An unknown builder erected this Portsmouth house during the 1790s. Thomas D. Bailey lived here in 1836 when his grandson, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, was born up the street in the Laighton House (featured previously). Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-1907) became a revered American poet and author. Although he grew up in New Orleans and New York City, some of his fondest childhood memories were of the years 1849 to 1852 when he lived with his grandfather in this house. Later, from 1877 to 1883, the Society for the Benefit of Orphan and Destitute Children ran their Children’s Home in this building. Thomas Bailey Aldrich died on March 19, 1907. A few months later, on August 1, 1907, the Thomas Bailey Aldrich Memorial Association purchased this building, restored it to the time period when Aldrich was a boy here, and opened it as a memorial museum. The Aldrich House was acquired by Strawbery Banke museum in 1979, and it remains a historic house museum.
Reuben Shapley House // 1813
Captain Reuben Shapley (1750-1825) was a Portsmouth mariner, merchant, and shipbuilder born on the Isle of Shoals in 1750. He was married to Lydia Blaisdell Shapley, and they had one daughter, Nancy, who died in 1802 at the young age of 17. Shapley bought this house lot in 1790 and erected a barn or outbuilding on the lot, which was nextdoor to his main house. On the evening of August 13, 1811, a sailing ship owned by Captain Shapley, the Wonolanset, caught fire. According to Nathaniel Adams’ 1825 book, Annals of Portsmouth, the ship “had arrived from sea about an hour before, laden with hemp, cotton, molasses, naval stores and flour, and lay at Shapley’s Wharf.” Although townspeople tried to extinguish the blaze, the fire persisted, and they were forced to cut the vessel loose and let it drift safely out into the river and away from other vulnerable ships and warehouses. Captain Shapley’s loss was estimated at $12,000. After this, it appears Reuben got more involved in real estate, and either converted his old barn or built new, this house in 1813, Captain Shapley died in 1825, but the house continued as part of his estate until 1831. The house is now well-preserved and a part of Strawberry Banke’s campus in Portsmouth.
Wibird-Oracle House // 1702
One of the oldest extant houses in Portsmouth (and New England for that matter) is this gambrel-roofed Georgian house on Marcy Street. The home was originally constructed in 1702 by Richard Wibird, who arrived to Portsmouth in the late-1600s and married Elizabeth Due (Dew) in 1701. Mrs. Due owned a market in town, and that helped propel Richard to be a prosperous merchant. Like many very wealthy residents in New England at the time, he enslaved three Africans and had five properties all over town. The house was moved two times, it was originally built behind the North Meetinghouse on Market Square. It was moved from that location c.1800 to Haymarket Square where Prescott Park is now, and again in 1937 to its present location on Marcy Street. The Portsmouth Oracle, an early newspaper, was printed and edited from this building when it was altered for commercial spaces at the ground floor. The Prescott sisters who developed Prescott Park had the foresight to move this building to the opposite corner and the home was later restored, giving us a glimpse at early 18th century merchant housing.
Shapley Townhouses // 1815
The Shapley Townhouses in Portsmouth, New Hampshire sit on Court Street and were built around 1814-15, after the Great Portsmouth Fire of 1813 had destroyed the center of town. It was constructed to conform with the new Brick Law that required all new buildings in downtown Portsmouth to be built of “fireproof” brick. The paired townhouses are unusual in the city as a particularly well-preserved example of a Federal period double-house. The house was built by Captain Reuben Shapley, a ship’s captain and merchant. In about 1973, this building was remodeled into a temporary home and counseling center for troubled youth. Suffering from deferred maintenance and the direct proximity to the Strawberry Banke Museum, the Strawberry Banke Foundation purchased the double-house who rent out spaces inside to offices, providing a revenue stream to maintain and further showcase the history of the port town.
