Monday, December 15, 2014

Folsom-Salter House

The Folsom-Salter House is located at 95 Court Street, on the north side opposite the intersection of Court and Rogers Street. It originally stood on the south side of Court Street, across from the intersection with Chestnut Street.

The Folsom-Salter House was built in 1808, and its greatest claim to fame is that the 5th President of the United States, James Monroe, stayed here during his visit to Portsmouth, July 12-15, 1817


More than a thousand Portsmouth students lined Middle Street, from the Rundlett-May House to the Samuel Larkin House, to greet President Monroe upon his arrival. Jeremiah Mason, the famous lawyer, welcomed him to Portsmouth with a speech. On the first full day of his visit, a Sunday, he attended church services at St. John’s Church and the North Church. He also visited with Governor John Langdon at his home on Pleasant Street.


The house was once owned by one of Portsmouth's many residents over the years named Captain John Salter. This particular John Salter was the son of Henry Salter, the husband of Anne Mary Kennard Salter, and the father of four children, one of whom died in infancy. He lived from 1816-1874.

The house later served as the Portsmouth Athletic Club in the early 1900s, as the law offices of Thomas E. Flynn, and as a restaurant from 1947-1956. During the 1960s, it was moved to its present location and replaced at 140 Court Street by Feaster Apartments, a housing facility for the elderly and disabled.

The Portsmouth Athenaeum's website has several photographs of the Folsom-Salter House as the Portsmouth Athletic Club taken between 1915-1925, and when it was a restaurant, circa 1946.



This historic but mostly forgotten mansion is currently the home of Commonwealth Dynamics, Inc., "a leader in the design, construction, and maintenance of tall structures for the power industry including steel stacks, concrete chimneys, combustion turbine exhaust systems, silos, cooling towers, and other associated structures."

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Franklin Block

The Franklin Block, also known as the Franklin Building and the Ben Franklin Block Buildings, is addressed as 75 Congress Street. The imposing building occupies the block bordered by Congress Street to the north, Fleet Street to the east, and the Vaughan Mall to the west.


During the early 1800s, Langley Boardman built two wooden dwelling houses on this block that were soon converted into a hotel and tavern called the Stage House. In 1819, the building on the corner of Congress and Fleet Streets was replaced by a brick building. The Portsmouth Hotel and Stage House became the Franklin House, and the new structure contained an assembly hall, Franklin Hall, on the first floor with a ‘spring floor’ for dancing, and another hall on the second floor where the Masons gathered.

A festive ball with 400 hundred guests was held in Franklin Hall on May 21, 1823, to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of the first New Hampshire settlement. The attendees included Daniel Webster, Jeremiah MasonReverend Nathan Parker, Edward Cutts, Langley Boardman, and W. H. Y. Hackett, as well as many prominent Portsmouth  families, including the Wendells, Sheafes, and Wentworths. 

Another important event occurred at Franklin Hall on September 21, 1824, when the Marquis de Lafayette and thirty veterans who served under him during the American Revolutionary War received a grand reception from the residents of Portsmouth.

For many years, before the onset of the railroads, The Stage House, and later the Franklin House, served as the headquarters for two stage coach companies that carried passengers between Portland and Boston.

The current massive Franklin Block, built in 1879, originally held a second-floor theater and a hall. During improvements around 1900, the theater was removed and the hall extended. First called Franklin Hall, the function room was afterwards renamed for later owners, to Philbrick Hall, and then to Freeman’s Hall. On the third floor were doctors and lawyers offices, and the first floor has always been occupied by retail shops and restaurants.


When the vintage photographs shown here were published by C. S. Gurney, more than a century ago in his 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque, the Franklin Block’s retail space facing Congress Street was occupied by H. C. Hewitt and Company, a gentlemen’s furnishings and clothing store, on the west side; Paul M. Harvey’s Jewelry Store in the center; and Goodwin E. Philbrick’s pharmacy on the east side.



The Franklin Block has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Rundlet-May House

The Rundlet-May House, sometimes spelled ‘Rundlett-May House’, is located at 364 Middle Street, on the north side between Summer and Cabot Streets.


James Rundlet built his new home in 1807, to house his wife, Jane Hill Rundlet, and their seven children. While living here, the fruitful family welcomed six more offspring. 

Originally from Exeter, Rundlet came to Portsmouth in 1794 to make his fortune, and soon succeeded as a textile merchant with a store on Market Street. The War of 1812 years were extremely profitable for him and included a commission from the United States government to supply woolen cloth for soldiers’ uniforms.


