Old Library, Portsmouth, NH

The old Portsmouth Public Library building at the corner of Islington and Middle Streets in Portsmouth, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2015:

This building was built in 1809 as the home of the Portsmouth Academy, a private college preparatory school.  It was used by the academy until 1868, and then it was leased to the city to use as a public school.  In 1896, it was extensively renovated into a permanent home for the Portsmouth Public Library, which previously had gone through a somewhat nomadic existence between several different locations in the city.  The historic building was used by the library for the next 110 years, before moving to a new location on Parrott Avenue in 2006.  Today, the building is used by the Portsmouth Historical Society for their Discover Portsmouth center.  Although it was heavily altered in the 1896 library renovation, it still has considerable historical significance as an example of an early 19th century school, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Stone Church, Portsmouth, NH

The Stone Church at the corner of State Street and Court Place in Portsmouth, around 1905-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The church in 2015:

Portsmouth’s South Church was established in 1713, and like many other churches in New England in the early 19th century, they became a Unitarian church under the pastorate of Dr. Nathan Parker in 1819.  Construction on this stone church began five years later, and it was completed in 1826.  The design reflects the popular Greek Revival style of the era, with a portico supported by pillars at the front entrance.  Most of the churches built in this style were either wood, such as the 1819 Old First Church in Springfield; or brick, as seen in the 1807 First Church of Christ in Hartford.  Here in Portsmouth, the South Church was built of stone, which was not as common in early 19th century New England churches as it would be later in the century.  However, there were some that were built with stone, including the 1828 United First Parish Church in Quincy, Massachusetts, which may have been partly based on the plans for this church.

Today, the church is a Unitarian Universalist church, having merged with Portsmouth’s Universalist congregation in the 1940s.  The stone walls are no longer covered in ivy, but otherwise this scene hasn’t changed much.  The church was extensively restored in the 1980s, and today even the fence surrounding the building and the archway over the main gate are still there, as is the brick building on the left-hand side of the photo.

Old County Courthouse, Portsmouth, NH

The old Rockingham County Courthouse, on Court Street opposite Court Place in Portsmouth, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The site in 2015:

No court sessions have been held here for over 120 years, but the names of Court Street and Court Place still recall the former use of this location. In the early 19th century, county court sessions had been held in the old State House at Market Square, which had stood there since the days when Portsmouth was the colonial capital of New Hampshire.  However, the old building was dismantled in 1836, and the county court moved three blocks south to this newly-constructed Greek Revival courthouse. This building served as a courthouse until 1891, at which point it became a National Guard armory.  It was moved from this location before 1916, when the present-day Central Fire Station was built, but it has since been demolished.

Waterfront, Portsmouth, NH

The view along the Portsmouth waterfront, taken from along Ceres Street looking toward the buildings on Bow Street, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The view in 2015:

The angle here isn’t exactly the same,  but the two photos show some of the same buildings while demonstrating some of the change that has occurred along Bow Street.  The four buildings on the far right of the first photo are the same ones seen in the center of the 2015 view, and the two in the center of the first one still exist, but they are out of view from here, obscured by taller, modern buildings to the right of them.  The spire of St. John’s Church, which features prominently in the first photo, is also still there, although from this angle just the very top of the weathervane can be seen above the buildings.

Although many of the buildings are still there, though, the greatest change has been in their use; the waterfront of early 20th century Portsmouth was heavily industrial.  To the right were the offices for Eldredge Brewery, a prominent local brewery that opened in 1858 and operated for nearly a century, with a hiatus during the Prohibition era that came less than 20 years after the photo was taken.  In the center of the first photo, the white building served its purpose as both the home of Preston’s Laboratory and also as a large advertisement for its products.  It offered to customers such necessities as “Cologne Water,” “Tooth Powder,” and “Stedman’s Tu-Tha-Lin,” along with other “Simple remedies at all summer resorts.”  Although primarily industrial, it looks like there were people living here, too – notice the laundry hanging behind some of the buildings.

Today, the waterfront has been redeveloped as an upscale commercial district, with stores and restaurants replacing breweries and drug companies.  Martingale Wharf, the building once occupied by Preston’s Laboratory, is now a restaurant, one of several along this section of Bow Street that offer diners a view of the Piscataqua River.  On the left, in the background of both photos, is the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.  although technically located in Kittery, Maine, the shipyard has played a major role in Portsmouth’s economy since it was established in 1800.  It is still in use today, specializing in submarine repair and modernization.

St. John’s Church, Portsmouth, NH

St. John’s Church, on Chapel Street in Portsmouth, around 1902. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The church in 2015:

This site on Chapel Street has been home to an Episcopalian church in Portsmouth since 1732, when the prosperous port’s growing English population called for an Anglican church.  Named Queen’s Chapel, it was established on the same spot as the present building.  During the American Revolution the unpopularity of the Anglican church in the colonies meant that no regular services were held here until 1786, but three years later George Washington attended the church during his visit to Portsmouth.  The old church burned in 1806, in one of several disastrous fires that swept the city in the first two decades of the 19th century, and the present-day building opened in 1808.

Although George Washington obviously never worshiped in this particular building, it has had some notable guests over the years, including James Monroe and Daniel Webster.  In addition, the funeral of Admiral David Farragut, a prominent Civil War naval officer, was held here.  The exterior of the church has been well preserved over the years, and aside from a new parish house to the right of the church, not much has changed since the 1902 photo was taken.  The church is still an active congregation, and is the oldest Episcopalian church in the state.

Warner House, Portsmouth, NH

The Warner House, at the corner of Daniel and Chapel Streets in Portsmouth, around 1902. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company.

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The building in 2015:

Also known as the MacPheadris-Warner House, this historic house is the oldest brick building in Portsmouth and the oldest urban brick house in northern New England.  It was built between 1716 and 1718 for Captain Archibald MacPheadris, one of many 18th century sea captains who helped to bring prosperity to Portsmouth.  His wife Sarah was the sister of New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth, and after Captain MacPheadris’s death and Sarah’s remarriage, she moved into her new husband’s house, and Governor Wentworth lived here for much of his time as governor.

Archibald and Sarah’s daughter Mary inherited the house, and in 1760 she married Jonathan Warner, the widower of her late cousin, also named Mary.  Jonathan Warner was the son of Daniel Warner, who built the Buckminster House.  This house remained in the Warner family until the 1930s, when it was sold for the first time since MacPheadris moved in.  An oil company was interested in the property to build a gas station, but in response the Warner House Association was formed to purchase and preserve the house, which it continues to do today.