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The Story of South Meeting House
South_Meeting_House_steeple_1863Portsmouth knew this building on the hill today as South Ward Hall. It looks like a church, but served originally as a school and community center. This detailed history was drafted by David Ewing for the Portsmouth Advocates annual awards presented to the City, to the Friends of the South End (FOSE), and to Charters Brothers on June 18, 2010. Ewing’s report is reproduced here on in full courtesy of the author. (Continued below)


The South Meeting House was built by the city in 1866 to serve as a Ward Hall and school for the Third Ward. The Third Ward was also known as the South Ward and corresponded generally with what we now call the South End. It was a political subdivision and, along with the other two wards, elected its own representative to the governing Board of Alderman. The new ward hall was built in response to numerous petitions by residents over a number of years. You could say it was a response to neighborhood activism.

The building stands in a line of succession that stretches back to Portsmouth's beginnings. It is the second building to stand on this site. The first was the Old South Meeting House, built in 1731 for the South Parish or South Church. It was bought by the City and demolished in 1863 to make way for the new Ward Hall.

This lot was given to the church by John Pickering, who was one of the four big landowners to come out of the early proprietary phase of Portsmouth history. His holdings included the peninsula between the South Mill Pond and Puddledock (by some accounts it was virtually an island) which was known as Pickering's Neck. In the early 1700's Pickering subdivided this area on the southeastern portion of the Neck for house lots, and in 1720 he granted this spot on the high point to "the minister and people of ye Church and Congregation belonging to ye Old Meeting House in Portsmouth" for a new meeting house.

The actual transfer was made after his death by his grandson and executor, Thomas Pickering, in 1731, and construction of the meetinghouse was finished that year. The two-and-a-half-story frame building was constructed in substantial part from trees cut on the lot itself. It was used by the Parish for nearly 100 years, until 1826, when the congregation moved to a new granite meeting house that still stands facing State Street and is still known as South Church. The old building had various uses in the 37 years between 1826 and 1863.


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