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. 


  1. Is the top black and white photo of the back of the house the oldest photo available?

  2. Thank you for commenting, Elizabeth. These two photographs are the oldest that I can find. Both were published in C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, 'Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque.' The picture of the back of the house can also be found on the Library of Congress's Digital 'Prints and Photographs Online Catalog here:

    They list the creation/publication date as 'ca. 1900'.

    1. Thank you, Ron, and thank you for writing this update. It has a little more information than I had before. My mother, sister, and I traveled from Michigan to see the house about 20 years ago. It was pretty awesome to stand on the grounds of my great, great (etc.) grandfather and to see that house.

  3. My husband Keith Goodwin is a direct descendant of Isabelle Tilley. The mention of her coming on the Underground Railroad is interesting as our oral family history has a different story line. Also this is the first that I heard that she rented the old house from 1880 onward.