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Brewster recalls old residents
and buildings long lost

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By Charles W. Brewster

Editors Note: C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth columnist in the mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and may not reflect current research or current values.

Decorations of Market Square - The Packer house - Deacon Penhallow - The Langdon and Thompson houses - Great elm - The old man's sketch - Sandemanian church - Brimstone hill.

SEE: Downtown Yesterday and Today

MARKET SQUARE is the grand centre of attraction for epicures, and the diverging spot for a walk to either point of the compass. The green trees now so thrifty on the Square have an enlivening effect. In the landscape, they add much to the beauty of the new church, and to the good architecture of the Piscataqua Exchange Bank opposite, and the Rockingham Bank, which eclipses every business building on the Square. It is raised sixteen feet higher than the other exchange buildings. The second story has spacious rooms for public offices--the third is an Odd Fellow's Hall. It has arched iron window frames, and the whole building is covered with mastic. The first building of the kind in Portsmouth. The new Custom House also stands forth in much beauty--but its elevation above the surrounding buildings has a rather depressing effect upon those in the neighborhood.

As we pass from Market Square down Pleasant street, we meet with various sites of local interest. Many remember the appearance before the fire of 1813 of the spot on which is now Ex-Mayor Jenness's residence. In front, on Pleasant street, was a stone wall higher than the present iron fence, and on that wall an open fence. There were many stone steps to pass over before the front door was reached. The house was of two stories, of a dark color, and the whole of the premises had more the appearance of a castle than of a common dwelling. More than a century ago, in 1735, and how much earlier we know not, the Packer family owned and occupied these premises. Here High Sheriff Thomas Packer lived in 1768, when he executed Ruth Blay--and in front of these premises that night the effigy was displayed.

Mrs. Packer was fond of making extensions to her domicil, and therefore, it is said, when her husband was absent from home on any long journey, he would find some addition to the house on his return. The house was thus so enlarged that it became desirable for a public house. Sheriff Packer died in 1771. The family soon after vacated the premises, as we find that in the time of the Revolution it was the family residence of Hon. John Langdon. When he vacated it, the widow Purcell removed from her family residence, (the house now occupied by Samuel Lord, Middle street,) and here opened a boarding house. Capt. Purcell had seven daughters; one became the wife of Capt. Thomas Manning, another the wife of Major William Gardner. He also had two sons. Only one of the nine "who filled that house with glee," is now living.

In 1786, Col. William Brewster, who occupied the Bell Tavern, changed residences with Mrs. Purcell, and here Col. Brewster opened a genteel boarding house. In 1789, President Washington was quartered at this house, during the four days he remained in Portsmouth. It was afterwards occupied by John Greenleaf. At the time it was burnt in 1813, that good schoolmaster, Deacon Enoch M. Clark, who married Mr. Greenleaf's only daughter Mary, was the occupant. Goodness, more than learning, was the requisite for schoolmasters in those days. Deacon Clark was the master of the school in School street for many years, had frequently a hundred scholars, but had never himself studied the English grammar! The "three R's" were all he was able to manage, reading, writing and arithmetic. There was one other "ah!" sometimes brought out by way of respiration, when the double-headed ferrule or the cowhide were brought into free use. But early recollections are taking us into a wrong track.

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Inside an Early Shop

In the house on the corner south, resided the good Deacon Samuel Penhallow and his prim lady. The shop in front had a variety of goods such as the public needed. It was here that Rev. Dr. Buckminster boarded when he commenced his ministry in 1779. Mrs. Lee, a daughter of Rev. Dr. Buckminster, in a graphic sketch of the inmates of this house, presents a picture of life in the last century. She says:

