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.


  1. Excellent article but for one thing. Merit Victor Webster, my great-grandfather and Benjamin's son, was MALE, and Stella was his sole sibling -- she lived 97 years in Portsmouth, never married, and kept the house to the end. Merit married Emma Shapleigh and moved to Charlestown, MA. Their sons were Benjamin Franklin, Jr., Frederick, Arthur Garfield and there were four grandchildren by Fred and Arthur.

    1. Correction: Merit Victor Webster's wife was Ella M. Shapleigh, not "Emma". Sorry about error on my part.

    2. Merit's daughter was Ethel Beatrice, m. Leon Baldwin
      His sister was Stella Cornelia

    3. I have a Dag of Merit Victor Webster posted for sale on my website if you would be interested.


  2. Thank you for setting me straight about your great-grandfather. I can't explain why I assumed 'Merit' was a woman's name, but I have now corrected my mistake.