Rockingham Hotel, Portsmouth, NH

The Rockingham Hotel on State Street in Portsmouth, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2015:

The original Rockingham Hotel was built in 1785 as the home of Woodbury Langdon, a wealthy merchant who served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and as a justice on the New Hampshire Supreme Court.  He was also the brother of John Langdon, a signer of the Constitution who later served in the Senate and as Governor of New Hampshire.  Woodbury Langdon died in 1805, and in 1833 his house was converted into a hotel and subsequently renovated and enlarged in 1870, after being purchased by former Portsmouth mayor and future Congressman Frank Jones.  The photo below, from Portsmouth, Historic and Picturesque (1902), shows the building as it appeared in the 19th century.  I don’t know whether it was taken before or after the 1870 expansion.

The old building was mostly destroyed in a fire in 1884, leaving only the dining room from the original house.  It was rebuilt, preserving the original dining room, and reopened in 1886.  The new building incorporated some of the same design elements from the original, just on a much larger scale, including the triangular pediments above the top floor.  The hotel would go on to be one of the most popular in the area, and while many of its contemporaries succumbed to fire or redevelopment long ago, the building still stands today.  It was converted to condominiums in the 1970s, and the historic dining room is now a steakhouse, The Library Restaurant.

John Paul Jones House, Portsmouth, NH

The John Paul Jones House at the corner of Middle and State Streets in Portsmouth, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The house in 2015:

Like the nearby Buckminster House, this historic house is named for someone who only lived here for a few years, in this case Revolutionary War naval hero John Paul Jones.  Jones never actually owned the house, but he lived here as a boarder from 1781 to 1782.  The house was built in 1758 by Hopestill Cheswell, an African-American housewright who was responsible for constructing several other buildings in Portsmouth.  The original owners were Captain Gregory and Sarah Purcell, and following Gregory’s death in 1776, Sarah rented rooms to boarders until she died in 1783.

John Paul Jones rented the room on the second floor on the right-hand side of the building, living here while supervising construction of the USS America on nearby Badger’s Island.  The America was to be the US Navy’s first ship of the line, and the largest warship built in the United States to that point, and Jones was in line to be her first commanding officer.  However, shortly before the America was launched, the French ship of the line Magnifique was wrecked off the coast of Boston, so Congress voted to give the America to France as compensation, and as a gesture of appreciation.  Jones stayed in Portsmouth until the ship was completed, and although he never got to take command, it was probably a good thing, because she was in the French navy for just over three years before being scrapped, due to extensive dry rot caused by using green wood in the ship’s hurried construction.

Unlike the ship that he almost commanded, the house that he lived in still survives, over 250 years after the Purcells first moved in.  The house has a “For Sale” sign in the 1907 photo, and it would change hands at least one more time in 1919, when it was sold to the Portsmouth Historical Society.  Today, it is still owned by the Historical Society, and is open to the public for tours.

Buckminster House, Portsmouth, NH

The Buckminster House, at the corner of Bridge and Islington Streets in Portsmouth, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The house in 2015:

It’s a little strange for a nearly 300-year-old house to be named after someone who lived in it for just two years, but this 1720 Georgian home is named for Revered Joseph Buckminster, the pastor of Portsmouth’s North Church from 1779 until his death in 1812.  When he moved in here in 1810, the house was already almost 100 years old; it had been built in 1720 by Daniel Warner, and later went through a series of owners before being purchased by Colonel Eliphalet Ladd in 1792.

Ladd died in 1806, and in 1810 his widow married Reverend Buckminster, thus giving the house its ultimate name.  It was later used as a boarding house, and sometime by the mid 19th century was the subject of an early form of historic preservation.  According to Rambles About Portsmouth, published in 1859, the then-current owner George Thomson “has shown excellent taste in carefully preserving its original exterior appearance.”  Thomson’s efforts seem to have paid off, because the 1907 photo shows a beautifully restored house that still continues to be well-preserved to this day, with minimal exterior changes.

Congress Street, Portsmouth, NH

Looking east on Congress Street from Middle Street, around 1905-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Congress Street in 2015:

This view faces down Congress Street toward Market Square, where the photos in this post and this post were taken.  Unlike those views, however, there have actually been some changes here.  When the first photo was taken, this area was on the edge of the Market Square commercial district, so the scene shows a mix of both brick commercial buildings and wood-frame houses.  The houses on the right-hand side date to the mid-1700s, when Portsmouth was the colonial capital of New Hampshire and a major seaport and shipbuilding center.