Towards the end of the war, he invested in a woolen mill in Amesbury, Massachusetts, and another mill, in 1823, on the Salmon Falls River in Rollinsford. Later in life, he used his accumulated profits to invest in real estate and rental properties around Portsmouth.

James Rundlet was a forward-thinking man who incorporated leading-edge technology in his home. He equipped his kitchen with a revolutionary Rumford range and roaster, precursor of the modern kitchen range, that was invented by Count Rumford during the 1790s. By the 1830s, he'd installed an early, coal-fired, forced hot-air heating system, and his house was one of the few private residences supplied with water by the Portsmouth aqueduct system.

The Rundlet family’s extensive holdings, which surrounded their elaborate house, included pastureland and property that extended south to Rundlet Mountain, where the J. Verne Wood Funeral Home stands today. From 1815 until his death in 1852, James Rundlet was the tenth highest taxpayer in Portsmouth.


Upon his death, two of his unwed children inherited the Rundlet Homestead, Caroline and Edward. Another daughter, Louisa Catherine Rundlet May, joined them in the family home with her two children, twins James and Jane, after the untimely death of Louisa’s husband, George May, in 1858.


The house next passed to Louisa’s son, James Rundlet May following the deaths of his Harvard-educated uncle, Doctor Edward Rundlet, in 1874, and his Aunt Caroline in 1880. James, who also became a doctor and practiced medicine in Portsmouth, and his wife, Mary Ann Morrison May, had one child, a son named Ralph May. Ralph became the fourth generation and last family member to own the home. Upon his death in the early 1970s, Ralph deeded the Rundlet-May House to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now known as Historic New England.


Unfortunately, C. S. Gurney did not include a photograph of the Rundlet-May House when he published, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque, in 1902. For a comparison shot, I found this 1940 picture on the Portsmouth Athenaeum Website: Fa├žade of Rundlet May House.

Visiting this interesting showpiece of Portsmouth history, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, can prove difficult. For some reason, Historic New England only opens the Rundlet-May House to the public for a dozen or fewer days each year, recently on the first and third Saturdays from June 1 through October 15.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Sarah Orne Jewett House

The Sarah Orne Jewett House is at 5 Portland Street, South Berwick, Maine.

When Tilly Haggens immigrated from Ireland to Maine around 1740, she settled in Berwick and purchased a large tract of land. In 1774, her son, John, built the Georgian house that would become known as the Sarah Orne Jewett House on his family's property. John Haggens, a successful merchant and veteran of the French & Indian War, lived here until his death around 1820.


The Haggens' estate rented the house to the family of Captain Theodore F. Jewett, a merchant mariner, during the 1820s. The Jewetts eventually purchased the home in 1839. Nearly a decade later, Captain Jewett’s son, Doctor Theodore H. Jewett, moved into the house with his parents. Joining him were his wife, Caroline, and their young daughter, Mary. In 1849, while still living in the house with her in-laws, Caroline delivered a second daughter, Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett, who was named after her grandfather and father. 
Not surprisingly, Theodora preferred the less masculine-sounding name of Sarah. 


Doctor Jewett’s family lived in his parents’ home until 1854, when a Greek Revival house was built for them next doorCaroline Jewett gave birth to a third daughter, also Caroline, while they were living in the building that now serves as the Sarah Orne Jewett House Visitors Center. This is also where Sarah Orne Jewett began her writing career, publishing her first story in 1868. 

Sarah and Mary, neither of whom ever married, continued living with their widowed mother in the smaller, Greek Revival house for 33 years.


In 1860, the future Sarah Orne Jewett House passed into the ownership of Sarah’s Uncle William. Upon his death in 1887, Mary and Sarah inherited their grandparents' home, while Caroline and her husband took ownership of the Greek Revival house next door. Sarah spent a long and prolific life in the home that bears her name, writing novels, short stories, and poems about country life in the southern seacoast of Maine. 

She suffered a stroke and died in the Sarah Orne Jewett House in 1909.  

Mary continued living here until her death in 1930, passing the house on to her nephew, Caroline’s son, Theodore Jewett Eastman. Historic New England received the home as a gift when Eastman died only one year later.




