If reading about early architecture and history is not enough, if you yearn to literally walk through its pages – then Portsmouth, New Hampshire is the place for you. It is a feast for the colonial soul. Surrounded by original homes of wheelwrights and fishermen, governors and sea captains, you feel as though one might come round the corner at any turn. Walking along the same paths and alleys as they did, you are immersed in its architecture – four square homes with gabled dormers, pediments scrolled and triangular, elaborately carved doorways with fans and flutes, clapboards held together with rosehead nails and chimneys tall and proud at the center, at the ends, at the four corners. All stand shoulder to shoulder, to present a village proud of its heritage and dedicated to maintaining it for the future.
There is a museum village, open to the public – Strawberry Banke – Portsmouth’s original name given by the first settlers for the wild strawberries they found growing along its banks on the Pisquataqua River. It is a wonderful place to spend a day on a self guided tour, and meander through early houses in various stages of restoration. But when you step outside the museum, nothing changes. The only difference is that the streets are paved and the houses are private. They look the same, and they all overlook the water. The day we visited, the tall ships were in port, adding to the ambiance.
Downtown Portsmouth is a short walk away and is also studded with colonial homes mixed with 19th century buildings that have maintained their character and purpose. There is plenty of shopping for tourists, a variety of restaurants, a square for the public to sit and relax with a coffee, or gelato (my favorite), and maybe listen to a street musician, all in an old world ambiance.
It is said that we should live in the “now” – if that’s true, then Portsmouth is one of those places in which I would be forever delighted to do just that.
A short drive over the bridge to Kittery is pleasant. Lady Pepperell house is there – it is private, but a feast for the eyes.
Further on to South Berwick, is the author Sarah Orne Jewett’s house. I am a fan of her “Country of the Pointed Firs” – another story I would love to physically walk in to – and since her stories are based on her own experiences in her Berwick area, you can! Her house is lovely, and the history interesting, but my favorite of all time is the house featured on the cover of Wendell Garrett’s book, “American Colonial” – Hamilton House. Both of these houses are owned and operated by Historic New England, and the site manager of these homes was so kind to give us a tour of both! Standing at the front door of Hamilton House, looking out over the water, is unbelievable. If one could actually sell one’s soul for this paradise, then all I can say is I’m glad Lucifer didn’t show up to offer it to me at that front door!
For more views, inside and out, of Hamilton house, click here –
Saturday, June 5th, Historic New England (formerly SPNEA) is opening all 36 of their houses for free. For only $55/yr per household you can become a member, gain access to all of their properties anytime, and help sustain their invaluable work. Please support them.