The building dates from at least 1871, when the C. Sullivan and Company grocery store opened here on October 4 of that year. When Sullivan retired a few years later, the firm passed into the hands of an employee named John Oliver Downs, a native of Portsmouth who lived from 1841 to 1910.
Downs was married to Sarah Philbrick Lear and had two daughters, Hattie and Alice. The Downs family lived on the corner of Daniel and Linden Streets, on the east (right) side of where the Thomas J. McIntyre Federal Building (the U.S. Post Office) stands today, as shown in this Portsmouth Athenaeum photograph: John and Sarah Downs’ House.
John Downs formed a partnership with John Holland, and the market became known as John O. Downs and Company. According to Leading Manufacturers and Merchants of New Hampshire, published in 1887, the full-service grocery store offered “the choicest cuts of beef, pork, veal, mutton, lamb, etc., also fish of every description, and a full variety of salted and smoked meats of all kinds, vegetables in season, etc.” The store employed seven workers, and three freight wagons with horse teams delivered groceries to customers in Portsmouth and the surrounding areas.
By 1902, when the vintage photograph below appeared in C. S. Gurney’s book, Portsmouth, Historic and Picturesque, this market was known as the John Holland Meat and Fish Store. John O. Downs had opened a new store located around the corner on Market Street.