Unfortunately, I cannot find any vintage photographs of the Sarah Orne Jewett House; for now, we will have to settle for the 'after' picture only.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rockingham County Jail

The Rockingham County Jail building is at 30 Penhallow Street, opposite the intersection of Penhallow and Sheafe Streets.


Rockingham County began the construction of two Portsmouth facilities in 1891, Rockingham County Courthouse on State Street, and behind it, a jail fronting on Penhallow Street. The jail was occupied in May 1892, and the courthouse opened for business the following October.

 












The Portsmouth Athenaeum's Website has a picture of the ivy-covered Rockingham County Jail circa 1912: PostcardCompare their vintage photograph with my shot taken 102 years later:


The two are very similar. The most notable differences are that the climbing vines are gone, the chimneys have been removed, and a modern extension has been added to the rear. Portsmouth razed the derelict courthouse in 1967, but the jailhouse remained and is now used as an office building. On pleasant days on the Seacoast, I wonder if employees working there feel like THEY are in jail?


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hamilton House

The Hamilton House, also known as the Jonathan Hamilton House, overlooks the Salmon Falls River at 40 Vaughan Lane in South Berwick, Maine, about twelve miles north of Portsmouth.

Jonathon Hamilton was a successful shipping merchant who made his fortune running privateers during the American Revolution. With his new found wealth, he constructed the Hamilton House during the mid-1780s, and ran a shipyard and shop nearby. His prosperous business, which he  centered in Portsmouth, included shipbuilding and timbering. He invested in local mills and owned sugar plantations on Tobago in the West Indies.


After Jonathon Hamilton died in 1802, his sons owned the house and continued their father’s businesses, although not with the success that he had known. In 1811, they sold the Hamilton House to their sister, Oliver, and her husband, Joshua Haven, who sold it four years later to a business associate of Jonathon Hamilton, Nathan Folsom.

From 1839-1898, Aipheus Goodwin and his wife, Betsy, owned the Hamilton House and surrounded it with a family-run farm. Afterwards, the last private owners were Emily Tyson, the widow of a B&O Railroad executive, and his daughter from a previous marriage, Elise Tyson. Friends of Sarah Orne Jewett, who lived in downtown Berwick, the Tysons turned the farm into a Colonial-Revival country estate. Emily died in 1922, but Elise and her husband, Henry Vaughan, continued to summer here.

In 1949, they donated the Hamilton House and adjoining property to Historic New England.


The black-and-white photograph above was taken less than fifty years ago, by the National Park Service in 1970, the year the Hamilton House was named a National Historic Landmark.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bellamy Eagles

Discover Portsmouth at 10 Middle Street, in the former Academy Building that served as Portsmouth Public Library, is holding an exhibit of wood carvings by John Haley Bellamy and other artists inspired by him. Called “Bold and Brash: The Art of John Haley Bellamy”, the exhibit is a rare collection of works by the artist famous for his decorative wall-hangings known as Bellamy Eagles.


John Haley Bellamy was born in the historic Pepperrell Mansion in Kittery on April 5, 1836. His father, Charles Gerrish Bellamy, was a building contractor who served as a Maine State Congressman from 1842-1843, and a State Senator from 1846-1847. Later, he became the Inspector of Timber at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. He and his wife, Frances “Fanny” Keen Bellamy, had nine children, as well as two daughters from Frances' previous marriage.


John Haley Bellamy, their first child together, learned to carve as an apprentice to furniture-maker Samuel Dockham in Portsmouth, and as an employee of Laban Beecher, a famous and controversial ship's woodcarver, in Boston. By the late 1860s, Bellamy partnered with D.A. Titcomb of Boston and was selling carvings across the country to fraternal organizations like the Freemasons, Knights of Columbus, and the Civil War veterans’ organization, the Grand Army of the Republic.


During his lifetime, Bellamy's decorative pieces for ships and homes included figureheads, furniture, wall-hangings, and animal figures. He also held patents for six styles of intricately-carved clock cases.

He moved to Portsmouth during the winter of 1872-1873 and opened a wood-carving shop. Here was where he specialized in carved eagles like the ones exhibited at Discover Portsmouth. He became renowned for his “Bellamy Eagles”, yet never signed his works because he considered himself to be an ordinary, but skilled, woodcarver and not an artist.


In 1880, he was commissioned to carve a figurehead for the USS Lancaster, a Naval sloop-of-war, while she was undergoing repairs at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Bellamy was paid just $2.32 per day for his work. The resulting gilded eagle weighs 3,200 pounds and has an eighteen-foot wingspan. Considered to be Bellamy's finest work, the beautiful Lancaster Eagle is proudly displayed at The Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia.

