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.