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An Old Town by the Sea 3

Victorian Portsmouth, NH with haywagons in The Pardade/

In Chapter 3 of his nostalgic visit to Portsmouth, Aldrich offers this extraordinary view. No author of his time more clearly draws the reader into life in the Victorian seaport, mixing his historic tour with lively character tales and observations. We’ve added a pix from the 1893 edition.




A history of Portsmouth, NH by Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1893)

READ Chapter Two
LEARN MORE about Thomas Bailey Aldrich
SEE PIX of Historic Portsmouth

As you leave the river front behind you, and pass "up town," the streets grow wider, and the architecture becomes more ambitious -- streets fringed with beautiful old trees and lined with commodious private dwellings, mostly square white houses, with spacious halls running through the centre. Previous to the Revolution, white paint was seldom used on houses, and the diamond-shaped window pane was almost universal. Many of the residences stand back from the brick or flagstone sidewalk, and have pretty gardens at the side or in the rear, made bright with dahlias and sweet with cinnamon roses.

If you chance to live in a town where the authorities cannot rest until they have destroyed every precious tree within their blighting reach, you will be especially charmed by the beauty of the streets of Portsmouth. In some parts of the town, when the chestnuts are in blossom, you would fancy yourself in a garden in fairyland. In spring, summer, and autumn the foliage is the glory of the fair town -- her luxuriant green and golden tresses! Nothing could seem more like the work of enchantment than the spectacle which certain streets in Portsmouth present in midwinter after a heavy snowstorm.

You may walk for miles under wonderful silvery arches formed by the overhanging and interlaced boughs of the trees, festooned with a drapery even more graceful and dazzling than springtime gives them. The numerous elms and maples which shade the principal thorough fares are not the result of chance, but the ample reward of the loving care that is taken to preserve the trees. There is a society in Portsmouth devoted to arboriculture. It is not unusual there for persons to leave legacies to be expended in setting out shade and ornamental trees along some favorite walk. Richards Avenue, a long, unbuilt thoroughfare leading from Middle Street to the South Burying-Ground, perpetuates the name of a citizen who gave the labor of his own hands to the beautifying of that wind swept and barren road to the cemetery. This fondness and care for trees seems to be a matter of heredity. So far back as 1660 the selectmen instituted a fee of five shillings for the cutting of timber or any other wood from off the town common, excepting under special conditions.

In the business section of the town trees are few. The chief business streets are Congress and Market. Market Street is the stronghold of the dry - goods shops. There are seasons, I suppose, when these shops are crowded, but I have never happened to be in Portsmouth at the time. I seldom pass through the narrow cobble paved street without wondering where the customers are that must keep all these flourishing little establishments going. Congress Street -- a more elegant thoroughfare than is Market -- is the Nevski Prospekt of Portsmouth.


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Wednesday, January 17, 2018 
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