Bellamy died in Portsmouth on December 5, 1910, having outlived his parents and all of his brothers and sisters.


A Bellamy Eagle, or an eagle inspired by John Haley Bellamy, currently flies above the front door of Northeast Auctions in the Treadwell Jenness House. Another once adorned the front facade of the H.C. Hopkins & Company Dry Goods Store on Market Street, now home to the Portsmouth Brewery.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Richard Jackson House

The Richard Jackson House is located at 76 Northwest Street, north of the North Mill Pond in an area of Portsmouth known as the Christian Shore.

This year (2014) marks the 350th anniversary of the oldest house in Portsmouth, which is also the oldest timber-framed building in New Hampshire and Maine. Richard Jackson built the original, center portion of this home on his 25-acre property in 1664. Back in Colonial days, the river was more important for travel than the few roads, and for this reason, the home faces the North Mill Pond rather than Northwest Street.


Richard Jackson, the son of an immigrant cooper, worked as a woodworker, farmer, and mariner. His 25-acre property was adjacent to the farms of his father-in-law and brother-in-law. The Jackson family never became famous or wealthy; they were contented to be common laborers, planting crops, tending their apple trees, caring for farm animals, and raising their families. 

Over the years, the house was usually owned and occupied by more than one Jackson family member at a time. This led to several enlargements to increase the living space.
Kitchen, Showing the Butry Door on the Left

They built the first addition, a lean-to adjacent to the kitchen, in 1715. Called “the Butry” or buttery, this unheated space was used for food storage. Later, they extended the lean-to across the entire rear of the house. This gave the home its distinctive steep roof that slopes almost down to the ground.

Interior of the Western Lean-to


In a 1727 census, twelve men over the age of sixteen lived in the small house, along with wives and children. The overcrowded conditions led to the construction of an ell on the east side of the house. Around 1824, a shed-roofed lean-to was also added on the west side.




The Richard Jackson House has been regarded as historically significant for many years. As long ago as 1876, when Sarah Haven Foster published The Portsmouth Guide Book, she referred to the Jackson House as “the most ancient of all our houses.”

Stairs to the Second Floor
From 1880, the Jacksons lived next door in a more modern house and rented this old home. Until the early 1930s,  their renter was a woman named Isabelle “Belle” Tilley who had been born on a slave plantation and escaped via the Underground Railroad. The Richard Jackson House remained in the possession of the Jackson family for more than 250 years. William Sumner Appleton , the founder of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now known as Historic New England, acquired the house from the seventh generation of Jacksons in 1924. 


The vintage photographs above both date from 1900, before the building was restored by Historic New England. The top comparison photographs show the front of the building that faces the North Mill Pond. The pictures above show the most-famous view of the house, the rear view. 

Not surprisingly, the 350-year-old Richard Jackson House is a National Historic Landmark. 


Friday, July 18, 2014

Pest Island

Pest Island is southwest of the northwestern corner of New Castle, east of downtown Portsmouth.

Colonial Portsmouth’s merchant fleet traveled to distant ports and encountered many contagions, the worst of which was smallpox. The first recorded cases on the Seacoast occurred in 1692 and were thought to have been contracted from cotton imported from the West Indies. At that time, no one locally knew the proper way of treating patients with smallpox, resulting in the death of most people who contracted the disease.

In 1735-1736, an unknown contagion that became known as throat-distemper ravaged the area. Especially virulent in children, the merciless disease killed ninety-nine people over a fourteen-month period, eighty-one of whom were under the age of ten. By the mid-1700s, patients with smallpox or other contagions were usually quarantined in rented houses in rural areas away from the most populated parts of Portsmouth until they were cured or killed. 

Wentworth by the Sea with Pest Island on the Right
According to Nathaniel Adams’ 1825 book, Annals of Portsmouth, in 1749, Portsmouth “purchased a small island in the river, just below the town, on which they built a house, with suitable accommodations for a hospital. A family resides in the house to attend upon the sick that are brought there. It is called the pest-house.” 

The original site was probably Shapley’s Island rather than Pest Island. 

