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Why Old NH State House Should Not Be Restored

statehouse00.jpgHISTORY MATTERS

A key new study reinforces the suggestion offered by history professions for over 40 years – rebuilding the 1758 Old NH State House from its ancient timbers is a bad idea. Our original in-depth report tracks the full story of why this historic building may forever rest in pieces.

 

 

 

Old State House Official Timeline

Why the State House Still Rests in Pieces

NOTE: HISTORY MATTERS appears every other Monday in the Portsmouth Herald. For more essays visit As I Please     

We should stop kidding ourselves about the Old State House. Short of traveling back in time, not even Superman could "save" the colonial structure. The 1758 courthouse, built under British rule, once dominated the center of Portsmouth’s Market Square. Later considered an eyesore and a public hazard, the dilapidated building was sold for salvage to Capt. Israel Marden in 1836. Marden stripped off and sold the important architectural features.

Less than one-third of the building was moved a few blocks away to 47 Court Street. That piece was remodeled and rented as a 19th century residence, then later used as a liquor warehouse.

For over 70 years patriots and preservationists have tried to rebuild New Hampshire’s first State House from the bits that survive. At least four passionate attempts have failed for lack of funding, or location, or public interest. Moved three times, the wooden skeleton of the surviving section was methodically dismantled in 1989. Today it still rests in pieces in a 40-foot metal trailer in Concord. Experts hired by the NH Division of Historic Resources will soon determine the fate of the Old State House as their two-year federally-funded study comes to an end.

The prognosis is not good. Preservation consultant Christine Miller has photographed and assessed every artifact for rot, splintering, cracking and insect damage. Her report was completed in January 2008. At least 410 of the 490 pieces "retain high integrity and are generally in good condition," Miller writes. But her report, published online by NHDHR, carries a killer conclusion. She advises against rebuilding the State House from its original timbers. Any reconstruction using these elements, the report concludes, would be "largely incomplete".

The problem is not with the surviving relics, but with the many missing parts. Even the small extant portion of the Old State House has no first floor, plaster, windowsills, chimney, wall paneling, stairs or doors. Other artifacts date from the 1836 redesign. Regenerating a new building from these old parts makes little sense, according to the report, because the historic pieces would be covered over by modern materials anyway – and would not benefit the public. The surviving elements of the State House, according to the conservator’s view, will best be used as part of an exhibit.

We can, of course, still build a replica without using the old timbers. Anyone with the money, the site, and a good blueprint can still build a reconstruction of the 1758 State House. Creating a modern copy, subject to current building codes, has been estimated at $2 - $3 million. Portsmouth, however, has a longstanding aversion to reproductions due to its many authentic historic house museums.

CONTINUE (Much more follows)

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017 
 
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