October 6, 2013

Visiting the Portsmouth (NH) Athenaneum



Hugs for the volunteers at the Portsmouth Athenaeum

 “The high school yearbooks are on the shelf,” my husband Monte told me as I was talking to a volunteer at the Portsmouth Athenaeum about the house our family had watched being moved down the Piscataqua River in 1973.

“Pull the 1961 Yearbook. That’s the one that will include the members of the class I would have graduated with if I hadn’t moved away from here.

While he retrieved the volume I entered into a discussion with an Athenaeum volunteer about the house our family observed being floated down the Piscataqua River many years ago.

“I don’t think I ever knew the name of the house,” I said. “But I can date it because my daughter Sandy was three and my son was one-and-a-half.”

After much research she found the information.

“It was the Joshua Wentworth House,” she said. “It was moved to Strawberry Bank in 1963

Dorothy Briskay and my daughter Sandy enjoy the house move.

Dorothy Briskay and my daughter Sandy enjoy the house move.

The historic building, dating from the 1770s, was once owned by Joshua Wentworth, 18th Century merchant and patriot.A newspaper article stated that Until a little over a year ago the Col. Joshua Wentworth house on Hanover Street looked so desolate and forlorn that it seemed only a matter of time before the wreckers would exact another tribute from Portsmouth’s past.*** It was saved from destruction in 1973. One requirement was that the moved structure must be restored, if necessary, and it must be maintained for historic or architectural purposes.* It was moved from Hanover St., floated down the Piscataqua River and placed in its present location on Hancock St.**

I recall the day the house was moved. Monte and I were in New England, spending the day with my uncle, Jack Briskay, and his wife Dorothy. The weather was pleasant as we gathered at the river to watch the unusual cargo moving down the Piscataqua River to Strawberry Banke, Portsmouth’s historic section. We saw it float under the I-95 bridge to its new home.

Daughter Sandy, 3, watching the Joshua Wentworth house being moved

Daughter Sandy, 3, watching the Joshua Wentworth house being moved

The Joshua Wentworth house brought out of the river

The Joshua Wentworth house brought out of the river

I offered to send the Athenaeum digital copies of the photographs I had of the house floating down the River.


Because of his business acumen and adherence to the Revolutionary cause, he was appointed commissary and Navy agent during the Revolution, and many of the letters he wrote in that capacity have survived.* Joshua Wentworth was a nephew of Gov. Benning Wentworth and cousin to John, the last of the royal governors. Unlike his cousin who fled to England at the outbreak of the Revolution, Joshua became an ardent patriot and received his commission as Col. in the first New Hampshire regiment in 1776…the Marquis De Chastellus (who visited Portsmouth with the French fleet in 1782) described Col. Joshua Wentworth as respected…not only from his being of hte same family as Lord Rockingham, but from his general acknowledged character for probity and talents.***
Upon acquiring the house Joshua Wentworth enlarged it from four to ten rooms. He added sumptuous cornices, mantelpieces and other refinements derived from English architectural books that also had been used in other Wentworth houses.*
After Col. Wentworth moved to a Middle Street house, Capt. Thomas Brown purchased the Hanover Street home. It was next sold to Joshua Johnson, who maintained it much as Col. Wentworth had. The house was next transferred into the care of the Rev. Tobias H. Miller,


During the conversation Monte had pulled the 1961 Portsmouth High School yearbook off the shelves for me. Had I remained in Portsmouth through my high school years I would have been a member of that class. I looked up the names of several persons I knew: Kathy Boyle, Becky Rice, and Evelyn Slone. I often wonder where they are today. Below is their their yearbook pictures.

Kathy Boyle

Kathy Boyle

Becky Rice

Becky Rice

Evelyn Slome

Evelyn Slome

If you recognize any of them, let me know. I would appreciate it.

Thus, my visit to the Athenaeum ended with a few details taken care of, and we were went on our way.

NOTE: The Portsmouth Athenaeum is a non-profit membership library and museum, incorporated in 1817 and located in the heart of historic Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Membership libraries were first created in the 18th century for the mutual edification of their members and to elevate the educational resources available in the community. The name “Athenæum” was used by a number of societies established during the nineteenth century to describe institutions with broader aims than just a library. The term is derived from Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, and the classical temple of the arts and sciences named to honor her.
While there were once hundreds of membership libraries across America, there are now fewer than twenty left. The Athenæum today continues this long tradition of mutual improvement by maintaining a library of over 40,000 volumes and an archive of manuscripts, photographs, objects, and ephemera relating to local history. It also sponsors exhibitions, concerts, lectures, and other educational and cultural programs.
The mission of the Portsmouth Athenæum is to retain its tradition of serving as a locus of convivial interchange and intellectual discourse; to collect and preserve materials relevant to the study of the history of Portsmouth and the Piscataqua region; and to make these materials available to its Proprietors, to scholars, and to the general public.


Destination: Portsmouth, New Hampshire

WP Daily Prompt 1/28/2013: Ode to Three Playgrounds in Portsmouth, N. H.

My Childhood Home: 29 Spring St., Portsmouth, N. H.

* PHA Seeks Funds for House Move, Portsmouth Herald, Sept. or Oct. 1972
*** Old House Rejuvenated, newspaper article, undated

1 Comment »

  1. […] Visiting the Portsmouth (NH) Athenaneum […]

    Pingback by Winter Destination: Portsmouth, New Hampshire | Carolyn's Online Magazine — January 20, 2015 @ 1:30 am | Reply

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