State of the First NH State House Revealed
Written by J. Dennis Robinson
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Here we go again. It’s been stripped, sold off, broken apart, moved across town, remodeled, moved again, disassembled, trucked to Concord, stored in a trailer, eaten by bugs, and studied piece-by-piece at great expense. The surviving bits of New Hampshire’s First State House once stood in the middle of Portsmouth’s busy Market Square. Now it’s time to decide, once and for all, what its future purpose will be. Is it a priceless artifact of New Hampshire history with an important story to tell? Or is it a crumbling over-analyzed wooden footnote to a forgotten era?
UPDATE: Official State Report Recommendations
Rebuilding First NH State House not recommended
State House Still Crazy : Commentary
On November 14, Portsmouth will get a long-awaited progress report on the status of the colonial state house. It is a reminder that, once upon a time, Portsmouth was the provincial capital of New Hampshire. Experts hired by the NH Division of Historical Resources (NHDHR) will reveal their findings after years of research into the remnants of the structure. And they will ask the burning question – what the heck do we do with it now?
A little background
By1836, having survived the city’s three downtown fires, the once-handsome colonial State House had become an eyesore and an obstruction to traffic. The city ordered it removed from the center square. Captain Israel Marden bought the building and stripped off its architectural elements for salvage. He sold the surviving one-third of the building to Mads Danielson who carted it to a vacant lot on Pitt Street (later 47 Court Street) and remodeled it into a townhouse.
Fast forward to 1958 when the founders of Strawbery Banke Museum dreamed of rebuilding the state house as part of an imagined view of Portsmouth in its colonial hey-day. The building was moved to the 10-acre museum campus in 1969. But under new management, and with over 30 intact but deteriorating historic houses to maintain, the mission of the museum shifted away from the “colonial village” idea. A bill to restore and reconstruct the First State House was introduced into the NH legislature in 1989, but the $1,175,000 appropriation was not funded. No longer part of the plan, the state house was eventually disassembled and moved to Concord in 1990 where it sat in a 40-foot trailer.
But, for a few, the dream of rebuilding the state house continued. In 1998 Portsmouth Mayor Evelyn Sirrell formed a blue-ribbon committee to study the feasibility of reconstructing the Old State House. The State House Committee discussed the idea for a decade. They sketched plans, searched for a building site and for funding, built a wooden model, installed a plaque in Market Square, and disbanded in 2008.
Meanwhile in 2004 Sen. Judd Gregg announced that he had obtained $250,000 in federal funds under the Economic Development Initiatives program to study the state house. The money, approved in 2007 and managed by NHDHR, was earmarked for research only. It could be used to study “the resource,” but not to reconstruct or repurpose the remains.
CONTINUE FIRST STATE HOUSE article
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