Captain Barnes House, Portsmouth, NH (2)

The Captain Barnes House in Portsmouth, NH, on March 19, 1937, immediately following its conversion into a gas station. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey collection.

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The building in 2015:

As explained in the previous post, this building was once a 1808 Federal style mansion, owned by two different Portsmouth sea captains in the early 1800s.  However, in 1936-37 it was converted into a Sunoco station, leaving very little of the original structure.  However, in a way the renovated building has become historic in its own right, as an example of a 1930s service station.  There have been some changes since the 1937 photo was taken, though.  The shingles have been replaced with vinyl siding, and the gas pumps are gone, along with the windows on the right side and the garage door to the left.  The building now has additions to the left and right, and it is no longer a Sunoco station, but it is still in use as auto repair garage, with a restaurant in the addition to the right.

Captain Barnes House, Portsmouth, NH (1)

The Captain Barnes House on Islington Street in Portsmouth, on May 14, 1936.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey collection.

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The same building in 2015:

Although the term “adaptive reuse” didn’t exist in the 1930s, the Captain Barnes House would certainly be an extreme version of that concept.  It’s hard to tell today, but the auto repair shop in the 2015 photo is the same Federal style mansion from the 1936 photo, just altered beyond recognition.  The house was built in 1808 for Samuel Chauncy, one of the many merchant ship captains who lived in Portsmouth in the early 1800s.  In 1813, he sold the house to Lewis Barnes, a Swedish immigrant who was also the captain of a merchant ship.  Barnes, for whom the house is named, lived here until his death in 1856, and the house remained in the family until 1908.

Between 1908 and 1936, the house changed hands four times, steadily falling into disrepair in the process.  The sign out front advertises “Rooms for Tourists,” but given the condition of the building at the time, these would have likely been very low-budget rooms, hardly comparable to more reputable hotels of the time, such as the Rockingham Hotel.  By the time the first photo was taken, the building was probably already a candidate for reconstruction, because within a year it was completely gutted, cut down to two stories, and converted into a Sunoco station.  Today, it is an auto repair shop, with post-1930s additions on either side of the building.  Thankfully, the house was carefully documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey prior to its conversion, and a number of photos and architectural plans are available here through the Library of Congress.

Market Square, Portsmouth, NH

Market Square in Portsmouth, looking east from the corner of Congress Street and Fleet Street around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Market Square in 2015:

Unlike some of the other street views of Portsmouth, this scene has actually seen some significant changes over the past century, although two prominent historic buildings from the first photo are still standing today.  In the center of the photo is the North Church, which was built in 1854.  Perhaps owing to the relatively small scale of the old city, the “North” and “South” churches are actually only separated by a single city block, although as time went on it was doctrine rather than distance that distinguished one from the other, with the South Church becoming Unitarian, while the North Church remained more conservative in its theology.  The congregation has met at this site in Market Square since 1712, and over the years this area became the main commercial center of the city.  Some of the oldest surviving commercial buildings in the city can be seen from in front of the church in this post.

The other prominent historical building is the National Block, on the far right side of the photos.  It was built in 1878 by Frank Jones, a mayor, Congressman, and businessman who also owned the Rockingham Hotel, the Hotel Wentworth, and the humbly-named Frank Jones Brewery.  When the first photo was taken, the first floor of the National Block was used by both the Granite State Fire Insurance Company, with the Odd Fellows occupying the upper floors.  Since then, the interior has since been extensively renovated, but its exterior appearance is largely unchanged, and its style has been imitated in the modern commercial buildings between the National Block and the church.

Old High School, Portsmouth, NH

The old Portsmouth High School building on Islington Street, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2015:

Portsmouth’s old high school building opened in 1905, and like so many other historic buildings in the city it still stands today.  It was last used as a high school in the 1950s, but it has since been converted into apartments.  From this angle, the building’s appearance hasn’t changed much, although at some point the school was expanded in the back, with a matching addition on the southwest corner, giving the formerly symmetrical building somewhat of an “L” shape from above.  It is located right next to the much older former Portsmouth Academy building, which opened in 1809, nearly two decades before the city’s first public high school was established.

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.