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Walking Guides to Portsmouth NH

Portsmouth NH Historic Tour Guides

Tourists have been poking around this historic seaport in earnest for 150 years. They have been looking at pretty much the same river scenes and historic houses. Only the guidebooks have changed. Here for the first time ever is a pretty darned comprehensive list of the many resources for walking and driving around the city.




Our Guide to the Guides
Most of these guides are out of print, but all can be found on the Internet if you have the patience to shop and cash to buy. We’ve been collecting these books for years and the following are all on the resource shelf. If you find more, let us know by email. -- JDR
QUICK LINK to eBay and Bookfinder

Rambles About Portsmouth (1869)
Charles W. Brewster
Despite its title, this is not a good book for a self-guided tour. It consists of two-weighty volumes of collected newspaper articles by Portsmouth Journal publisher Brewster. Rambling, sometimes inaccurate, often filled with weighty genealogical detail, the Rambles is still the most-important compendium of local history we have. Antique copies, especially of the first original volume (the second was published later after Brewster’s death), are available, but pricey. Both volumes were republished in hardcover in 1980 and can often be found in used bookstores. A CD reprint of the first volume is also available online. (more)
Where can I get it? Try eBay and

Portsmouth Guide Book (1876)
By Sarah Haven Foster
The city’s first tour book was brilliantly designed and written by a local woman to be easily carried while actually walking around town. Now hard to find and very delicate, it is primarily a tour of old houses based on tales in Brewster’s Rambles (1869) and Nathaniel Adams’ Annals of Portsmouth (1825). There are no illustrations although the author did paint 1,000 images, many of local houses, that are collected at the Portsmouth Public Library. (more)
Where can I get it? Try eBay and

Attractive Bits Along the Shore (1890s)
This hardcover Victorian guide covers Portsmouth, Kittery, Rye and the Isles of Shoals. The text is obscure, but the photos are fascinating to anyone interested in what early tourists were seeing here, including Old Ironsides, formerly docked in Portsmouth Harbor. Not much good as a guide today.(more)
Where can I get it? Try eBay and

The Old Town by the Sea (1895)
By Thomas Bailey Aldrich
Like Brewster, which this book borrows heavily from, this is more a history than a tour book. But Aldrich tells the story in a very visual way as if guiding the reading as he himself is refreshing his memory of the city.
Where can I get it? Try eBay and or read it ONLINE

Portsmouth Historic & Picturesque (1902)
By Caleb S. Gurney
Although over 100 years old and out of print, this is the ultimate walking guide to Portsmouth if you can find a copy. Over 200 pages and 200 pictures offer a detailed almost clinical survey of Portsmouth buildings, history and events. Strawbery Banke published a facsimile copy in the 1980s.  (more)
Where can I get it? Try eBay and

Bass Handbook on Portsmouth and Vicinity (early 1900s)
This mini-series of booklets are about the size of a playing card. Published to include train and trolley tables, the booklet actually offers walking tour details, sponsored by the local pharmacy.
Where can I get it? Try eBay and

Vignettes of Portsmouth (1913)
By Harold Hotchkiss Bennett
The illustrations are the best part here. Again much of the content is drawn from earlier, often inaccurate sources. Cheaply printed, old copies are often in delicate condition, but this light cloth-covered booklet is very portable for walking. Illustrator Helen Pearson created two dozen lovely pencil sketches that are now in the collection of the local library. (more)
Where can I get it? Try eBay and

The Architectural Heritage of the Piscataqua (1936)
By John Mead Howells
This oversized photo book is a super study of old colonial buildings as they appeared prior to WW2. Plenty of large black and white photos, although not a guide book. It has been endlessly reprinted and can be found a low cost if you dig around online.
Where can I get it? Try eBay and

Portsmouth, New Hampshire (1930s)
The City by the Sea
By the City of Portsmouth
An early commercial guide published just before the formation of the chamber of commerce as a way to attract business to the economically strapped seaport town. The brochure contains a good deal of trouing information recycled from early guides. The cover reads "Acres of Sunshine, Miles of View, Oceans of Invigorating Air".
Where can I get it? Try eBay and

Portsmouth, New Hampshire: a Camera Impression (1940)
By Samuel Chamberlain
This small hardcover offers high quality black and white images of the town prior to WW2 and is easily available from used book sites.
Where can I get it? Try eBay and

Colonial Portsmouth in Pen and Ink (1982)
By Francis X. Morgan
A mix of coffee table, historic house guide and art book, this hardcover volume includes descriptions and sketches of 46 historic houses.
Where can I get it? Try eBay and

Portsmouth and the Piscataqua (1982)
By Peter E. Randall
This square portable paperback was part of an early Down East book series, attractive useful souvenir guides to local towns. Although dated, it is worth finding a copy to enjoy the pictures by Peter Randall, a ninth-generation local and the region’s best-known local publisher.
Where can I get it? Try eBay and

The Portsmouth Photo Book (1982)
A Windshield Tour
By John E. Paterson and Peggy Armitage
A small, thin portable 48-page paperback with small black and white photos that really look like they were taken through the windshields of car passing through town. Cursory info is provided.
Where can I get it? Try eBay and

Portsmouth Black History Trail (1997)
By Valerie Cunningham and Mark Sammons
This brochure includes a map and adds more detail to the 24 brass plaques being erected around the city of Portsmouth. (more)
Where can I get it? Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce.web site 

Seacoast, NH: 101 Highlights (1997)
By J. Dennis Robinson
90-minute VHS video with detailed fold out paper map that visits 125 locations in the greater Portsmouth region.
Where can I get it? Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce.web site

Portsmouth Harbor Trail Guide (1998)
Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce
Start with this highly affordable brief overview of roughly 75 historic sights in Portsmouth. Small color photos, short authoritative descriptions and a cheerfully designed map make this pocket guide valuable, though slightly out of date.
Where can I get it? Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce.web site

Building Portsmouth (1992, updated 2006)
The Neighborhoods & Architecture or New Hampshire’s Oldest City
By Richard M. Candee
This detailed study covers the buildings in the entire city block by block and one neighborhood at a time. It is the most complete and up-to-date view of city architecture and, although an oversized paperback, functions as an effective walking guide. Heavily illustrated, this book has recently been reprinted and updated (2006).
Where can I get it? Riverrun, local stores and Placenames Press (read more).

Portsmouth & Coastal New Hampshire (2000
A Photographic Guide
Text by J. Dennis Robinson
A coffee table book from the Twin Lights Publishing series. Not a guide book, but copy by editor JDR.
Where can I get it? Riverrun, local stores and Twin Lights web site.

Strawbery Banke Official Guidebook (2002)
Updated house-by-house guide to more than two dozen historic buildings in the 10-acre Puddle Dock waterfront museum.
Where can I get it? Strawbery Banke Museum gift shop.

Cross-Grained and Wiley Waters (2002)
A Guide to the Portsmouth Maritime Region
Edited by W. Jeffrey Bolster
By far the most intriguing research aid to learning about the region. This unique format includes an oversized paperback volume with 75 essays by 50 local writers on topics related to the region’s waterways. It also includes an excellent water-resistant map that is best used when exploring the regions many rivers.
Where can I get it? Riverrun, local stores and Peter Randall web site.

Placenames of Portsmouth (2005)
By Nancy Grossman
Although this is strictly a description of street names in the city, it functions as an interesting walking guide. Following the format of Building Portsmouth, it offers illustrations and maps and commentary that help flesh out the evolution of this nearly 400-year old New England seaport. (more)
Where can I get it? Local bookstores and Placenames Press web site 

Original content copyright (c) 2006 by All rights reserved.  

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