Laighton House // c.1795
This stunning Late-Georgian house in Portsmouth dates to the end of the 18th century and is one of the many well-preserved homes near downtown. Deed research shows that the property was purchased in 1795 by Amos Tappan from a Nabby Chase (a widow) and he would erect this house on the lot. The house was purchased in 1822 and sold again in 1835 to John Laighton, the namesake of the house. John Laighton (1784-1866) was the eleventh of thirteen children. His family were “mechanics” – carpenters and makers of sails, blocks, spars, and masts. He became a mast and block maker with his place of employment not far from the relocated Sheafe Warehouse in Prescott Park (featured on here previously). Captain Laighton held the post of Navy Agent for the port of Portsmouth during the presidencies of William Henry Harrison and Andrew Jackson, and he also served as mayor of Portsmouth in 1851. In 1864, two years before his death, John Laighton sold the house to his third son, Lafayette Laighton. The historic home features a massive brick chimney at the center ridge, with clapboard walls atop a fieldstone foundation. The facade has a wood-paneled entrance door with four-light transom, pilasters, and triangular pediment. The house faces southwest with a large front lawn, and it sits next-door to the stunning Gov. Langdon House. Pretty spectacular.
Sheafe Warehouse // c.1740
The Sheafe Warehouse in Prescott Park in Portsmouth, New Hampshire was constructed in the first half of the 18th century in a spot ideally situated on the Piscataqua River to receive incoming ships. The design of the building is unique with a garrison (second story overhang) which enabled cargo to be unloaded directly from ships arriving in the port. The structure was apparently built (and named after) Jacob Sheafe (1715-1791) a prominent and prosperous merchant who followed in his father’s footsteps engaged in trade with the West Indies. The building was used as storage for centuries until the 1930s when the owner sold the warehouse to two Portsmouth sisters, Mary E. and Josie F. Prescott, the founders of Prescott Park. Interested in preserving the history of their native city, the sisters had the building moved to its current location and restored. The building (and the adjacent Shaw Warehouse) was listed on the State Register of Historic Places.
Shaw Warehouse // 1806
The Shaw Warehouse located inside Prescott Park in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was constructed between 1806 and 1813 and is significant as a rare example of a vernacular warehouse building from the early 19th century. It is very vernacular, unadorned with a very functional use, but these types of buildings (like barns and stables) are some of the most charming and provide a link to working-class history from the past. The building is the only of its kind remaining in its original location in Portsmouth, and as a result, was listed in 2011 on the New Hampshire State Register of Historic Places. It now houses offices for the nearby park.
Former Portsmouth Marine Railway Office // c.1833
In 1833, a group of prominent Portsmouth merchants organized the Marine Railway Company and installed a set of tracks from the water in Portsmouth’s harbor to this brick machine house. When coupled with two horses, the machinery would, as the owners proclaimed, “draw vessels of 500 tons and upwards, entirely out of the water, placing them in a situation where any part of their hulls can be inspected or repaired with great dispatch.” The Portsmouth Marine Railway Company continued to operate until the mid- 1850’s. Thereafter the wealthy merchant Leonard Cotton bought it and ran it as a private venture. The railway ceased operations somewhere around 1875, though the tracks remained in place well into the 1980s. The brick building has been adaptively reused and is occupied by the Players Ring Theatre, a local non-profit group.
Ebenezer Lord House // 1780
Another of the absolutely stunning 18th century homes in Portsmouth I stumbled upon in my recent walk there is this late-Georgian home, built in 1780 and owned by Ebenezer Lord. Lord worked as a cabinetmaker and produced many fine pieces of furniture, many of which are sold today for high values at auction. Due to his high skill with woodworking, it is possible that Ebenezer built this home himself for his family, down to the segmental pediment over the front door. The house has been maintained very well, and even retains historic wood windows.
Captain Drisco House // 1790
The Captain Drisco House on Meetinghouse Hill Road is a recently restored example of the vernacular Federal period architecture so many flock to Portsmouth to see. The house sits in the middle of a warren of short streets where houses (all built before zoning and setbacks) were built right at the sidewalk creating the most pleasant walking experience. The symmetrical five-bay Federal house was built by Captain Drisco, who purchased the house lot after the Revolutionary War.