Today’s blog Written and Photos by Guest Blogger Jenn Marcelais
If you’re looking for a quintessential New England town that exudes all the history, culture, art, and architecture that New England well is known for, than Portsmouth, New Hampshire is just what you’re looking for. Portsmouth is a popular stop for visitors touring the seacoast, being less than 1 hour north of Boston, less than 1 hour south of Portland, Maine and located along the highways of Route 95 and Route 1. Not to mention being picturesquely perched alongside the swift-flowing Piscataqua River on its route to the nearby ocean only ½ a mile away. For many, it’s a few days of an enjoyable waylay while on a driving trip through coastal New England or with its many moorings and yacht clubs, a boaters haven.
With its near 400 years of European history, Portsmouth is one of the oldest cities in the United States, being settled in 1623. Pristine examples of every era of architecture can be found in town. Don’t miss visiting the museums around town of which there are many. From oldest surviving wood-framed house in New Hampshire , built in 1664, the many Federal-style mansions around town now maintained by Historic New England, and the over 30 historic homes from many different eras that can be toured at the Strawbery Banke Museum. Neighborhoods solely comprised of only early colonial homes can still be found, packed in side by side tightly on windy and narrow roads.
The downtown area was obliterated by fire not once, but 3 times. After which they reconstructed in a less flammable material of brick and stone. The Portsmouth Athenaeum , located in Market Square is a gorgeous example of the rise from the ashes, and was constructed in 1817, only 4 years after the last great fire. Its Federal-era style of brick and white elaborate ornamentation is rarely seen.
Portsmouth’s early elite built grand, opulent mansions all over town. The Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion was built in 1750 for then England’s Royal Governor Benning Wentworth. New Hampshire’s first Governor, John Langdon (also signer of the US Constitution) built his masterful residence that is also now a museum located on Pleasant St.
The town was once on par with Boston as one of the major merchant seaports in this hemisphere. Portsmouth’s harbor was once filled with sailing vessels from all over the world. Boaters from all over the world still fill the harbor. To celebrate Portsmouth’s heritage, Tall Ships still visit this area a couple of times a year and are welcomed with grand entrance parades.
But to truly enjoy Portsmouth and the seacoast area, you should tour it from the waterside. Boaters here enjoy spectacular views all along the coast of Kittery Maine and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Two historic lighthouses stand sentry at the mouth of the river still in use to light the way for coming and going ships. If you don’t have your own boat don’t worry, day trips are available on several vessels including those from Portsmouth Harbor Cruises, Isles of Shoals Steamship Company and Tug Alley Two.
The brick row houses downtown that now hold restaurants, art galleries and boutique shops were once storehouses and shops from this merchant-shipping era that sold goods from China, India and other exotic places. These and other antique buildings around town make interesting settings for the unique shopping and dining experiences that Portsmouth now holds in store.
One of the more unique and antique venues is that of the Blue Mermaid Alley Grille. Located in the old Nutter-Rhymes House built in 1810 in the cluster of antique structures now known as The Hill (in between Deer and Hanover Streets), this Caribbean-inspired restaurant serves its fare in a building built in 1810 and features a rarely seen carriage-way through the middle of the building.
But if this type of food doesn’t inspire your stomach, don’t worry, there’s plenty in this town that will. The town is abound with restaurants of every type, from take-out, casual and the finest dining. You can even buy a traditional lobster roll right from carts on the street. If you prefer water views with your dining or outdoor seating, don’t miss a tour of Bow Street, Ceres Street and the waterfront area known as “The Decks.”
The riverside of Portsmouth holds not only history, beautiful scenery, sumptuous drinks and dining but also the festive and event-filled Prescott Park and Gardens on Marcy Street. Here you can find events from April to October in food festivals, musicals, plays, and concert productions. You can find beauty in the gardens as long as they’re in bloom.
The shopping here is fantastic. Most are unique boutiques only found in town or in New England. Some, in the old tradition, import goods from around the world (Fa La Lo, Celtic Crossing, Par’s Oriental Rugs , Wordly Goods ). Admittedly the apparel shopping here is more favorable towards women (Serendipity, Ganesh, Second Time Around), but there are some men-shopping opportunities, particularly at the Manporium which is focuses on selling items with guys in mind. But there are plenty of opportunities for those who love art, antiques, gourmet items, artisan crafts and all things New England.
Portsmouth is truly a pleasant place to visit any time of year to have a true New England experience.
Jenn Marcelais is a photographer, resident of Portsmouth and owner of Soul Oyster Web Studios providing web design, graphic design, SEO search engine optimization and Internet marketing services. She also documents early New England gravestones and history at A Very Grave Matter