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Wallace Nutting on Seacoast NH

Nutting photo staged in the Wentworth-Gardner House Portsmouth, NHNH BEAUTIFUL

When you think "Colonial Revival", think Wallace Nutting. He restored old homes and used them as stage sets for his romantic images of "the good old days". He also manufactured furniture and created best selling books. Portsmouth was, he said in 1923, "the most pleasing of all small shore cities". Here are his comments on "The Old Town by the Sea" and the Piscataqua Region.



EXCERPTED FROM: New Hampshire Beautiful (1923)
By Wallace Nutting

BOOK REVIEW: Wallace Nutting's Portsmouth 

NOTE: Formerly a minister, photographer Wallace Nutting (1861-1941) transformed purchased a number of fantastic colonial homes and used them as the background for his imagined scenes of the past. His "factory" team hand-tinted the prints that were sold in large numbers. An expert on furniture and furnishing, Nutting wrote seven "beautiful state" books in three years at the height of the new motorcar touring craze. His NH volume included images shot in the Wentworth-Gardner House in Portsmouth’s South End with Nutting saved and restored. -- JDR

OUTSIDE LINK: For much more on Wallace Nuutting


1923 edition of NH BeautifulThis year has seen the celebration of the three-hundredth anniversary of the settlement of what is, next to Plymouth, perhaps the oldest center in New England. It was in 1623 that the Pilgrims of Plymouth had a station at Dover, and Portsmouth dates from the same period. In fact, in the celebrations of the two cities, carried on at the same time, there seemed an unnecessary rivalry, since there is sufficient legend and history for both. There is not, perhaps, anywhere in this country a more thoroughly interesting waterway than the estuary of the Piscataqua. The singularly beautiful harbor of Portsmouth, and the approach thence to Dover along old banks mellow with civilization so old; the fine slopes of streams that gather here, are all contributory to a general impression of great weight. It is not strange that this district has become the main gateway for travelers in New England who seek the calm, the inspiration, and the beauty of its summers.

Aside from Portland, it perhaps is not rivaled in this respect, and its inland waters are as pleasing as its harbor.

The monumental structure recently completed between New Hampshire and Maine as a memorial to its war heroes is a very fitting and long needed bond of union, doing away with the mediaeval toll system, and the memories of the rattle-trap past, connected with the passage of the old bridge. When the great span is lifted for the passage of ships one is reminded somewhat of a similar London bridge, only in this instance the dimensions of the river are much greater. This achievement is a notable and striking monument for all time.

Portsmouth itself has appealed to us as the most pleasing of all small shore cities. Its numerous quaint little houses; its scarcely less numerous pretentious mansions, all of the older time; its early churches; its delightsome wharf drives, winding in and out, narrow, tortuous, and old-world-like; its inner basins, as that to the south of Pleasant Street and that on Christian Shore; its quaint public collections, appeal to us so that the cumulative effect of their impression is very great. The center, as it is, of all the beach life from Ogunquit, Maine to Salisbury, it is one of the most wide-awake small towns imaginable. To those who love at once the old and picturesque, together with some signs that Americans are not dead, Portsmouth appeals strongly.

The navy yard on the Maine side supplies a continuous and unusual note of interest in America, because navy yards are few and far between.

The old houses comprise many of the big three-storied arks of the period about 1800, with important porches, of which type the Pierce Mansion is an example. It is not alone in its dignity. Even as we wander out towards Dover there are large and finely remote dwellings of similar character. We have somewhat largely illustrated the doorways and dwellings of Portsmouth, partly because at one time we rescued the Wentworth-Gardner house in that city from degradation, and therefore spent very much time in the city, and partly because of the inherent attractiveness of the place.

Wentworth-Gardner House by Frank Clarkson/

Of course, it is a mark of a still somnolent public sentiment that such a place as the Wentworth-Gardner house was not made a state or city monument, but years ago, when the author was engaged in small necessary restorations of that dwelling, public sentiment had not awakened as it has somewhat since. If the city of Portsmouth should permit this dwelling to be carried away, it would sin against its own light.

The Warner mansion, more than one illustration of which we give, is thought by most to be the first, as it is perhaps the finest, of early examples of the gambrel roof. Its treasures have long remained in one family. Another dwelling near it was recently marked for destruction although it possessed some beautiful and important features.

The preservation of the Ladd house in the hands of one of our patriotic societies is a matter of congratulation. It has many treasures, and its garden is delightful. It would be a long and boresome record should we mention half of the dwellings known in Portsmouth for their fine doors, halls, or rooms. The names of May, Richter, Wendell, Wentworth may serve to summon up to those of us who have made this delightful round many a memory of quaint and quiet beauty.

The drives from Portsmouth along the shores of Little Harbor or about New Castle are the most obvious near interesting attractions.

Running to Rye and the Hamptons one encounters the bold and rocky shores of the former and the long smooth sweeps of the latter, each appealing strongly to its own kind. We recommend to those who are strangers in this district that they follow some of the back roads of Rye and Hamptons, as these roads have many a quaint dwelling and many a sheltered pine nook.

Portsmouth is, of course, the point of departure for the deservedly famous summer colonies of the adjacent corner in Maine. To many, York is the only summer place in the world, but of this further in our Maine volume.

The trip to Dover from Portsmouth, returning by the north shore of the Piscataqua affords fine inland waterway views. The drive to Exeter through Greenland, past the oldest brick house in the North if not the whole country, where the tenth generation of the same family are now dwelling, is another route of pleasure already alluded to. Of course, the main shore route from Portsmouth south is the best known, but perhaps owing to its trunk character it is least attractive.

We always think of Dover, Rye, Hampton, and York, and the immediately surrounding towns as a resort unit with Portsmouth. They are almost equally early in settlement, and they each appeal with their peculiar attractions.

Portsmouth, to dwellers in eastern New England, is the gateway of New Hampshire both in regards its lakes and mountains, and is also the only good route into Maine.

It may be as well that Portsmouth is no larger. Nevertheless, we have often wondered why, with its strategic location, it has not developed into a more populous center.

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Friday, February 23, 2018 
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