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Portsmouth, New Hampshire
—  City  —
Market Square
Official seal of Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Location in Rockingham County, New Hampshire
Coordinates: 43°4′32″N 70°45′38″W / 43.07556, -70.76056Coordinates: 43°4′32″N 70°45′38″W / 43.07556, -70.76056
Country United States
State New Hampshire
County Rockingham
Incorporated 1653
Incorporated (city) 1849
 • Mayor Robert Lister
 • City manager John P. Bohenko
 • City council James Splaine
Stefany A. Shaheen
Esther E. Kennedy
Bradley Lown
M. Chris Dwyer
Zelita Morgan
Eric Spear
Jack Thorsen
 • Total 16.8 sq mi (43.5 km2)
 • Land 15.6 sq mi (40.4 km2)
 • Water 1.2 sq mi (3.1 km2)  7.03%
Elevation 20 ft (6 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 21,233
 • Density 1,300/sq mi (490/km2)
Time zone Eastern (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST) Eastern (UTC-4)
ZIP codes 03801–03804
Area code(s) 603
FIPS code 33-62900
GNIS feature ID 0869312

Welcome sign to downtown Portsmouth

Portsmouth is a city in Rockingham County, New Hampshire, in the United States. It is the only city in the county, but only the fourth-largest community,[1] with a population of 21,233 at the 2010 census.[2][3] A historic seaport and popular summer tourist destination, Portsmouth was the home of the Strategic Air Command's Pease Air Force Base, later converted to Portsmouth International Airport at Pease with limited commercial air service.


Market Square in 1853

Native Americans of the Abenaki and other Algonquian languages-speaking nations, and their predecessors, inhabited the territory of coastal New Hampshire for thousands of years before European contact.

The first known European to explore and write about the area was Martin Pring in 1603. The Piscataqua River is a tidal estuary with a swift current, but forms a good natural harbor. The west bank of the harbor was settled by English colonists in 1630 and named Strawbery Banke, after the many wild strawberries growing there. The village was fortified by Fort William and Mary. Strategically located for trade between upstream industries and mercantile interests abroad, the port prospered. Fishing, lumber and shipbuilding were principal businesses of the region.[4] Enslaved Africans were imported as laborers as early as 1645 and were integral to building the city's prosperity.[5] Portsmouth was part of the Triangle Trade, which made significant profits from slavery.

At the town's incorporation in 1653, it was named Portsmouth in honor of the colony's founder, John Mason. He had been captain of the port of Portsmouth, England, in the county of Hampshire, for which New Hampshire is named. In 1679, Portsmouth became not only the colonial capital, but also a refuge for exiles from Puritan Massachusetts.

When Queen Anne's War ended in 1712, the town was selected by Governor Joseph Dudley to host negotiations for the 1713 Treaty of Portsmouth, which temporarily ended hostilities between the Abenaki Indians and English settlements of the Province of Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire.[4]

Portsmouth Harbor, New Hampshire by William James Glackens (1909)

In 1774, in the lead-up to the Revolution, Paul Revere rode to Portsmouth warning that the British were coming, with warships to subdue the port.[6] Although the harbor was protected by Fort William and Mary, the rebel government moved the capital inland to Exeter, safe from the Royal Navy. The Navy bombarded Falmouth (now Portland, Maine) on October 18, 1775. African Americans helped defend Portsmouth and New England during the war. In 1779, 19 slaves from Portsmouth wrote a petition to the state legislature and asked that it abolish slavery, in recognition of their war contributions and in keeping with the principles of the Revolution.[5] Their petition was not answered then, but New Hampshire later ended slavery.

Thomas Jefferson's 1807 embargo against trade with Britain withered New England's trade with Canada, and a number of local fortunes were lost. Others were gained by men who acted as privateers during the War of 1812. In 1849, Portsmouth was incorporated as a city.[4]

Once one of the nation's busiest ports and shipbuilding cities, Portsmouth expressed its wealth in fine architecture. It contains significant examples of Colonial, Georgian, and Federal style houses, a selection of which are now museums. Portsmouth's heart contains stately brick Federalist stores and townhouses, built all-of-a-piece after devastating early 19th-century fires. The worst was in 1813 when 244 buildings burned.[4] A fire district was created that required all new buildings within its boundaries to be built of brick with slate roofs; this created the downtown's distinctive appearance. The city was also noted for the production of boldly wood-veneered Federalist furniture, particularly by the master cabinet maker Langley Boardman.

