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blogbrainsmallSeacoast History Blog #140 
July 7, 2012

“Congratulations,” I told assistant fire chief Steve Achilles at the firehouse on Court Street this afternoon. “You now own the best and biggest and coolest historical artifact in the City of Portsmouth.”

There it was, the original, authentic KEARSARGE in all its glory sitting only a few yards from where it used to be back in 1872. It is a steam punk dream come true, a mechanical playground of copper, nickel, steel, and wood. The gauges, flywheels, levers, and dials look like something off a submarine by Jules Verne. And it is ours once again – all ours. (Continued below)


We historians try and try to get people interested in the past. This artifact, however, requires no built-up. It will suck in the tourists like a vacuum cleaner. Although not yet fully restored (Kearsarge is about $50,000 away from done) it can still make a strong man swoon. Now imagine it hooked up to a couple of Clydesdales and tearing up the middle of Congress street bells clanging and dust flying. There is a photo of the Kearsarge doing exactly that in 1913, its heavy metal wheels crashing over cobblestones and trolley tracks en route to a burning building.

Kearsage Steam Engine 1870

One of maybe 40 surviving Amoskeag pumpers built in Manchester, NH, the Kearsage was in operation in Portsmouth until 1920. Steve told me the whole story of its years floating around among collectors until it was recently purchased from a special donated fond for under $100,000. Next to acquiring John Paul Jones’ original RANGER or that portrait of George Washington painted here in town – nothing could get me more excited.

There is much more detail to come. KEARSAGE, for example, was among the pumpers that fought the great fire of Boston. But let’s just savor the moment for now. The fact that she even exists is amazing enough. Most of these machines were wrecked or dissected for scrap during two world wars. But this one survived, perhaps to remind us of the extraordinary relationship Portsmouth has with fire.

There are so many stories to tell of smoke and flame and horses and heroes – but later. Today KEARSARGE has come home. Raise a glass and don’t be afraid to stare with wonder at this magnificent machine. And kudos to Steve, our resident historian, and to the Portsmouth Fire Department.

© 2012 by J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved.

Kearsage Fire Pumper in Portsmouth Fire Station / J. Dennis Robinson photo



Kearsage_Engine_in_1913 on Congress Street in Portsmouth, NH ? Portsmouth Athenaeum

Assistant Portsmouth Fire Dept chief Steve Achilles with Kearsage Fire pumper / J. Dennis Robinson

Text and photos (c) 2012 
J. Dennis Robinson


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