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.
portsmouth nh houses
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.
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.
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.
Livermore-Porter House // 1735
Matthew Livermore (1703-1776), a native of Watertown, Massachusetts and a 1722 Harvard graduate, came to Portsmouth in 1726 to teach grammar school while studying law, and in 1731 became the first college-educated lawyer to practice in New Hampshire. He would build this Georgian mansion in Portsmouth in 1735. Later, the property was owned by Samuel Coues, a leader of the shipbuilding industry in Portsmouth during the 19th century, and leader of the American Peace Party in the 1840s. Fitz John Porter was born in the house in 1822. General Porter would become one of the Union’s most talented leaders at the beginning of the Civil War. After the U. S. Army dismissed him for disobeying what would be a suicidal order during the Second Battle of Bull Run, he spent the rest of his life fighting the charges. The army cleared his name in 1879.After this, the home was occupied by General Fitz John Porter, a United States Army general who served in the Mexican–American War and the American Civil War. The building was moved in 1900 when Haven Park was created by the City of Portsmouth, and it had already been moved in the 19th century to front the newly laid out Livermore Street. The Livermore-Porter House was eventually converted into condominiums in 1983, and it showcases how condo conversions aren’t a bad thing! More people can live in this house now, win-win!
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.
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.