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.
portsmouth historic preservation
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.
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.
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.
Haven-White House // 1800
Another three-story Federal period house on Pleasant Street in Portsmouth, NH is this wood-frame example, known as the Haven-White House. The property was developed in 1799-1800 by Joseph Haven, a merchant who built the house across the street from his father’s residence. Joseph Haven occupied this house until his death in 1829. After his wife Sarah’s death in 1838, the house remained in the Haven family, though usually occupied by others, until 1898 when it was sold to Mrs. Ella White. The White family, which included a grocer, a City Councilman in the early 1900s; and a chiropractor, with the family occupying the house until 1981. This history of long ownership by only two families for nearly 200 years perhaps accounts for the survival of this important house with so few changes. As a result, the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, marking it as a nationally significant building.