By Keeper Tom Hardiman


Recently Sherry Wood wrote an article about how the Vaughan Street Urban Renewal Project removed neighborhoods and rerouted streets to create the Bridge Street parking lot. While some Portsmouth vistas have been altered suddenly and dramatically, others have changed gradually but no less dramatically.

When this photograph of Haymarket Square was taken by the Davis Brothers in the 1880s the view had changed little for half a century, other than the addition of shade trees that are still young in the image. The scene would remain largely the same for another half a century, yet only one of the five buildings in the photo remains in place today.

In the distance, behind the trees at the corner of Middle and State streets stands the Samuel Lord house, now better known as the John Paul Jones House, the sole survivor of the photographic composition. Across State Street is the three-story Federal style William Ham house. It was taken down in 1924 when the Granite State Insurance Company built their new granite and brick neoclassical style office (now Oak Point Associates).

Next to the Ham house is the two-story half-house that was the home of stagecoach driver Sandeman Marden. It was taken down before 1937 when the Railway Mail Association Insurance Company built the colonial revival brick building that is now Flagg Law Offices. That same construction project displaced the gambrel roof house on the corner of Middle and Court Street. Known as the Oracle House because the Portsmouth Oracle newspaper was published here, it was originally built about 1709 on the lot behind North Church and moved to Haymarket Square around 1800. On August 12, 1937, the Oracle House was moved once again, down Court Street to its current location at the corner of Water Street facing Prescott Park.

The large brick church in the foreground was built in 1828 for the Middle Street Baptist Church and served the congregation until their new church across the square at the head of Court Street was dedicated in 1956. The old church was razed to make way for Gailey’s Atlantic Service Station, which later became Dow’s. In 2013 Dow’s was razed to make way for condominiums, the latest change in a slowly evolving Portsmouth vista.

Image: Middle Street, Davis Brothers cabinet card, Small Photograph Collection, c. 1880s. PS0027. Gift of Henry B. Margeson.