Main Menu

Sponsor Banner

Strawbery Banke by Richard Haynes

Key dates in the history of Strawbery Banke Museum

1600s / 1700s / 1800s / 1900-1949 / 1950-1979 / 1980-Present /

Click the photos below for more information

Read Also: Rethinking Strawbery Banke


Piscataqua region first settled by European fishermen at what is now Rye, NH


Early Fisherman

NH settlements set up along the Piscataqua River at "Strawbery Banke" (named for wild strawberries found there), Technically the region stretches from Rye to the riverfront area of Portsmouth, but originally centered at New Castle. One group settles near the tidal pool at what is to become Puddle Dock.


From a Boston record, a "Mr. Williams of Piscataquak" was charged with having an enslaved man captured in violation of a Massachusetts law (because he was seized on the Sabbath). This first record of African American history is now noted on a plaque at Prescott Park near Puddle Dock.


Strawbery Banke residents petition to change their parish name to Portsmouth and to bring the colony under the protection of Massachusetts. Mass Bay takes over NH and Maine. Rye and New Castle eventually become separate parishes.


Town divides up all Portsmouth lands among its citizens to avoid challenge of other earlier land claims.



John Wentworth House, built 1700

NH Lieutenant Gov. John Wentworth house built at site of current museum parking lot, but was torn down in 1926 and the interior contents sold, in part, to the Metropolitan Museum, alerting some preservations to the growing loss of local architectural treasures.

The 1700s

Portsmouth becomes a popular and busy American commercial port trading world wide.


Portsmouth mob sets up protest banner on "liberty pole" set up at Swing Bridge near current museum site in defiance of British Stamp Act that helped spark the coming American Revolution.



Portsmouth Naval Shipyard established just across the Piscataqua River in Kittery, ME.

The 1800s

Portsmouth fades as world shipping port and privateering profits disappear after War of 1812, but city survives with coastal trade and as a ship building and naval community with fishing. Houses on Puddle Dock mixed in with brickworks, a dozen wharves, coal pockets. As century continues, the waterfront falls into disrepair. Water (Marcy) Street includes more than a dozen brothels.

Puddle Dock in 1900



Water Street

Navy yard helps force closure of the Red Light district along the dangerous Water Street area, but oral history indicates that the trend continued.

Early 1900s

Puddle Dock tidal pond filled in and the area becomes close-knit and crowded low-income neighborhood populated by about half immigrants, half old Portsmouth "Yankee" families. Housing is a mixture of colonial, new and tenement homes interspersed with businesses including a number of metal scrap yards.


Thomas Bailey Aldrich House preserved as cityís first house museum with other independent house museums to follow around town.


Portsmouth celebrates tercentennial of first settler in 1623 and tries to invigorate a sense of local history.


Portsmouth city officials and local preservationists talk with National Park Services about what do with the historic South End. Discussions donít go far and are interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. Heiresses Josie and May Prescott purchase land along the waterfront and begin a "beautification" process. Their efforts remove commercial buildings, bury wharves, plant trees to form a park.



1957  Dorothy Vaughan

Librarian Dr. Dorothy Vaughan speaks at Rotary and "lays it on the line" about the continued destruction of historic Portsmouth architecture and a plan to combine urban renewal with historic preservation takes shape. Vaughan will be 100 years old in 2005.


Strawbery Banke is Incorporated as a preservation agency. Stockholders invested money, technically not expecting a return. First annual report issued by president Dorothy Vaughan under the title "History Incorporated". The concept of SB as an educational nonprofit museum did not fully evolve until the early 1980s.


Strawbery Banke, Inc designated redeveloper for the Marcy-Washington Streets Urban Renewal Project. The original plan was to create an approximate simulation of old Market Square, centered around the restored Old State House and employing buildings rescued from destruction from elsewhere in Portsmouth. After meeting with consultants from other recreated historic village museums, the idea evolved into preserving the existing older buildings in the Puddle Dock area as part of the campus. Portsmouth Housing Authority rules allowed only 25 "deteriorated" houses to be preserved, so 19th and 20th century buildings were sacrificed. Five newer buildings were saved, including a barn and a warehouse, to be used as museum buildings. The saved homes dated up to 1820 only (using the 1813 map of the city as a guide). The idea evolved to preserve and eventually restore all the surviving houses to their original appearance then add more buildings to create the appearance of an 18th century village in a separate corner of the campus. William Perry, architect of Williamsbug, VA, submitted a detailed plan that was not adopted. Part of the nine acre campus was named the "Area to Receive Historic Structures from Without" where "rescued" historic houses were moved from other areas of town.