"They dwelt in a small, plain house, one little parlor of ten feet square containing all that was requisite for their comfort. The deacon himself tended a little shop in front of the parlor, filled with needles, pins, tape, quality-binding, snuff,--that most common luxury,--with a small pair of scales to weigh a copper's worth. The deacon always wore a full suit of very light drab broadcloth, with white cotton stockings and silver knee buckles, and a full bottomed white horse-hair wig, always powdered. His exquisitely plaited ruffles were turned back while he was in the shop, under white sleeves or cuffs, and a white linen apron preserved the purity of the fine drab broadcloth. His solitary mate sat in the little three-cornered parlor, whose fireplace was an afterthought, and built in the corner; the bricks forming successive little shelves, where various small things could be kept warm. There she sat all day at her round table with needle-work, dressed in an old fashioned brocade, with an exquisite lawn handkerchief folded over it, and environed with a scrupulous neatness, where the litter of children's sports never came."

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The Largest Elm

As we pass down Pleasant street, the prospect which opens from the front of Rev. Dr. Burroughs' mansion (which Washington regarded the handsomest in Portsmouth,) over his field to the pond, and the green banks and the thrifty elms on the opposite shore, are inviting to the eye, and create a desire to see that bridge which will one day make the Elwyn fields the most desirable building lots in the city.

On the premises of the late Dr. Dwight, adjoining the sidewalk, is one of the largest elms in the city. Its girth is about sixteen feet, and its wide-spread limbs give the wayfarer a refreshing shade on a sultry day. It is a memorial of times gone by. As we stand by it, an aged man approaches, whose birth-place was near that spot more than ninety years ago. "Perhaps, Mr. Fernald, you can recollect when this tree was young?" He raised his head as the thought of former years came over him, and refreshing his recollection replied:

"No I do not: it was about a foot in diameter when I first knew it. Then there were no houses between those on the corners of Pitt and of Gates streets. In this gully you see under the tree extending east, the water at every high tide flowed from the river to the mill pond. Canoe bridge, near the dock on Washington street, admitted small boats from the river to pass, at high tide, under this tree to the pond. This left us below on an island, which at times horses would have to wade through two feet of water to approach. There was a foot-path made of large stones where the walk now is, which could be well crossed by day, but was a dangerous road by night.

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Old Pleasant St Homes

These two houses (Rev. Dr. Burroughs' and Dr. Dwight's) were built in 1784, the year after the peace. One was built by Gov. John Langdon, the other by a ship-master I sailed with. I know it well, for I aided by holding the surveyor's lines in laying out the ground for the foundations of Capt. Thomas Thompson's house and barn, which were afterwards Dr. Dwight's. Then the Sandemanian meeting-house was standing on the spot where Dr. Dwight's barn now stands, and was taken down to give the barn place. It was a story and a half building, occupying half as much again ground as the barn now does. It had no pews, but was provided with seats. I have heard Noah Parker preach there, and seen J. M. Sewall scattering the hymns of his own composition among the audience. The meeting-house was built in Vaughan street for this society, when this house was taken down."

The old gentleman stated that he well remembered the erection of Rev. Dr. Langdon's house, (now occupied by the family of John K. Pickering,) and Col. Oliver Whipple's, (on the spot where William Petigrew's house now stands.) All the houses were alike, of two stories, with gambrel roofs, and were built by Hopestill March of Dover, a mulatto. At that time the land on which Joseph Haven afterwards erected his mansion was his father's orchard. "But 0!" said the venerable man, "what a change there has been since the Revolution!" The old gentleman passed on his way, and we on our ramble.

From what the name of "Brimstone Hill" was derived, we have never been informed. There is nothing volcanic about that sound primeval granite, which has been undisturbed since the creation, and promises to remain. Sometime early in the present century that open rough lot was purchased for six or seven hundred dollars. The sum paid for it at compound interest would amount now to ten thousand dollars. There are many other spots in the city eating up their value, which would long ago have been a source of profit if brought into use.

But where is the Pleasant Street Church? Like the Sandemanian, that too has disappeared! Those familiar walls, that tower, the large arched windows, the wide doors, the desk, the pews, the orchestra, have all within a few months departed! Of all that made it a temple, not one stone is left upon another! Another ramble has touched upon its history.

Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by
Design © 2001

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