Portsmouth Athenaeum 2022 Lecture Series
Portsmouth, NH: Evolution 1623-2023
The territory of coastal New Hampshire, first inhabited by the Abenaki and other Algonquian languages-speaking nations, was first explored and written about by Martin Pring in 1603. Settlements in the area by Europeans began in 1623 and, four hundred years later, neighborhoods sited where some of those settlements existed comprise the present-day City of Portsmouth. The 2022 and 2023 Portsmouth Athenaeum Lecture Series celebrates and shines a light on the city’s evolution from 1623 to 2023. This year, we celebrate its people, its architecture and the changes in its land use.
Each program begins at 5:30 p.m. in the third-floor Shaw Research Library.
Attendance is free for Athenaeum Proprietors, Subscribers and Friends. Guests and members of the public are welcome to attend the entire 2022 series by becoming a Friend of the Athenaeum (see link below) for as little as $25 per year, payable at the door. Admission to an individual program is $10.
Space is limited and reservations are required. Please call (603) 431-2538 to reserve your spot(s) today. If unable to keep a reservation, please call again to release the seat for someone else. Reserved seats are honored until five minutes before a program begins.
Our series begins on May 18th with A Portsmouth Overview by David Maloney. Mr. Maloney is a long-time seacoast resident who has traveled extensively to historical sites around the world from the Great Wall of China to the Egyptian pyramids. His particular area of interest is Early American history, especially that of New England and its people. He has been a guide at the American Independence Museum, lectured on Portsmouth area history, published a walking guide of historic Portsmouth and operated driving tours of Portsmouth and the surrounding area.
From the late 1600s, until the early 1800s, Portsmouth was a thriving seaport with trade in fish, lumber and shipbuilding generating considerable wealth. Portsmouth was also the capital of the Royal Colony of New Hampshire from 1679 until the early years of the revolution. Many Portsmouth citizens participated in the revolution and made important contributions to the founding of the country. Starting in the early 1800s, the economy started to decline due to fires, trade embargoes and commercial development moving upriver. By the early 1900s, Portsmouth had become a gritty industrial city with the waterfront in decay and many once-stately homes converted to low-cost rental housing and candidates for demolition. This threat of destruction of the city’s neighborhoods and historical identity motivated residents to create rehabilitation projects that have made Portsmouth a cultural and artistic center as well as a popular destination for visitors from around the world.
The following month on June 15th, the lecture series continues with A Quest to Thrive: Looking at the Lives of Black Women and Men Over 400 Years in Portsmouth by Angela Matthews. Ms. Matthews moved to Portsmouth for a job with the Portsmouth school department in 1973 and stayed because she found a unique community here that in her experience seemed rare. While working for the Greater Piscataqua Community Foundation in 1993, she had the opportunity to meet and work with Valerie Cunningham through a grant from Frank and Irja Cilluffo that established the GPCF Diversity Committee. This dialog group initiated a number of projects, including a curriculum guide on Black history that was published in 2004 as Black Portsmouth: Three Centuries of African American Heritage. Ms. Matthews has volunteered for the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire ever since and has offered tours for many years. She also helped to raise the funds to purchase that organization’s home at 222 Court Street. Ms. Matthews says, “When I think of Portsmouth’s 400-year Black history, I am most impressed by the Middle Passage Africans who carried culture, values, and traditions that have been handed down generationally for centuries and are visible in today’s Portsmouth Black communities.”
After a break for the summer, the Athenaeum lecture series resumes on September 21st with A Century of Change in Land Use and the Built Environment in Portsmouth by Nick Cracknell. As a practicing municipal planner, Mr. Cracknell has over 25 years of land use experience and has served as the City Planner in Amesbury, MA, and Planning Director in Newburyport, MA; he has been Principal Planner in Portsmouth since 2011. Mr. Cracknell serves as the staff liaison to the Historic District Commission and has a deep affinity for the preservation and enhancement of the architectural character & heritage of Portsmouth.
From the early planned development of Atlantic Heights, through the post-war period, to more modern times, Portsmouth, like many New England communities, has experienced significant changes to its character and land use patterns. Such changes have had a dramatic effect on how we live and where we work and play, and it has had wide-reaching implications for how we will confront the many modern-day challenges of managing new growth and development in the city. Mr. Cracknell will share some of his observations on how Portsmouth’s land use patterns have evolved over the past century, and he will discuss how these changes have created both challenges and opportunities in managing new growth.
Oct 19th brings Thomas Hardiman Jr. with the first of two talks examining the Port City’s architectural heritage. He will present Architecture I – Imitation and Innovation: Developing a Portsmouth Style of Architecture 1660-1815. Mr. Hardiman, Keeper and Executive Director of the Portsmouth Athenaeum, has more than 30 years of experience in the museum, library, and historic preservation fields. He has been Athenaeum keeper since 2000 and was previously curator of the Saco Museum. In addition to museum administration, Mr. Hardiman has significant experience with the management, exhibition, and conservation of art and artifact collections and with the sensitive conservation of historic structures. Building on the important work of Richard Candee, James Garvin, Arthur Gerrier, and others, this talk will show how the Portsmouth community of craftsmen imported design ideas and structural systems from Europe and adapted them to the local climate and materials. Through this evolution, they created a style of architecture that is truly distinctive to the region.
This year’s series concludes on Nov 16th with Architecture II – Mid-Century Modest: The Architecture of Portsmouth and the Piscataqua in the Mid-20th Century by Peter Michaud. A native of New Hampshire, Mr. Michaud grew up in Rollinsford and is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire in Durham. He began his career at the Portsmouth & Exeter Site Manager for Historic New England, working out of Portsmouth’s Governor John Langdon House. He later served as the National Register, Preservation Tax Incentives, and Easements Coordinator at the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources. He now works as a cultural resource manager for the federal government. He is a founding board member of the Piscataqua Decorative Arts Society, is on the National Council of Strawbery Banke Museum, and is the secretary of the Portsmouth Historical Society.
Mr. Michaud examines the architecture of post-war Portsmouth and the Piscataqua region, looking at major buildings in this area as well as the work of the architects who designed some of them. He will include Portsmouth architect Lucien O. Geoffrion, who designed such iconic local buildings as Yoken’s Restaurant (1946), the clubhouse at the Portsmouth Country Club (1955) and the Pic’n Pay Supermarket (1960) (now Hannaford). The lecture will provide a general overview of mid-Century architecture in the region.
The second part of this series in 2023 will continue to celebrate Portsmouth’s four hundredth anniversary: 1623 to 2023.
Written by Irene Bush.
The 2022 Lecture Series is sponsored by UBS Financial Services, Inc.