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.

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.