This walk not only takes you to specific points of interest, but is a lovely walk through historic neighborhoods. After Haven Park, the walk back toward the river along Gates Street is particularly charming.
The Wentworth-Gardner house was built in 1760 and overlooks the back channel of the Piscataqua River and includes a warehouse by the river. It was built by the influential and wealthy merchant and landowner Mark Hunking Wentworth as a wedding present for his son,
The house is an excellent example of Georgian architecture with intricately carved detailing, beautiful large panels all cut from single slabs of wood and a gorgeous Palladian window at the central staircase landing. An interesting tool in one of the bedrooms was explained as a rope tightener – the mattresses rested on ropes. This gave rise to the familiar bedtime quip, “good night, sleep tight”. We won’t mention the bedbugs.
The home was purchased In 1793 by Major William Gardner, and after his death, his third wife remained in the house until 1854. With the area falling into disrepute, the house became a tenant house, but was rescued in 1915, along with the Tobias Lear House next door, by Wallace Nutting, a photographer and antiquarian.
Nutting restored the house and in an unusual twist, dressing models in period clothing and for photos of them in various places in the house, creating images of what life in the house might have looked like in its high period.
Nutting sold the house to none other than the esteemed Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, which planned to relocate the house to New York. Fortunately for Portsmouth, if not for the nation, the stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting depression put paid to those plans. The house eventually landed with the current ownership of Wentworth-Gardner and Tobias Lear Houses Association.
The Lear House, next door, now operates as a bed and breakfast. It was built in 1750 by merchant and sea captain Tobias Lear. His son, also named Tobias, was a private secretary to President George Washington, and hosted the president in this house during his 1789 visit to Portsmouth.
South Ward Meeting House
Built in 1866 after the good people of Portsmouth’s southernmost ward clamored for a meeting space, it is a beautiful example of Italianate architecture.
The building has been used for a variety of purposes since its inception. Notably, it hosted an annual celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation starting in 1882, which continued for several decades.
Having had several restoration efforts in recent years, the hope is that the venerable building will continue to serve the local community. For now, we can admire its exterior.
Pleasant Street Cemetery
Pleasant Street Cemetery was established in 1754 on land deeded by the Pickering family originally known as Pickering’s Neck. Interred here are some of Portsmouth’s wealthiest people from the city’s golden age of 1770 to 1860.
Dr. Samuel Haven, Eliza’s forebear, had stipulated in his will that upon the death of his last direct descendent, the family mansion be dismantled and the land given to the city. The last of those descendants was Miss Eliza A. Haven, remarkable given that Dr. Haven had fathered 17 children. That said, she was it, and her will dutifully included his stipulations. Upon death in 1897, the mansion was duly taken apart and the land turned into an inviting public park, known as Haven Park.
Every city and town, it seems, requires a guy on a horse and this one is quite impressive, not only for its size and beauty, but also for the story of the man on the horse, General Fitz John Porter (1822-1901). His is otherwise known as the scapegoat of Second Manassas for his defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run, the result of conflicting orders and intelligence. Court-martialed for disobedience and misconduct by political rivals, it took him 25 years to clear his name.
The bronze panels on each of the four sides of the pedestal tell his story. One is a summary in words of his military career, and the other three depict scenes from his career: his wounding in the capture of Mexico City; his charge at the Battle of Malvern Hill; and one more strange scene in an air balloon, which had broken from its moorings without deterring the stoic Porter from doing his appointed reconnaissance of the enemy.
The statue is the creation of Irish-American sculptor James E. Kelly (1855-1933).