Puddle Dock, 1950s

The 1960s

Chase house, Wheelwright house restored. Goodwin Mansion moved to SBM from Islington Street in 1963. Herb garden established in 1965. Sherburne house restored. Dunaway Store built in 1966.


Strawbery Banke, Inc., acquires official title to 9.5 acres of the Marcy-Washington Streets Urban Renewal Area.


Opened to the public with just two buildings (Chase and Goodwin) restored as house museums


Vaughan Street Urban Renewal Project authorized by President Johnson the morning before he signed the National Historic Preservation Act in the afternoon. Project thus avoided federal review of its impact on North End historic buildings.


First guidebook published.


Puddle Dock archaeology project under "pick-and-shovel historian" Roland Wells Robbins uncovered a small section of buried wooden docks near the foot of Atkinson Street.


State of NH moves surviving fragment of Old Statehouse to Strawbery Banke for purposes of restoration there, but the project stalls. SBM moves to professional museum staffing by hiring professional director and curator.


Begun as a multi-faceted project in the 1950s, Portsmouth urban renewal plan began to take its toll on the North side of town where 400 buildings (200 houses) were razed. Dozens were identified as historic, but just 13 were preserved on "The Hill" nearby and used commercially. A group called Portsmouth Preservation Inc was first to attempt the non-museum market-based preservation approach, but current tax laws then favored new construction over preservation.

Strawbery Banke Museum interior

The 1970s

Reuben Shapley and Keyran Walsh houses restored. Joshua Wentworth House moved to from Hanover Street by barge and tugboat in 1973. Thomas Bailey Aldrich house became a part of the museum in 1979.Carter Center purchased and donated to the museum as a collection center in 1977. SBM decides to sell two unrestored buildings outside the fence to private owners under preservation easements, but the policy was soon abandoned.


Prince Charles of England visits as part of Portsmouth 350th anniversary.


Museum publishes photo collection book "Historic Portsmouth" after moving museum library into newly restored Daniel Webster house. Prescott Park Arts Festival begins across the street bringing thousands of visitors to outdoor summer events added to its well-known summer gardens.


SBM accredited by American Association of Museums


First afternoon Candlelight Stroll in winter draws a few hundred visitors. Today the event draws thousands of visitors over a two-week period.


The 1980s

Strawbery Banke by Richard Haynes

Rider-Wood House and William Pitt Tavern restored. Shapley-Drisco house restored to illustrate two periods in the life of the house, the original in 1790 and the last in the 1950s. Receipt of very important Jacob Wendell collection with over 200 pieces of antique furniture and historic objects.


After three years construction by a nonprofit group, 4,000 onlookers watched gundalow moved by oxen from museum grounds and launched in the Piscataqua River.


Animosity reaches a peak as a gentrified Portsmouth begins a tourist renaissance and newcomers move in, but amid a sluggish economy and a rise in crime and property taxes. City Councilor Evelyn Marconi, whose Puddle Dock home had been lost to urban renewal, tells the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine that her family was evicted to make room for SB. "The revitalization of Portsmouth was a big flop," she says. "They disemboweled Portsmouth. They cut out the heart."


25th anniversary celebration


Following new studies of the Old Statehouse, Elaine Krasker of NH state senate introduces a bill appropriating $1.75 million to rebuild it there. Senate Bill 247 was killed and the loss of funding rendered the building project moot. Until then SBM was to entertain the idea of providing a site for the building if the State of NH agreed to pay for future staffing and maintenance. Two years later the building was disassembled and move to a holding trailer in Concord, NH where it remains.

The 1990s

Restored Abbott Store opened in 1993. Shapiro House restored and opened in 1997. Reproduction privy created behind Rider-Wood house. Renovated historic Stoodley's Tavern opened as an education center in 1997. Museum receives first 7-figure charitable gift. First role-players added to the museum staff.


Museum featured in special 60-page supplement to Antiques magazine.


End of major capital campaign raises $7 million exceeding its goal, for capital expenses (restorations) and endowment and infrastructure needs.


Work on a new $2.1 million, 8100 square foot Tyco Museum Visitorís Center at Strawbery Banke halted to avoid damaging archeological impact on early Puddle Dock occupation.


Museum gives up management and housing of gundalow that then forms The Gundalow Company. Receives Hawes porcelain collection.


Receipt of a $2 million gift.


Museum engages company to create a 10-year master plan for the future.


Museum begins search for its tenth director. 


Visit the Strawbery Banke Official Web Site
Compiled by J. Dennis Robinson and the NH Gazette .
Copyright (c)  2004l by
Black and white images courtesy of Strawbery Banke Museum
Top color photos by Richard Haynes


top of page


line rule


Site label
PO Box 7158
Portsmouth, New Hampshire 03802
Voice: 603-427-2020

line rule