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The Day They Took the Old NH Statehouse


Surviving Portion of Old Nh COurthouse on Court Street in Portsmouth NH before it was moved to Strawbery Banke and then to Concord, NH /

Then in 1970 a University of New Hampshire grad student theorized that the rotting building was not part of the Old Statehouse at all. He was wrong, but doubts created by his report slowed the reconstruction for another decade. By the time scholars had proven it was indeed part of the original building, Strawbery Banke was headed in a wholly different direction with its museum plan. In 1988 a New Hampshire bill appropriated $1.75 million for the reconstruction project, but it eventually failed. So in 1990 the state of NH paid $50,000 to have the building disassembled and stored in a trailer and moved to Concord where it sits today.

Portsmouth newspaper editor Charles Brewster was the last known person to walk through the Old Statehouse just minutes before it was demolished in November 1836. For Brewster the building was a hallowed place. Standing in the center of Congress Street, it had survived all three downtown fires. By the time he stepped through the propped open doors, the building had been stripped to its framed timbers – much like today. About the building shell, he wrote, "its vacant windows seem glaring most beseechingly upon passersby."

Brewster’s farewell essay, recently rediscovered, offers a rare look at the first New Hampshire statehouse. Unfortunately for us, Brewster was moved to a poetic rapture as he watched the pre-Revolutionary halls of justice being dismantled. He offered no clear description of the building that his readers already knew so well. So instead of journalistic detail, we are left with the author’s emotional response.

"Am I to sink, unwept, unhonored and unsung?" Brewster wrote in 1836, as if listening to the dying words of the old statehouse. "Once the greatest and most honored fabric of the granite State: am I to pass off at the blow of an ivory hammer, and even my foundations be treated with contempt?"


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Monday, December 18, 2017 
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