New Hampshire Colonial State House

New Hampshire Colonial State House, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
The old State House used to stand in the middle of Market Square, twenty or thirty feet in front of the front of the North Church. In this view, the church really would have been visible just to the left of the State House, and would have blocked some of the view of it. The State House was built in the 1750s and 1760s, and removed in 1836. About one-third of it is now in numbered pieces somewhere, being preserved with hopes that the structure can be eventually rebuilt. A good reference for more information on the State House (and indeed for Portsmouth architectural history in general) is Richard Candee’s book “Building Portsmouth” (Portsmouth Advocates, 1992).

In 1988, Paul Gosselin, who is a principal of Salmon Falls Architecture and for whom I do the occasional rendering of proposed designs, approached me about drawing what the old State House used to look like. He had been Portsmouth’s architectural historian, or something like that, and was working with Jim Garvin, architectural historian for New Hampshire, to try to get the thing rebuilt. Paul studied the remains of the building and drew up some plans and gave them to me and I drew up the building.

I did the drawing with black Prismacolor pencil on tracing vellum. As I look at it now, I am strongly underwhelmed by those midget elm trees, looking here an awful lot like mutant brocolli stalks. Stately American elms were once common along the streets of Portsmouth and New England in general, and would have been much taller than the ones I showed here. We used to have a line of them in front of my house where I grew up in Hampton, NH. Elms are typical features of drawings, paintings and photos of historic New England, but are now largely gone due to Dutch Elm disease. I am proud of how the horse and cart look in front of the Athenaeum, and the way the sky works. I recall having to do a bit of research to try to get the clothes on the figures approximately correct, and to understand what a typical horse cart of the times would have looked like.

Back when I first did this drawing, Paul Gosselin and his restoration group were unsure about the cupola on the top. Their best guess at the time was that it would have been similar to the one on Boston’s Old State House, so that’s what I drew in. We decided to leave it a bit dim and faded, however, thinking that such a tactic might indicate our uncertainty about its form. Here is what that original drawing looked like:
New Hampshire Colonial State House cupola detail, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

A couple years ago, in 2004, Nancy Carmer, who worked for the city of Portsmouth, called and said she wanted to use this image for a plaque that was going to be put up in Market Square. But, she said, the design of the cupola had been further researched (I am not sure exactly by whom) and so I changed the drawing to reflect the new design. You can now go to Market Square and see the plaque. Look Look here in the Portsmouth Herald for an article about the plaque’s dedication. If you are interested in seeing more of the old State House, there is a recent wooden model of the building, very nicely built and detailed, that was in City Hall a couple years ago. It might be there still.

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