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State of the First NH State House Revealed


Where to from here?

But when will we see the final designs? When will the planning portion of the project end and the next phase begin?

“The answer to that is next year,” Black says. The federal grant timeline calls for the study of “the resource” to wrap-up in 2012. The money runs out next May.

But first, she says, the NHDHR wants to know what people in Portsmouth think. The conservator and the architect will be on hand for the meeting next Monday and a similar meeting will be held in Concord the following day. All the data then goes to another consultant called an “interpretive planner.”

“What they’ve been brought on here for our project, “Black says of the final consulting phase, “is to look at it in a larger and a broader sense. We have a house, but we don’t have a site,” she says. “It could become an exhibit. It could become a book. It could become a Web site. It could become a video. They’re looking at it creatively.”

These same creative ideas, locals may recall, have been circulating in Portsmouth since the 1990s. The original idea to reconstruct the state house from top-to-bottom first popped up here in the 1930s. It would have been almost entirely new construction in a town that prides itself on its authentic historic houses dating back to 1664. And it would have been costly. Now, based on recent research, it appears wholly impractical too.

But authentic colonial state houses, even fragments of them, are extremely rare. These timbers are still historic, and may still carry great power and meaning. Legend says that the famous Stamp Act protest began at the First State House. John Wentworth, the state’s last royal governor, was likely inaugurated here even as the American Revolution was percolating. The Declaration of Independence was first read aloud in Portsmouth here. To celebrate passage of the US Constitution, the state house was illuminated in a dazzling display of candlelight. Pres. George Washington reportedly spoke from the state house balcony to an ecstatic Portsmouth crowd in 1789.

“There are lots and lots of great interpretive ideas,” Black says. But we’re really trying to focus in on what is do-able and how to get all those stories out there so that the public can benefit.”

So far it’s all still up in the air. We could rebuild the whole thing from  scratch for millions of dollars or we could grind the First State House into pulp and make a million bookmarks for school children. The public has not yet spoken.

“We don’t know as yet what the end result is going to be,” Black says. “But we’re in a very active moment.”

VISIT the official FIRST STATE HOUSE Web site

Copyright © 2011 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson’s column appears in the Portsmouth Herald every other Monday and exclusively online at his independent Web site Robinson was a member of the 1998 Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Old State House Committee.


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