Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Monday 25th September: Portsmouth NH and Strawbery Banke

On my journey back to Massachusetts I stopped off to visit Portsmouth, New Hampshire - just across the state line from Maine. I was very impressed with the preservation of numerous historical sites and the quality of the exhibitions in the town and stayed a lot longer than i had planned!

Portsmouth was settled in 1623 and the colony was originally called Strawbery Banke after the berries which blanketed the banks of the Piscataqua River. It later changed its name to Portsmouth and became a hub of maritime commerce in New England - reflected in the grand colonial houses around the centre of the town. Anybody who enjoys history and colonial architecture should put Portsmouth on their list of places to visit in New England. You can park in the centre of town and also explore easily on foot.

I started off by visiting the Moffatt Ladd house - a three storey mansion which is a National Historic Landmark. I was given a personal guide of its fascinating interior by one of the colonial dames from the National Society of Colonial dames of America (NSCDA) who own and run the house. It was built in the mid eighteenth century for a wealthy maritime trader and you can see the site of the old port very easily from the house. The top of the house has one of the walkways where people could watch the comings and goings of ships.

There are a number of other fine houses. Most are only open in the summer months but are typically not open every day. Visiting all of them would occupt at least a full day if not more. Apparently there is a Portsmouth Harbour Trail which takes you past most of them.

After lunch, I visited the Strawbery Banke Museum. This features an extensive collection of restored Colonial, Georgian, and Federal style architecture, saved from urban renewal by the efforts of historic preservationists. You can see a map of just how big the site is here.

The museum is dedicated to the study of the lives of people who left their mark on Portsmouth's history and the site is designed in such a way that you can gain an insight into how houses were built, developed and were lived in over the years since the settlement was created.

Not every house is open every day. Guests learn local history from guides dressed in costume appropriate to the 'age' being represented in each house and who help to make it a living museum. This photo is of the street towards the top of the site and the guide is linked to the Marden-Abbott House and the family-run grocery store which is set out in the era of World War 2.

One of the places I enjoyed the most was the garden of the Goodwin Mansion which had some wonderful planting - both in the garden and also in the 1870 Hot House exhibit. I have however completely forgotten what this plant is called although I keep thinking it's linked to chocolate!

There are no sketches for this day although I did start a couple. The weather was chilly and kept threatening to rain.

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