The North Church is in the center of Market Square, on the southeast corner of Market Square and Pleasant Street, opposite the Portsmouth Athenaeum.
Portsmouth residents built the first North Church, which also served as the town meetinghouse, at this location in 1712. The opening of this new building divided the congregation into two parishes: the South Parish, which had worshiped at the original location near the South Mill Bridge since 1671, and the North Parish, which began worshiping here.
The first North Church was affectionately known as the ‘Three Decker’ because it was three-stories high. Town meetings were held here until 1762. The parish remodeled the church in 1837, removing the third story at a cost of $5,828.29. They demolished the original church in 1854 and replaced it with the current North Church, which opened in 1855, for a cost of $30,000.
The weathervane atop the North Church steeple dates from 1732 but was not gilded until 1796. The first clock was mounted in the steeple around 1749 and replaced by a more modern timepiece in 1856. A bell that was first mounted in 1764 to signal a nine o’clock curfew rang news of the end of the Revolutionary War on April 28, 1783. In 1856, however, It was lost in a shipwreck during a voyage to England for refurbishment. The bell that replaced it, which can still be heard clanging the hour over Market Square, rang for thirty minutes on August 29, 1905, to herald the Treaty of Portsmouth that ended the Russo-Japanese War. A major renovation of the North Church in 1890 added the memorial stained glass windows and the current organ.
The many famous worshipers included President George Washington, who attended services at the North Church during his visit to Portsmouth in 1789, and President James Monroe in 1817. Local parishioners have included General William Whipple, signer of the Declaration of Independence; Governor John Langdon, signer of the United States Constitution; Daniel Webster, the famous orator; and Captain John Paul Jones, who twice visited Portsmouth to supervise construction of his warships.
Twenty-one ministers have served this parish, including Reverends Nathaniel Rogers from 1699-1723, and Jabez Fitch from 1725-1746. Samuel Langdon was ordained in 1747 and left in 1774 to become President of Harvard College. Ezra Stiles succeeded him from 1777-1778, but then became the President of Yale. Joseph Buckminster served the North Church from 1779 until his death in 1812; Israel W. Putnam in 1815; Rufus Clark in 1842; and Lyman Whiting in 1855, the year the present North Church was dedicated.
The North Church of Portsmouth is now a United Church of Christ and has been served by the Reverend Dawn A. Shippee since 2000.
The old photograph above is from the Library of Congress's Online Digital Collection. Taken around 1907, it shows the North Church, Congress Street, and part of the Haven Block on the right.