The Whidden-Ward House in The Hill section of downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is an excellent example of a wood-frame Georgian-style residence in the coastal city. The house was built in the early 1720s by joiner, Michael Whidden Jr. As a third generation joiner, Whidden built several houses in the Portsmouth area, this one for his own residence. The house was purchased in the 1770s by Nathum Ward, who “modernized” the house with the triangular pediments over the windows. The house was moved over a block to its present site in the early 1970s as much of the surrounding neighborhood was demolished during Urban Renewal.
Built sometime between 1749 and 1756, the Hart-Rice House, a little-altered example of Georgian architecture, stands out in the densely packed Hill section of Portsmouth, NH. The area contains amazing early homes, largely moved to their sites from nearby, saving them from the wrecking-ball of Urban Renewal in the 1970s. The house demonstrates the high-quality craftsmanship of its owner, ship-joiner Samuel Hart (1701-1766), who likely built the home himself. Decades later, William Rice, a sea-captain, purchased the home. Rice was a known privateer during the War of 1812, causing a lot of trouble for British ships off the shores.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire is one of the most charming towns in New England to explore by foot, largely due to its walkable network of streets and tight blocks filled with preserved Revolution-era homes. Like many other cities all over the region (and nation), Portsmouth was hit by Urban Renewal, a planning tool used nationwide to provide Federal funds to address “urban blight” and revitalize downtown cores after decades of suburbanization and loss of tax revenue. An urban renewal district for Portsmouth was its North End neighborhood, which similar to Boston’s, was home to a vibrant Italian-American population.
In 1964, federal funds were allocated to the North End project area in Portsmouth, for urban renewal. Prior to redevelopment, the North End was a mix of residential and commercial buildings, with many older houses converted into storefronts with apartments above. In the mid-1960s, the area was considered overcrowded, run down, and a fire hazard. As a result, the Portsmouth Housing Authority proposed the destruction of approximately 200 buildings, a school, and a church and redevelopment for commercial, industrial, and public use, rather than for residences. The project would displace approximately 300 families as a result. In 1968, Portsmouth Preservation Inc., a preservation organization was formed to attempt to save some of the historic building stock in the area slated for redevelopment. After bitter fighting and preservation advocacy, just fourteen houses were saved and mostly moved to an area known today as “The Hill”. This building is one of them. It was constructed around 1725 for Rev. Jabez Fitch, the new minister of the North Church in town. Fitch graduated from Harvard College in 1694 first settling in Ipswich, MA, before becoming minister of the North Church in 1724, a position he held until his death in 1746. The house was one of the few in the urban renewal area to not have been moved.