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An Old Town by the Sea 4

A STROLL ABOUT TOWN by TB Aldrich (continued)

Warner HOuse, Portsmouth, NH/ SeacoastNH.com

The Warner House, a three-story building with gambrel roof and luthern windows, is as fine and substantial an exponent of the architecture of the period as you are likely to meet with anywhere in New England. The eighteen-inch walls are of brick brought from Holland, as were also many of the materials used in the building -- the hearth stones, tiles, etc. Hewn - stone underpinnings were seldom adopted in those days; the brick-work rests directly upon the solid walls of the cellar. The interior is rich in paneling and wood carvings about the mantel-shelves, the deep-set windows, and along the cornices. The halls are wide and long, after a by-gone fashion, with handsome staircases, set at an easy angle, and not standing nearly upright, like those ladders by which one reaches the upper chambers of a modern house. The principal rooms are paneled to the ceiling, and have large open chimney - places, adorned with the quaintest of Dutch tiles. In one of the parlors of the Warner House there is a choice store of family relics -- china, silver-plate, costumes, old clocks, and the like. There are some interesting paintings, too -- not by Copley this time. On a broad space each side of the hall windows, at the head of the staircase, are pictures of two Indians, life size. They are probably portraits of some of the numerous chiefs with whom Captain Macpheadris had dealings, for the captain was engaged in the fur as well as in the iron business. Some enormous elk antlers, presented to Macpheadris by his red friends, are hanging in the lower hall.

By mere chance, thirty or forty years ago, some long-hidden paintings on the walls of this lower hall were brought to light. In repairing the front entry it became necessary to remove the paper, of which four or five layers had accumulated. At one place, where the several coats had peeled off cleanly, a horse's hoof was observed by a little girl of the family. The workman then began removing the paper carefully; first the legs, then the body of a horse with a rider were revealed, and the astonished paper-hanger presently stood before a life-size representation of Governor Phipps on his charger. The workman called other persons to his assistance, and the remaining portions of the wall were speedily stripped, laying bare four or five hundred square feet covered with sketches in color, landscapes, views of unknown cities,-Biblical scenes, and modern figure-pieces, among which was a lady at a spinning-wheel. Until then no person in the land of the living had had any knowledge of those hidden pictures. An old dame of eighty, who had visited at the house intimately ever since her childhood, all but refused to believe her spectacles (though Supply Ham made them1) when brought face to face with the frescoes.

The place is rich in bricabrac, but there is nothing more curious than these incongruous paintings, clearly the work of a practiced hand. Even the outside of the old edifice is not without its interest for an antiquarian. The lightning-rod which protects the Warner House to-day was put up under Benjamin Franklin's own supervision in 1762 -- such at all events is the credited tradition-and is supposed to be the first rod put up in New Hampshire. A lightning-rod "personally conducted" by Benjamin Franklin ought to be an attractive object to even the least susceptible electricity. The Warner House has another imperative claim on the good-will of the visitor -- it is not positively known that George Washington ever slept there.

Note 1: In the early part of this century, Supply Ham was the leading optician and watchmaker of Portsmouth.

Continue OLD TOWN BY THE SEA

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