The Industrial Revolution spurred economic growth in New Hampshire mill towns such as Dover, Keene, Laconia, Manchester, Nashua and Rochester, where rivers provided water power for the mills. It shifted growth to the new mill towns. The port of Portsmouth declined, but the city survived through Victorian-era doldrums, a time described in the works of native son Thomas Bailey Aldrich, particularly in his 1869 novel The Story of a Bad Boy.

Congress Street (c. 1905)

In the 20th century, the city founded a Historic District Commission, which has worked to protect much of the city's irreplaceable architectural legacy. The compact and walkable downtown on the waterfront draws tourists and artists, who each summer throng the cafes, restaurants and shops around Market Square. In 2008, Portsmouth was named one of the "Dozen Distinctive Destinations" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.[7]

Portsmouth shipbuilding history has had a long symbiotic relationship with Kittery, Maine, across the Piscataqua River. In 1781-1782, the naval hero John Paul Jones lived in Portsmouth while supervising construction of his ship Ranger, which was built on nearby Badger's Island in Kittery. During that time, he boarded at the Captain Gregory Purcell house, which now bears Jones' name, as it is the only surviving property in the United States associated with him. Built by the master housewright Hopestill Cheswell, an African American,[8] it has been designated as a National Historic Landmark. It now serves as the Portsmouth Historical Society Museum.

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, established in 1800 as the first federal navy yard, is located on Seavey's Island in Kittery, Maine.[9] The base is famous for being the site of the 1905 signing by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt of the Treaty of Portsmouth which ended the Russo-Japanese War.


Governor Langdon House (1784)

Governor Goodwin Mansion (c. 1811), Strawbery Banke Museum

Old Custom House & Post Office (1860), designed by Ammi B. Young

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 16.8 square miles (44 km2), of which 15.6 square miles (40 km2) is land and 1.2 square miles (3.1 km2), or 7.03%, is water. Portsmouth is drained by Sagamore Creek and the Piscataqua River. The highest point in the city is 110 feet (34 m) above sea level, within Pease International Airport.

The city is crossed by Interstate 95, U.S. Route 1, U.S. Route 4, New Hampshire Route 1A, New Hampshire Route 16, and New Hampshire Route 33.


Historical populations
Census Pop.
1790 4,720
1800 5,339 13.1%
1810 6,934 29.9%
1820 7,327 5.7%
1830 8,026 9.5%
1840 7,887 −1.7%
1850 9,738 23.5%
1860 9,335 −4.1%
1870 9,211 −1.3%
1880 9,690 5.2%
1890 9,827 1.4%
1900 10,637 8.2%
1910 11,269 5.9%
1920 13,569 20.4%
1930 14,495 6.8%
1940 14,821 2.2%
1950 18,830 27.0%
1960 26,900 42.9%
1970 25,717 −4.4%
1980 26,254 2.1%
1990 25,925 −1.3%
2000 20,784 −19.8%
2010 21,233 2.2%

As of the census[11] of 2000, there were 20,784 people, 9,875 households, and 4,858 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,331.3 people per square mile (514.1/km²). There were 10,186 housing units at an average density of 652.5 per square mile (251.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 93.55% White, 2.13% African American, 0.21% Native American, 2.44% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.28% from other races, and 1.36% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.35% of the population.

There were 9,875 households out of which 20.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.8% were married couples living together, 8.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 50.8% were non-families. 38.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.04 and the average family size was 2.75.

In the city the population was spread out with 17.2% under the age of 18, 7.2% from 18 to 24, 36.2% from 25 to 44, 23.2% from 45 to 64, and 16.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 94.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.0 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $45,195, and the median income for a family was $59,630. Males had a median income of $41,966 versus $29,024 for females. The per capita income for the city was $27,540. About 6.4% of families and 9.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.3% of those under age 18 and 8.4% of those age 65 or over.

Sites of interest[]

Memorial Bridge

Historic North Church, a United Church of Christ congregation in downtown Portsmouth; the steeple is visible throughout the community.

