Portsmouth, New Hampshire sits near the mouth of the Piscataqua River, a short, wide river that divides New Hampshire and Maine.
The geographic location, historic past and cultural strength of Portsmouth regularly lands it on various "best places to live" lists. Prevention Magazine named Portsmouth one of the top 100 walking cities in the America for 2008. Also in 2008, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Portsmouth to its list of America's Dozen Distinctive Destinations, calling the city "one of the most culturally rich destinations in the country" with a stimulating mix of historic buildings, sidewalk cafes, great restaurants, art galleries, jazz clubs and distinctive artisans' boutiques."
In 2009, Forbes Traveler listed Portsmouth as one of "America's Prettiest Towns". One judge said Portsmouth is "both a functioning modern community and a museum piece. Brick buildings, many of them original to the era of the tall ships, line small streets and alleys. Yet many of those same buildings house high-tech businesses and start-ups."
The region as whole is noted for its many restaurants, attractions and shopping opportunities, which include downtown Portsmouth and outlet malls in nearby Kittery, Maine.
Settled in 1623, Portsmouth claims to be the nation's third-oldest city. It served as a focal point on the Eastern seaboard until the late 1800s when rail travel did in the shipping industry. John Paul Jones' ship The Ranger was built in Portsmouth, and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (which lies across the river in Maine) was established in 1800 as the country's first Naval shipyard.
At the town's incorporation in 1653, it was named Portsmouth in honor of the colony's founder, John Mason. He had been captain of the port of Portsmouth, England, in the county of Hampshire, for which New Hampshire is named. In 1679, Portsmouth became the colonial capital. It also became a refuge for exiles from Puritan Massachusetts. When Queen Anne's War ended, the town was selected by Governor Joseph Dudley to host negotiations for the 1713 Treaty of Portsmouth, which temporarily ended hostilities between the Abenaki Indians and English settlements of the Province of Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire.
Native Americans of the Abenaki and other nations inhabited the territory of New Hampshire for thousands of years before European contact. The first known European to explore and write about the area was Martin Pring in 1603. The village was settled by English immigrants in 1630 and named Piscataqua, after the Abenaki name for the river. Then the village was called Strawberry Banke, after the many wild strawberries growing beside the Piscataqua River, a tidal estuary with a swift current. Strategically located for trade between upstream industries and mercantile interests abroad, the port prospered. Fishing, lumber and shipbuilding were principal businesses of the region.
In the lead-up to the Revolution in 1774 Paul Revere rode to Portsmouth warning that the British were coming. Although the harbor was protected by Fort William and Mary, the rebel government moved the capital inland to Exeter, safe from the Royal Navy. The Navy bombarded Falmouth (now Portland Maine) on October 18, 1775. African Americans helped defend Portsmouth and New England during the war. In 1779, 19 slaves from Portsmouth wrote a petition to the state legislature and asked that it put an end to slavery, in recognition of their contributions and in keeping with the principles of the Revolution. Their petition was not answered then, but New Hampshire later ended slavery.
Thomas Jefferson's 1807 embargo against trade with Britain withered New England's trade with Canada, and a number of local fortunes were lost. Others were gained by men who acted as privateers during the War of 1812. In 1849, Portsmouth was incorporated as a city.
Formerly named the Captain Gregory Purcell house, now bears the name of naval hero John Paul Jones who boarded there, and serves as the Portsmouth Historical Society Museum. Portsmouth shipbuilding history has had a long symbiotic relationship with Kitttery Maine, across the Piscataqua River. During that time, Jones's ship Ranger was built on nearby Badger's Island in Kittery.
The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, established in 1800 as the first federal navy yard, is located on Seavey's Island in Kittery. President Theodore Roosevelt arranged for the base to host negotiations leading to the 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the Russo-Japanese War.
Once one of the nation's busiest ports and shipbuilding cities, Portsmouth's wealth was expressed in fine architecture. It contains significant examples of Colonial, Georgian and Federal style houses, a selection of which are now museums. Portsmouth's heart contains stately brick Federalist stores and townhouses, built all-of-a-piece after devastating early 19th century fires. The worst was in 1813 when 244 buildings burned. A fire district was created that required all new buildings within its boundaries to be built of brick with slate roofs; this created the downtown's distinctive appearance. The city was noted for producing boldly wood-veneered Federalist furniture, particularly by master cabinet maker Langley Boardman.
The Industrial Revolution spurred economic growth in New Hampshire mill towns such as Dover, Keene, Laconia, Manchester, Nashua and Rochester, where rivers provided power for the mills. It shifted growth to the new mill towns. The port of Portsmouth declined, but the city survived through its Victorian doldrums, a time described in the works of native son Thomas Bailey Aldrich.
Isles of Shoals
The Isles of Shoals, nine rocky isles, six miles off the New Hampshire and Maine coast, were announced to the Western world in 1614 by Capt. John Smith, of Pocahantas fame. The Shoals are often visible from the beaches from Newburyport, Mass. to Ogunquit, Maine.
Over the years since they served as a base for fishermen working the bountiful waters of the Gulf of Maine, a haven for the occasional pirate, a summer retreat for artists and the well-to-do, and for more than 100 years, the site of a Unitarian conference center.
A famed double-murder took place on Smuttynose Island in the 1800s (the basis for the book and movie "The Weight of Water"), and New Hampshire's most famous poet of the 19th Century, Celia Thaxter, was raised there, the daughter of lighthouse keeper Thomas Laighton.
No one lives year-round at the Shoals any more. There is only White Island Light, the Shoals Marine Research Laboratory, the Oceanic Hotel where the Unitarian conferences are held, and a few summer houses.
John Paul Jones House
John Paul Jones, colonial America’s first sea warrior, was a tenant of the Widow Purcell in this house in 1781 while he supervised the building of the Navy’s ship America nearby. Though he loved Portsmouth, he left New Hampshire in 1782 never to return. His house is now the museum of Portsmouth men, women and children, where their stories live.
Market Street Church
Market Square has been the economic and commercial center of Portsmouth since the mid-1700s. It has been a military training ground, site of a meeting house and home of the State of New Hampshire's Colonial Legislature. In 1762, it became the first area in the city to be paved, paid for by public lottery.
A fire in 1802 destroyed many buildings, but they were immediately rebuilt in brick. Today, the square's north side is recognized as one of the finest surviving examples in America of early 19th-century commercial blocks.
The towering North Church, constructed in 1854 to replace the meeting house built in 1713, dominates the eastern side of the square and can be seen from almost anywhere in the city.
Strawbery Banke is a 10-acre waterfront neighborhood and museum in Portsmouth named by the first settlers in 1630 for the profusion of wild berries found on the shores of the Piscataqua River. Spend the day exploring the Portsmouth neighborhood known for 400 years as Puddle Dock. Stroll through the centuries from the 1600s to the 1950s. Visit historic houses, enjoy conversations with costumed role players, relax in the shade of award-winning period gardens and stroll the friendly lanes.
"I know there's lots of money in aviation...I put it there."
Anon. (and Dave)