Friday, April 5, 2013

Old Brick Schoolhouse

The Old Brick Schoolhouse once stood on the south side of State Street, on the ledge shelf between Temple Israel and the Rectory of St. John’s Church.

Bridget Graffort, the widow of Thomas Daniel, gave Portsmouth a plot of land on the corner of Daniel and Chapel Streets for the purpose of establishing a schoolhouse. In 1735, the town swapped her unused lot for this empty lot on State Street, which at the time was owned by Ebenezer Wentworth. It was here that Portsmouth built the schoolhouse they had promised Mrs. Graffort. Behind the school, a playground extended back to Court Street, and for years, this location was known as School House Hill.

Major Samuel Hale was the most famous instructor who taught here. Originally from Newbury, Massachusetts, he graduated from Harvard in 1740, and five years later commanded a company of soldiers during the Siege of Louisbourg (Nova Scotia), a successful British campaign against the French. The bell that still rings in the tower of St. John’s Church was captured when the siege ended. After his military service, Major Hale taught the sons of Portsmouth residents for almost forty years, starting in 1748. Among his pupils were John Pierce, Daniel Treadwell, Woodbury Langdon and his brother, Governor John Langdon.

Another famous educator who taught here, in 1787, was the father of Salmon P. Chase, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury. 

The original wooden structure was replaced by a brick schoolhouse in 1790. Twenty-three years later, on December 22, 1813, the Great Portsmouth Fire that ravaged State Street partially destroyed the school. The town rebuilt it in 1814. Afterwards, Portsmouth High School was located here for a number of years, until the Old High School and City Hall building replaced it in 1858.

When the vintage photograph above appeared in C. S. Gurney’s 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque, the Old Brick Schoolhouse served as the offices of the Superintendent of Portsmouth Schools. Today, the lot is vacant and serves as a pocket garden for Temple Israel.

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