Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Rockingham County Court House

The Rockingham County Court House formerly stood on the north side of State Street, between Pleasant and Penhallow Streets, and directly opposite the former Rectory of St. John’s Parish.

Jacob Sheafe (1715-1791), and later his son, James, owned a large brick mansion at this location. After the original Sheafe mansion was destroyed in the Great Portsmouth Fire of 1813, James built another home here. The Sheafes were powerful and wealthy Portsmouth merchants. Jacob served as the Commissary for the Province of New Hampshire’s army at the Siege of Louisbourg in 1745, and his son as a U.S. Senator in 1801. 

Rockingham County Courthouse, 1907
The Rockingham County Courthouse was built in 1891, at the same time as the County Jail that still stands on Penhallow Street, directly behind the location of the old county courthouse. Governor John McLane held a grand reception at the courthouse for the foreign delegates during the Russo-Japanese War peace conference in 1905.

The building stood here until the 1960s, when its poor condition made it susceptible to the urban renewal movement.

Sadly, the stately courthouse was demolished in 1967 after having stood for less than eighty years! If it could have been saved, the old Rockingham County Courthouse would be a Portsmouth landmark today.

In C. S. Gurney’s 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque, this building, as shown in the black-and-white photograph below, was called the New County Court House because it was barely a decade old. The space has served as a parking lot ever since the building's demolition.

The rear of the old County Jail can be seen in the right background of both photographs, 

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