This walking tour focuses on the Rundlet-May House, which is about a ten minute walk from Market Square. You can part at the Masonic Temple public lot, but consider walking from town down Middle Street. You’ll pass a plethora of Georgian homes and the Middle Street Baptist Church and its impressive administrative building
Along with the house tour, you’ll marvel at the Immaculate Conception Church, as well as admire the newer Redemption Hill Church across the street, and the impressive monument in Goodwin Park.
The Rundlet-May House is a well-preserved Federal-style mansion built in 1807 by textile merchant James Rundlet. The house served the Rundlet and May families for more than a century, and showcases many of their original furnishings through these years.
One of the unique aspects of the house is its innovative features. James was determined to have all the latest gizmos (I wonder what he would have added these days). The mansion was one of the first buildings in Portsmouth to incorporate central heating, thanks to a pioneering coal-fired furnace system. It also boasted an indoor well for running water, a Rumford roaster and range in the kitchen, and other modern conveniences for the time.
The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England) acquired the property in 1971 from James Rundlet’s great-great-grandson. Since then, extensive restoration work has been carried out to preserve the mansion’s original features and recreate its authentic ambiance.
This is a beautiful home to tour – New Hampshire Home did a wonderful write-up of it complete with some enticing photos. The house was sadly closed when I visited, but is on my list for when I go back to Portsmouth (and I will).
Immaculate Conception Church
The Roman Catholic community of Portsmouth once had three parishes, now reduced to one, and centered on the Immaculate Conception Church. The original church at this location was opened in 1852 as St Mary’s and destroyed in a suspicious fire in 1871. A brick church replaced it in 1874, and was renamed the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
By 1930, that building was found to be structurally unsound and too small for the growing parish. It was demolished to make way for the current impressive brick building which opened for worship in 1934. The stained glass windows were preserved from the first brick church and installed in the current building.
The church is open for worship – you can slip inside for a prayer or moment of reflection and to admire the beautiful interior, but don’t be a tourist – this is an active parish church.
As you continue toward State Street, also pause to admire the newer Redemption Hill Church.
Set amidst a neighborhood of mixed older and newer homes, but all in the colonial style, Goodwin Park is a small restful retreat complete with a towering Soldiers and Sailors monument at its center.
The monument was created in 1888 to honor NH NH Governor Ichabod Goodwin, whose home stood across from the park, since moved to Strawbery Banke. Topped by an eight foot statue, the monument was originally forty-two feet high, but the pedestal had eroded and was removed around 1955.