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All About the Old NH Statehouse

 20th Century History Timeline  (continued)

The last surviving piece of the Portsmouth state house around 1935, moved from Market Square 100 years earlier. It was moved to Strawbery Banke Museum in 1969 and dismantled and moved to Concord, NH in 1990. Photo courtesy Portsmouth Athenaeum by Arthur Harriman.

Photographer Caleb Stevens Gurney published his "Portsmouth, Historic and Picturesque." This book included a photo-montage, based on the existing portion of the state house at 47 Court Street, that purported to show the building as it had stood on the Parade "according to the testimony of many old people, who can remember it distinctly." Being based on the remodeled fragment on Court Street, this photograph depicted the building with Greek Revival-style exterior detailing; being guided by the memories of old people who would have seen the building in its days of decline, after the removal of many important exterior features, the mortgage showed the structure with no cupola, roof balustrade, or other imposing ornamentation.

In consultation with Portsmouth mayor Robert Marvin and local architects and historians, Donald Chorley, architectural research advisor to the Works Progress Administration, suggested that the old state house be "rebuilt" as part of an ambitious slum-clearance project proposed for Portsmouth.

Founders of Strawbery Banke, Inc., a historical preservation project, made the acquisition of the building at 47 Court Street part of their plans, proposing to move it to an area to be acquired through an urban renewal program and to reconstruct and restore the building as the centerpiece of a group of buildings to be moved to the site to illustrate the political history of Portsmouth and New Hampshire.

Supporters of Strawbery Banke in the New Hampshire general court secured passage of a law appropriating $35,000 with which the New Hampshire Division of Parks would purchase the building from its private owners and move it to a site within the Strawbery Banke property.

The State of New Hampshire secured title to the building at a price of $13,500 and moved it a short distance to Strawbery Banke at an additional cost of $15,523.

Joseph Hammond, an undergraduate at Boston University, wrote a seminar paper entitled "The New Hampshire Provincial State House." Hammond concluded that the building recently moved to Strawbery Banke property was "unlikely" to be a portion of the old state house, proposing instead that the structure might be part of the contemporaneous Portsmouth alms house which was removed from its site on Court Street at the same time that the state house was removed from Market Square.

Combined with budget and staff shortages at Strawbery Banke, Hammond's report discouraged further investigation or planning on the part of Strawbery Banke, Inc.; the building was largely forgotten by the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation, the state agency that was responsible for it.

The New Hampshire State Historic Preservation Office awarded Strawbery Banke, Inc., a $600 matching grant to "complete the documentary and architectural research needed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt whether or not the structure [at Strawbery Banke] is indeed part of the State House."

Because the award to Strawbery Banke was not acted upon, the State Historic Preservation Office requested that James L. Garvin, curator of the New Hampshire Historical Society, carry out research to "indicate . . . the weight of evidence . . . as to whether it [the building at Strawbery Banke] is actually the state house or not." In two reports to Commissioner George Gilman of the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, dated 2 October 1983 and 13 December 1983, Garvin reported on the discovery of the construction bills and accounts for the building at the New Hampshire Division of Records Management and Archives and concluded that the building was part of the state house. He recommended that Strawbery Banke undertake a physical investigation to correlate structural evidence with the newly-discovered documentary evidence.

Randolph P. Dominic, Jr., of Strawbery Banke prepared an "Analysis and Critique of Joseph W. Hammond's "The New Hampshire Provincial State House.""

Strawbery Banke carried out a physical investigation of the building and reported to Commissioner Gilman that they found evidence of the second-story doorway and balcony on the eastern end of the building.

The New Hampshire General Court passed a law appropriating $125,000 to study the building and make recommendations and plans for its restoration and future use. The newly-reorganized New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources (the State Historic Preservation Office) was made responsible for this study.

In response to this law, James Garvin, then employed by the Division of Historical Resources as state architectural historian, further studied the documentary evidence pertaining to the building and wrote a report entitled "Summary of Documentary Evidence, Old State House, Portsmouth, New Hampshire."

The Division of Historical Resources contracted with Salmon Falls Architecture, Adams & Roy Consultants, and Dodge, Adams & Roy, contractors, to carry out a physical investigation of the old state house and prepare a detailed study written by Gregory Clancey and entitled "Historic Structure Report: Old New Hampshire Statehouse, Portsmouth, N.H."

Following completion of this study, state senator Elaine Krasker of Portsmouth introduced a bill that would have appropriated $1,750,000 to restore and reconstruct the old state house in Portsmouth as a museum of New Hampshire history under royal government. By this time. Strawbery Banke, Inc. (now called Strawbery Banke Museum) had changed its interpretive emphasis to focus on the Puddle Dock neighborhood. The museum no longer desired to have the state house on its property except under arrangements that would have been financially advantageous to the institution. Senator Krasker's bill was defeated.

Because the building was in rapidly deteriorating condition, Senator Krasker introduced a bill to appropriate $50,000 to mark each element of the state house fragment, to dismantle the structure, and to transport the disassembled building to a place of safe storage.

The building was disassembled, packed in a purchased second-hand forty-foot trailer, and brought to Concord where the trailer was placed behind the Walker Building at the New Hampshire Hospital, then the site of the offices of the Division of Historical Resources.

When the offices of the Division of Historical Resources were moved from the Walker Building to the Margaret Pillsbury Hospital maternity building at 19 Pillsbury Street in Concord, the trailer was moved to that new location.

Portsmouth Mayor Evelyn Sirrell forms a blue-ribbon committee to again work toward the goal or reconstructing the old state house in Portsmouth. An estimated budget of $2.5-3 million is proposed by committee member David Adams.

A revised Mission Statement is accepted. The Save Our Statehouse Committee, after an extensive search for an appropriate site, proposes that the ideal location for the building is at the end of Pleasant Street in Market Square, just a few yards from its original location on the "Parade."

A plaque honoring the statehouse is placed in Market Square.

James L. Garvin served as Curator of Strawbery Banke during the era when the old state house was housed there. He is currently the state architectural historian at the NH Division of Historical Resources and is a member of the Save Our Statehouse Committee. Mr. Garvin is author or many books and articles including "Historic Portsmouth" published by Strawbery Banke.

Detail of illustration showing Old State House in Market Square circa 1813 © Bill Paarlberg

(c) by author permission. First posted here in 1998.

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