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Why Old NH State House Should Not Be Restored


Why the State House matters

New Hampshire has largely been ignored in the textbooks of America. Local historians argue that Portsmouth, founded soon after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, MA, evolved into a sophisticated colonial capital, then played a role in the American Revolution. The Old State House became a symbol of those grand days for later generations. The very existence of the building indicated that Portsmouth was a "player" along with other significant locations like Williamsburg, Annapolis, Boston, Providence and Philadelphia. When each of these cities restored or replicated their early state houses in the 20th century – Portsmouth citizens naturally wanted to do the same.

The idea to rebuild the Old State House in Portsmouth first came from architect John Mead Howells in 1935. Howells proposed that the city’s entire South End could be restored as a federally-funded project. A reconstructed state house, Howells suggested to President Franklin Roosevelt, would make an ideal visitor’s center if Portsmouth was declared a National Park. Howells’ plan fizzled, but the idea stuck.

Revolutionary politics took place as much in taverns and private homes as in courthouses back then. History has left us with only a few exciting and documented moments associated with the State House. Where legend ends and fact begins is difficult to parse. Portsmouth’s last royal governor John Wentworth was likely sworn in here. A 1765 protest of the Stamp Act reportedly began in these hallowed halls. The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights were read out from the State House balcony, legend says. President George Washington waved to the crowds from the same balcony during his visit in 1789, although Washington made no mention of this in his private journal.

Those who point to Portsmouth as New Hampshire’s first capital, tend to ignore how quickly that moment passed. Because Portsmouth was vulnerable to British attack by sea, the state capital was almost immediately moved inland to Exeter during the Revolution, after which it migrated west to Concord where the current State House stands.

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Sunday, December 17, 2017 
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