A Georgian Mansion Built for British Royal Governor's Brother as a Wedding Gift
The history of the Wentworth-Gardner House is a fascinating study in historic presevation. It was was built c.1760 for Thomas Wentworth, brother of John Wentworth, the last royal governor of New Hampshire. Mark Hunking Wentworth, a prominent Portsmouth merchant, built the house for his son as a wedding present. Thomas and his wife Anne had five children before he died in 1768. Anne remarried, to Captain Henry Belle-v of the Royal Navy, and eventually moved to England. The house was first rented and then sold in 1779 to two brothers, Ichabod and Nathan Nichols.
Major William Gardner purchased the house in 1793 which, with his renovations, now included extensive gardens, a barn, a wharf, a nearby office, utility buildings and store. Major Gardner died in 1834, leaving the house to his wife Sarah. Sarah's sister Susan sold it in 1854 to Col. Joshua Peirce. Many changes were made and the house was sold again in 1885 and was heavily 'modernized' and three garden lots sold.
In 1915 the house was purchased by Wallace Nutting, a former Congregational minister who played a leading role in the Colonial Revival movement. Nutting purchased four other historic houses to create his "Chain of Colonial Homes." Nutting made extensive restorations and used the house as the backdrop for a series of now famous photographs. In 1918, Nutting sold the house to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. "The Met" was contemplating construction of an American Wing, to consist of interiors removed from historic houses, which could contain period furnishings. The Met intended to either strip the best interiors from the house and install them in the Museum or remove the entire house to New York and set it up in the Museum courtyard.
The sale of the house was controversial and and a local Portsmouth committee was formed in 1933 to manage the house. The committee purchased the house in 1940 and the Wentworth-Gardner and Tobias Lear Houses Association was formed to take over the house. The Boston architectural firm of Cram and Ferguson which had worked previously with Nutting was once again hired to help the Society. All of the rooms, except the Dining Room, were repainted or wallpapered and minor structural repairs were made. It has been open as a museum ever since.
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