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Experts Say Exhibit Not Reconstruction is Best Use of First NH State House
Fragments of First Nh State House in Concord, NH (NHDHR photo)

If You Build It, They Won't Come (Continued)

So what will the DHR recommend in its upcoming multi-phase report?

“The first phase is hopefully to find a large interior exhibition space that we could use part of the State House to create a sculpture, in effect, of the timber framing,” Muzzey says. “One idea that has been thrown out was the Manchester Airport.”

This step would allow the public to visualize the wooden skeleton of the large building in whole or in part, but without actually creating another building.  The fragments might then be preserved in public view with an accompanying explanation as part of the sculpture.

The second phase of the DHR plan involves a pair of small interpretative exhibits, one at the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion in Portsmouth and another at the NH State House in Concord.  These displays may or may not include bits of the First State House, Muzzey says, but would use the story of the building as a jumping off point for discussions of history, citizenship, democracy, and what it is like to live in New Hampshire. These exhibits would urge people to visit other related historic sites nearby.

The third element definitely includes a Web site, Muzzey says, and must focus on getting the story to a state-wide audience. The first “purpose-built” state house was in Portsmouth, she says, but it also tells a broader story about New Hampshire. In a state that is often seen only in terms of regions and competing tourist destinations, Muzzey says the DHR goal is to show how the seacoast, mountains, lakes, rural, and urban areas relate to one another.

‘I think that the story of New Hampshire becomes that much stronger when all of those stories join together,” she says.

So was the conclusion really worth nearly a century of debate and a $250,000 federal grant? Muzzey says the funds were effectively used.

“We’ve come up with a new vision of the First State House,” she says. “It’s one that we feel is feasible. We think that folks will support it and finally be able to understand what the resource is all about, and how the early story relates to the rest of the state. We hope to find a new way to get people excited about New Hampshire history and about visiting the entire state.”

But like the baby monster at the end of every horror film, the renovation idea will never truly go away. No accurate replica is possible, Muzzey says, and then she hedges: “If somebody digs up a painting of the building in an attic that dates from 1790 or somebody uncovers the full set of plans from when it was built …” She laughs and leaves her sentence unfinished.

But there is nothing in the DHR recommendation, she admits, that would prevent anyone with a plan, a site, and a lot of money from reconstructing the imagined building.

“From what we know today, it’s certainly not the best use of those materials,” she explains. “But you could always build a building that you felt resembled what the First State House might have been. You can always do that with or without the pieces we have in the trailer.”

So it’s still possible?

“Absolutely,” Muzzey says. “It’s a free country,”

READ ALSO: State of State House Revealed with more pictures

FOR MORE INFORMATION on the First State House Project visit the NH Division of Historic Resources Web site where the final report will appear later this month. (http://www.nh.gov/nhdhr/programs/state_house.htm).

Copyright © 2012 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson’s history column appears in the Portsmouth Herald every other Monday and exclusively online at his independent Web site SeacoastNH.com. His latest book is Under the Isles of Shoals: Archaeology and Discovery at Smuttynose

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