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.
New Hampshire History
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.
Nathan Parker House // 1815
Many may not know this fact about Portsmouth, which shaped the city’s development for some of the formative years of the coastal town. The 1814 Brick Act was passed by the New Hampshire legislature after three devastating fires wiped out hundreds of closely-packed wooden buildings in the heart of the state’s only seaport. The act prohibited the erection of wooden buildings of more than twelve feet high in the downtown area which was the densest, it was effectively an early building code. The regulation helped change the look of the city, creating the red brick image Downtown that many identify today as Portsmouth. As a result, nearly all homes and buildings in the downtown area of Portsmouth were constructed of brick, largely in the Federal style, popular at the time. This home was constructed around 1815 as a wedding present for the South Parish’s minister, Reverend Doctor Nathan Parker, upon his marriage to Susan Pickering, the daughter of New Hampshire Chief Justice John Pickering and a descendant of the original John Pickering.
Abraham Wendell House // c.1815
The Abraham Wendell House on Pleasant Street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is a three-story, five-bay, masonry Federal-style residence with symmetrical facade. The building has a slate hip roof with overhanging eaves, a dentilled cornice, and tall brick chimneys. The facade has a wood-paneled entrance door with elliptical entablature, Corinthian pilasters, and a fanlight above. The home was built around 1815 for Abraham Wendell (1785-1865) a ship’s chandler and hardware merchant. Along with his brothers, Jacob and Isaac, established cotton mills in Dover. Although they lost money on the early mill attempts, they became wealthy importer of foreign goods into the ports of Portsmouth. The house remains a highly significant example of early 19th century residential architecture built for wealthy merchants.
Aaron Cutler Memorial Library // 1924
In his 1917 will, Aaron Cutler of Hudson, N.H. left his estate to family and friends with his remaining estate to be bequeathed “for the purpose of the erection, furnishing and maintenance of a Public Library, upon the express condition that the citizens of said town give land upon which to erect the same. Said land to be located within one-quarter of a mile of the town hall. Said Library to be of brick and slate. And to be known as “The Aaron Cutler Memorial Library.” His town of Hudson recently erected a memorial library, so he sought to fund a library in an adjacent municipality. Land was donated in Litchfield for a new library there and architect William M. Butterfield furnished plans for the building. The library was completed in 1924 and exhibits Tudor/English Revival design, unique for the town.
Isaac Newton Center Homestead // c.1850
Isaac Newton Center (1811-1889) was born in Windham, NH and arrived to the rural town of Litchfield, NH in its early days. Upon arrival, he appears to have built this homestead sometime in the mid-19th century based on its style. Like many in town, he was a farmer and was involved with the local Presbyterian Church, which is still neighboring this old farmhouse. After his death, the old farmhouse and homestead was inherited by Isaac’s youngest son, Isaac Newton Center, Jr., who was engaged in local town affairs, serving as City Clerk, Treasurer, Forest Fire Warden, and Library Trustee. The house appears as a melding of late Greek Revival and Italianate, possibly from the 1850s or 1860s.
Litchfield Old Town Hall // 1851
The town of Litchfield, New Hampshire is located at the southern section of the state across the Merrimack River from the town that carries its name. Land which is now known as Litchfield, was once populated by the Abenaki people. The New Hampshire Archaeological Society has located over 30 Native American sites along the shore of the Merrimack River in Litchfield, with artifacts several thousands of years old being uncovered. European influences started in the 1650’s with early records showing that Litchfield was then a part of Dunstable, Massachusetts. Both sides of the Merrimack River were granted in 1656, to William Brenton, colonial governor of Rhode Island. The name was changed to “Brenton’s Farm” in 1729. Chief Passaconaway of the Penacook lived in a Litchfield settlement at least part of the year around this era. In 1728, sixteen proprietors divided up the Brenton Farm Land. In 1749, the land was granted to another group of settlers and named “Litchfield” after George Henry Lee, Earl of Lichfield. The town has historically been comprised of farmland without a true town common or center. A small enclave of buildings did center in town, where the town hall was built. This building, the Old Town Hall of Litchfield, was built in 1851 from parts of an older meetinghouse, which was built across the road from where the building now stands. A shift in the course of the Merrimack River during the early 1800s forced the dismantling of the original Meeting House and a new structure to be built. It is a modest Greek Revival structure with corner pilasters, entablature, and gable end facing the street which reads as a pediment. It is very well maintained to this day as the home to the Litchfield Historical Society.
Sweezy Summer House // 1916
Wilton, New Hampshire has a hidden enclave of high-style summer “cottages” built for wealthy residents in the early 20th century. The last of these examples I will feature is the Sweezy House, located in Wilton Center. The Federal Revival style mansion was built for Everett and Caroline Sweezy, summer residents who split their time between New Hampshire and New York. Mr. Sweezy was a banker for the Riverhead Savings Bank which was located on Long Island, which too was a summer destination. The couple hired the firm of Howe and Manning, led by female architects Lois Lilley Howe and Eleanor Manning, to design the home. The house is set back far from the street behind a rustic stone wall. The property remained in the Sweezy Family for four generations.
Cragin-Frye-Savage Mill // 1858
There’s not much that is more picturesque and stereotypical New Hampshire than old, wooden mill buildings. When I was looking for a town to explore in NH, I got stuck on a photograph of the old Cragin-Frye Mill in Wilton, and off I went! Daniel Cragin (1836-1921) was born in Merrimack, NH of Scottish descent. In 1856, age 21, he rented a room in a woolen goods mill, and he built knife trays and wooden toys which he turned into a business. He started his business with ten dollars, and turned a profit from the beginning, so much so that by 1858, he accumulated enough money to purchase a nearby existing building for his own operation. The mill was water-powered and grew quickly. The Daniel Cragin Mill began production of sugar boxes and dry measure boxes. The mill closed briefly after Cragin retired in the early 20th century. In 1909, Whitney Morse Frye and his father, Dr. Edmund Bailey Frye, bought the mill from Cragin. Frye continued the Cragin line of wooden trays, boxes, and pails in addition to his normal processing of grains. Whitney Frye died in 1961, and his employee, Harland Savage Sr. purchased the old mill, continuing operations. After his retirement in 1981, his son Harley and his wife Pam Porter Savage took over operations and they have operated the mill to the present day as Frye’s Measure Mill. The mill is one of a few remaining operating water-powered measure mills in the United States!