic Association during the mid-1800s and became home to Portsmouth’s YWCA from 1920-1949. It was moved to 70 Court Street in 1956, on the southeast corner of Court and Mark Streets. Opposite the Christian Church, the old Davenport Hotel now serves as office space.

The three photographs above show the Davenport House's original location, how it appeared in C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque, and its current location on Court Street.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Central Fire Station

Portsmouth’s Central Fire Station is located at 170 Court Street, on the southeast corner of Court and Fleet Streets.

The first motorized fire truck arrived in Portsmouth in 1912. In that year, Chief Engineer John D. Randall recommended that the old Central Engine House on Court Street, which had been in use since 1863, should be replaced by a modern facility. 

Four years later, the city chose the site of the old County Court House, next door to the Central Engine House, for the new Central Fire Station. The cornerstone was laid in 1916, and for $85,000 in costs, the new station opened in 1920.

The futuristic facility was built of brick, with six garage doors for equipment on the first floor, and a second floor for living quarters. This was the first fire station in Portsmouth that did not have stalls for horses; it was designed to house automotive firefighting equipment.

In Receipts and Expenditures of the City of Portsmouth For the Year Ending December 31, 1920, city Chief Engineer William F. Woods wrote the following for his Annual Report of the Portsmouth Fire Department:

“Our new Central Fire Station, completed this year, is second to none in New England. This building takes the place of the Hanover Street Station, the old Central Station and the Court Street Station. With this new building and the new motor apparatus, the Fire Department is over 50 per cent  more efficient."

Almost a century later, the Central Fire Station is still in operation. The black-and-white photographs on this page were taken from various Annual Reports for the city of Portsmouth. The one above appeared in 1954.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Central Engine House

The Central Engine House still stands at 202 Court Street, next to the Central Fire Station. The 150-year-old building is on the south side of Court Street, between the intersections with Fleet Street and Church Street, and across Court Street from the rear of the Stone Church.

Portsmouth purchased a horse-drawn hook and ladder carriage in 1863, at the height of the Civil War, for around $650. The new appliance was a long, four-wheeled wagon pulled by two horses. 

That same year, the fire department built the Central Engine House to accommodate its new hook & ladder carriage, several fire engine companies, and their horses. The new fire house was located just east of the Old County Court House and cost the city $3,558.81 to construct. 

 The old photographs to the right are of Portsmouth's most famous firefighting apparatus, Kearsarge Steam Engine #3.

The third steam fire engine in town arrived in June 1870. Probably housed at the Central Engine House on Court Street, Kearsarge #3 served Portsmouth for over fifty years.  

During the "Great Boston Fire of 1872", the pumper and forty Portsmouth firefighters traveled to Boston by rail. Kearsarge #3 helped stop the inferno and is credited with saving the Old South Meeting House.
The Portsmouth Fire Department recently purchased the famed steam engine and refurbished it. An account can be found on

The old photograph below appeared in C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. The Old County Court House is in the foreground, with a glimpse of the Central Engine House to the left.

During 1919, Portsmouth devoted $85,000 for the construction of a new Central Fire Station to replace the Central Engine House. The location they selected was the lot of the Old County Court House, right next door to the Central Engine House on Court Street. The cornerstone was laid in 1919.

The Central Engine House has been occupied by the Baker & Wright Auto Electric Service ever since the new fire station opened in 1920.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Old County Court House

The Old County Court House was once located on the south side of Court Street, between Fleet and Church Streets, where the northeast corner of Portsmouth’s Central Fire Station currently stands. 

During Colonial times, before the American Revolution, the New Hampshire Provincial Government was based in Portsmouth. Meetings were held in the old State House, which stood in the middle of Market Square between the North Church and the Peirce Block. The building served as a court house until it was dismantled in 1836. The local courts then moved to a new building on Jaffrey Street, which was immediately renamed Court Street.

The North Church parish leased this lot for an almshouse in 1755. The two-story structure they built remained here until 1836. In that year, Portsmouth constructed this Greek Revival building to serve as the Rockingham County Court House. Its basement was used as a high school for girls and later as a grammar school. The county court remained in this building from 1836-1891, when a new, modern facility was constructed on State Street. At that time, this building became home to Company B, Second Regiment, of the New Hampshire National Guard and the Portsmouth City Band.

The vintage photograph above was captured around 1907 by the Detroit Publishing Company and was downloaded from the Library of Congress Digital Collections

The Old County Court House was moved south, to the southwest corner of this lot, when the current Portsmouth Central Fire Station was constructed. Ironically, the court house was damaged by fire soon after and demolished.