Courtesy of Bing Maps
In 1764, an epidemic of smallpox in Boston threatened to spread to Portsmouth, which had constant contact with its sister city by sea and by land. To prevent this from happening, every person and ship traveling from Boston, as well as their baggage and cargo, were ‘smoked’, a method believed to reduce the chances of spreading the disease to others. A native of Portsmouth, Dr. Hall Jackson, lived in Boston at that time and gained a reputation for successfully treating smallpox victims through inoculations.

In 1778, the town used Dr. Hall's methods to organize a program for inoculating all smallpox patients. A committee identified three islands that were suitable for a quarantine hospital: Pest, Henzell’s, and Salter’s. A system was put in place whereby a person needed permission to visit the island and was required to pay for their care in advance, including eight dollars for the attending physician. Once inoculated, the patient had to remain on the island for at least twenty-one days and could not leave until a doctor certified a clean bill of health. One out of every ten patients who received treatment was to be a pauper whose care was provided for free. The program inoculated four hundred and twelve patients at a total cost of about sixty-five hundred dollars.

In 1782, about a year before the Revolutionary War ended, Portsmouth granted four local physicians – Ammi R. Cutter, Joshua Bracket, Hall Jackson, and John Jackson – permission to establish a private hospital on Henzell’s Island, provided that there would be no cost to the town.

The bridges that connect the South End of Portsmouth with New Castle (Route 1B) were constructed in 1822. At that time, the Shapley's Island ‘pest-house’ had to be relocated to Pest Island. According to Sarah Haven Foster's Portsmouth Guide Book, the hospital still remained on Pest Island when she published in 1876.

Pest Island Looking South from Riverside Cemetery in New Castle

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Portsmouth Naval Prison

The Portsmouth Naval Prison, sometimes called ‘The Castle’, occupies the southeastern corner of Seavey Island, at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine.

During the Revolutionary War, starting in 1775, Seavey Island was fortified with earthworks and garrisoned by New Hampshire militia to prevent the British Navy from entering Portsmouth harbor. Fort Sullivan, named for General John Sullivan, consisted of several gun batteries facing a similar installation, Fort Washington, on Peirce Island. The opposing cannon of the two forts commanded The Narrows, a constricted stretch of the Piscataqua River between the two islands. Fort Sullivan was again manned during the War of 1812, and it was strengthened for the defense of Portsmouth Navy Yard against Confederate threats during the Civil War. After 1866, Fort Sullivan was dismantled.

Spanish Prisoners Washing Dishes at Fort Long - 1898
During the brief Spanish-American War, a prison encampment known as Fort Long, named for the Secretary of the Navy, John Long, occupied the area of Seavey Island where the Naval Prison stands today. During July of 1898, the Navy transported more than sixteen hundred Spanish prisoners to their temporary home at Fort Long. Their numbers included about a dozen officers and several surgeons and priests. 

To accommodate the mass of prisoners, eight large barracks were erected to house them, eight more were built for their Marine guard, plus six cook houses, three mess halls, and sanitary buildings. To secure the inmates, two Gatling guns, precursors of modern machine guns, were positioned near the camp entrances, and Marines were posted every fifty feet around the perimeter to prevent an escape.

Spanish Prisoners Fishing - 1898
During the summer of 1898, the Spanish prisoners could frequently be seen fishing from the high rocks along the Piscataqua riverbank. Some were paroled and allowed to visit Portsmouth. Their stay on the Seacoast was short-lived, however; the war ended barely a month after they had arrived. 

All of the prisoners, except for thirty who had died from injuries or disease and were buried on the island, were transported to Spain on September 12. The Navy closed Camp Long three years later, in 1901.

Construction of Portsmouth Naval Prison began in 1905, and the first prisoners arrived in 1908. Like Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, it was thought that the fast tidal currents of the Piscataqua River would discourage prisoners from trying to escape, and stop them if they made an attempt. 

The Castle

The prison was enlarged in 1912 by the addition of The Castle, an impressive-looking building with crenelated battlements atop the four guard towers. The roof is made of copper and, like the Statue of Liberty, weathering has caused it to turn green. 

A few years after The Castle was added, the First World War saw an influx of prisoners, until the prison population reached 2,295 inmates in 1918. 



The Fortress
Business was also booming during World War II, requiring two new wings to be constructed: the northeast wing in 1942, and the southwest wing, known as ‘The Fortress’ in 1943. During the final year of the war, 1945, Portsmouth Naval Prison held 3,088 inmates. When Germany surrendered, four captured U-boats were escorted to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard: U-234, U-805, U-873, and U-1228. Their crews were incarcerated and interrogated at the Naval Prison. 


