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.

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.