On the far right is the corner of the Cutter House, which was built around 1750 and subsequently owned by Dr. Ammi R. Cutter, a surgeon in the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.  He later gave the house to his daughter, who married Clement Storer, who was also a doctor and military officer.  He served in the War of 1812, and also served one term in the House of Representatives and two years as a U.S. Senator.  In his 1817 trip to New England, President James Monroe stayed at the house; at the time, Storer was a Senator and a fellow Democratic-Republican.

Beyond the Cutter House is the Leavitt House, which was built prior to 1761 and was the home of Wyseman Clagett, a colonial judge who was infamous for his draconian rulings.  It later went through a series of other owners, and by the mid 1800s was owned by a Miss M. Leavitt, from whom we get the historic name of the house.  The third house down the street, barely visible beyond the Leavitt House, was the home of Colonel Joshua Peirce, a New Hampshire militia officer who purchased it in 1839.  It had been built around 1785, making it by far the newest of these three mansions.

Today, all three of these historic houses are gone, having long ago been replaced with 20th century commercial blocks.  Another 18th century house was demolished not long before the first photo was taken; it had been owned by W.H.Y. Hackett, a lawyer, banker, and politician who lived here for over 50 years.  After his death in 1878, the YMCA used the building until 1905, when they demolished it to build the present-day yellow brick building on the same spot.  This is the only building in the foreground that still exists today, and even then it has been altered.  The bay windows on the second floor have been removed, and the storefront has been heavily altered.  The YMCA used this building until 1957, and today the first floor storefront is home to the Sake Japanese Restaurant.

Market Street, Portsmouth, NH

Looking north on Market Street from the corner of Daniel Street at Market Square in Portsmouth, around 1914-1920. Historic image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Market Street in 2015:

These photos show a view very similar to the ones in this post, and as was the case there, not much has changed here either.  Market Street is located at the northeastern end of Market Square, and is lined with historic early 19th century commercial buildings on both sides, most of which were built in the immediate aftermath of several disastrous fires in the first couple decades of the 19th century.  These were constructed with fire safety in mind, with brick walls, slate roofs, and firewalls extending above the roofs between buildings.  Most of this street was destroyed in a 1802 fire, and the buildings on the left were built by 1807, when Daniel Webster opened his law office on the second floor of either the building with the yellow storefront or the one beyond it with the maroon awning.

The fireproofing efforts seem to have been successful, because this street was already considered historic when the first photo was taken.  Today, a century after the first photo was taken, and two centuries after most of the buildings were built, everything from the first photo is still there.  Even one of the businesses is still there: Alie Jewelers on the far right side, which was established in 1914 and provides the earliest possible date for the first photo.

Market Square, Portsmouth, NH

Looking northeast in Market Square in Portsmouth, facing Market Street, around 1902. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Market Square in 2015:

These views show part of Portsmouth’s historic Market Square, which as the photos suggest hasn’t changed much in well over a century.  In fact, it would require going back nearly 200 years, before the invention of photography, to notice much of a difference here.  The area around Market Square has been the commercial center of Portsmouth since the 1700s, when the seaport town was rapidly growing as a major port and shipbuilding center.  Its heyday came in the early 1800s, with many historic buildings surviving from this time period, including much of this scene here.

Portsmouth was hit with several disastrous fires in the early 1800s, including one in 1802 that destroyed most of Market Square.  The area was soon rebuilt with brick commercial blocks, many of which survive today, including the Portsmouth Athenaeum building on the far left.  The distinctive building was completed in 1805 as the home offices of the New Hampshire Fire & Marine Insurance Company, but the company went bankrupt just eight years later because of the effect that the War of 1812 had on the New England shipping industry.  The Athenaeum, a private library and museum, purchased the building in 1823, and it has been there ever since as one of the few remaining private membership libraries in the country.

Today, Portsmouth is no longer a major shipping center, and hasn’t been for a long time.  With the Industrial Revolution of the early 1800s, much of New Hampshire’s industry moved from shipping to manufacturing, and the inland mill towns became the state’s centers of economic activity.  By 1900, the population of Concord and Nashua was five and ten times larger, respectively, than it had been in 1830.  In Manchester, the increase was even more dramatic, growing from 877 people in 1830 to over 56,000 in 1900. Meanwhile in Portsmouth, the population had grown by just 32%, with virtually no population change at all between 1850 and 1890.  However, little population change also meant little development projects, which is part of the reason why the Portsmouth of today has so many historic early 1800s buildings, including virtually the entire scene here.  By my count there are 14 buildings in the first photo, and all 14 still exist today, which is exceedingly rare to find in a 113 year old street view of the commercial center of a city.  The only building that doesn’t appear in the 2015 scene is the one on the far right, at the corner of Pleasant and Daniel Streets.  It is still there, but I couldn’t fit it in the frame of my camera.