Portsmouth Naval Prison continued to be used through the Korean War and into the Vietnam War years. By 1974, however, it was considered obsolete and closed permanently. It remains vacant to this day. The U.S. government continues to look for someone to lease the facility, although re-use will require a massive cleanup of hazardous materials, especially asbestos.

When it was built, the Portsmouth Naval Prison was considered to be the largest poured-concrete building in the world. In its day, The Castle was the United States Navy’s maximum security prison, and the inmates unlucky enough to be incarcerated here did hard time. A sailor or marine transferred to Portsmouth dreaded the move as much as a civilian sent to Alcatraz. In fact, this infamous brig earned nicknames like ‘The Rock’ and ‘Alcatraz of the East’. Although the prison housed more than eighty-six thousand prisoners during its sixty-six years in service, not one inmate escaped.











The oldest photographs on this page, taken in 1896, were published in C.S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. The vintage picture of Portsmouth Naval Prison above is used courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOC) and dates from circa 1912. Mine was taken from a different angle because duplicating the LOC photo would require a boat or trespassing on private property.

The best places to view the Portsmouth Naval Prison are from Peirce Island and from Portsmouth Avenue (Route 1B) near the westernmost tip of New Castle. Due to hazardous materials, and Shipyard security, visiting the closed facility is prohibited.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Webster House

The Webster House, also known as the Benjamin F. Webster House and Buckminster Chapel, is located at 84 Broad Street. The mansion sits on the northwest corner of Broad and Highland Streets facing east.

Situated a very walkable three-quarters of a mile from Market Square, on the top of what once was known as Rundlet’s Mountain, the Webster House is as large and impressive as the Frank Jones House on Woodbury Avenue. Benjamin Franklin Webster began the construction of his immaculate home beginning in 1878, and the Webster family moved in around 1881. 



Benjamin F. Webster was a wealthy building contractor who once had vast real estate holdings. Born in Epsom, New Hampshire, he received a basic education and moved to Portsmouth in 1841. Webster was seventeen years old when he began his remarkable career as a lowly apprentice carpenter. He married Sarah A. Senter in 1849, and built their first home, a small cottage on Austin Street, two years later. While living there, they had a son, Merit Victor Webster in 1851, and a daughter, Stella in 1854.

The Websters moved into the old Oracle House in 1855. Now located at 38 Marcy Street, at that time the historic building sat in Haymarket Square at 2 Court Street. The small family resided in the Oracle House for twenty-six years, until 1881, when they moved to the newly-completed Webster House. 


Benjamin Franklin Webster was a leading member of St. John’s Masonic Lodge and the Mechanics Fire Society, as well as a proprietor of the Portsmouth Athenaeum. His contributions to the city include the renovation of three local churches and construction of numerous houses, the Cabot Street School, the Kearsarge House, and the old Congress Block after fire destroyed the original.


Webster had real estate holdings in Rye and Newington. In Portsmouth, he owned property on Atkinson Street, Austin Street, Broad Street, Cabot Street, Charles Street, Coffins Avenue, Congress Block, Court Street, Green Street, Hanover Street, Highland Street, Jefferson Street, Lincoln Avenue, Manning Street, McDonough Street, Middle Road, Middle Street, Pleasant Street, Richards Avenue, Rockland Street, Sheafe Street, and State Street.

He lost his wife, Sarah, in 1913, and died three years later at the age of ninety-one, after a long and successful life. His funeral was held in the Webster House, and he was buried in the South Cemetery

At the time of his death, his family included four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His daughter, Stella, never married, and continued to live in their magnificent home until she died, age 97, in 1951. 





















A vintage photograph of the Benjamin Franklin Webster House, taken in the late 1800s and posted on the Portsmouth Athenaeum website, shows what the house looked like when the Webster family lived there. It hasn't changed much in the ensuing years.

The mansion has been lovingly preserved by its current owner, the J. Verne Wood Funeral Home. Mr. Wood established a downtown Portsmouth undertaking business in 1854. He named his funeral home 'Buckminster Chapel' because it was located in the old Buckminster House on Islington Street. During the 1940s, J. Verne Wood was succeeded as funeral director by his cousin, George Bradford Ward. In the early 1950s, Mr. Ward jumped at the chance to buy the Webster House, and the Buckminster Chapel and J. Verne Wood Funeral Home relocated to this magnificent mansion.