Street musicians perform across from North Church (July 2014)

  • USS Albacore Museum & Park – a museum featuring the USS Albacore, a U.S. Navy submarine used for testing, which was decommissioned in 1972 and moved to the park in 1985. The submarine is open for tours.
  • Buckminster House - built in 1725, formerly a funeral parlor. [12][13]
  • The Music Hall – a 900-seat theater originally opened in 1878. The theater is now run by a non-profit organization and currently under restoration. The venue hosts musical acts, theater, dance and cinema.
  • North Church – historic church, the steeple of which is visible from most of Portsmouth
  • New Hampshire Theatre Project – founded in 1986, a non-profit theater organization producing contemporary and classical works, and offering educational programs.[14]
  • Pontine Theatre – Produces original theater works based on the history, culture and literature of New England at their 50-seat black box venue.[15]
  • The Player's Ring Theater-a black-box theater that produces original work from local playwrights.
  • Portsmouth Athenæum – a private membership library, museum and art gallery open to the public at certain times.
  • Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse – first established in 1771, the current structure was built in 1878 and is open for monthly tours from May through September.
  • Prescott Park Arts Festival – summer entertainments in Portsmouth's waterfront park.[16]
  • Seacoast Repertory Theatre – founded in 1988, a professional theater troupe.[17]
  • Strawbery Banke Museum – a neighborhood featuring several dozen restored historic homes in Colonial, Georgian and Federal styles of architecture. The site of one of Portsmouth's earliest settlements.
  • Whaling Wall – Painting of Isles of Shoals Humpbacks created by Robert Wyland, situated on the back of Cabot House Furniture. It is in disrepair, and restoration has not been allowed by the owners of Cabot Furniture.[18]

Historic house museums[]

  • Richard Jackson House (1664)
  • John Paul Jones House (1758)
  • Governor John Langdon House (1784)
  • Tobias Lear House (1740)
  • Moffatt-Ladd House (1763)
  • Rundlet-May House (1807)
  • MacPheadris-Warner House (1716)
  • Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion (1750)
  • Wentworth-Gardner House (also called Wentworth House) (1760)


Jefferson Street at the Strawbery Banke Museum

Heinemann USA is based in Portsmouth. Before its dissolution, Boston-Maine Airways (Pan Am Clipper Connection), a regional airline, was also headquartered in Portsmouth.[19] Companies with headquarters in Portsmouth include packaged software producer Bottomline Technologies and frozen yogurt maker Sweet Scoops.

Top employers[]

According to the City's 2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report,[20] the top ten employers in the city are:

# Employer # of Employees
1 Hospital Corporation of America 1,079
2 Liberty Mutual Insurance 1,013
3 National Passport Center 736
4 Lonza Biologics 727
5 City of Portsmouth 684
6 National Visa Center 644
7 John Hancock Insurance 400
8 Bottomline Technologies 350
9 Thermo Fisher Scientific 280
10 Alpha Flying/Plane Sense 270


Former Rockingham Hotel, rebuilt in 1885 by Frank Jones after the original structure burned

In 2006, Portsmouth became an Eco-municipality.[21]

Sister cities[]

Portsmouth has six Sister Cities and one Friendship City as designated by Sister Cities International [22]

Friendship city:

Notable people[]


  • Community College System of New Hampshire, Great Bay Community College – Portsmouth campus
  • Franklin Pierce University – Portsmouth campus
  • Granite State College – Portsmouth campus and on-site location at Great Bay Community College
  • Southern New Hampshire University – Portsmouth campus



  • The New Hampshire Gazette
  • The Portsmouth Herald
  • The Wire[23]


  • WSCA-LP Portsmouth Community Radio 106.1 FM
  • WHEB 100.3 FM rock formatted
  • WMYF 1380 AM adult standards

See also[]

  • Portsmouth Public Library (New Hampshire)


  1. ^ The Rockingham County towns (not cities) of Derry (33,109), Salem (28,776), and Londonderry (24,129) had greater populations according to the 2010 census.
  2. ^ a b United States Census Bureau, American FactFinder, 2010 Census figures. Retrieved April 1, 2011.
  3. ^ a b "NOTE: Change to the New Hampshire 2010 P.L. 94-171 Summary File data as delivered". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved February 13, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d Coolidge, A. J.; J. B. Mansfield (1859). A History and Description of New England. Boston, Massachusetts: H. G. Houghton and Company. pp. 622–629. 
  5. ^ a b Ring, Phyllis. "The Place Her People Made". The Heart of New England. Retrieved August 27, 2010. 
  6. ^ Robinson, J. Dennis. "Paul Revere's Other Ride". Seacoast NH History. Retrieved August 27, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Dozen Distinctive Destinations: Portsmouth, NH". Preservation Nation. Retrieved 27 August 2010. 
  8. ^ Mark J. Sammons and Valerie Cunningham, Black Portsmouth: Three Centuries of African-American Heritage, (2004), pp. 32-33, accessed 27 July 2009
  9. ^ Brewster, Charles W.. "The Ship "America" and John Paul Jones". Seacoast NH. Retrieved August 27, 2010. 
  10. ^ "Census". United States Census.  page 36
  11. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ "J Verne Wood Funeral Home - History". 
  14. ^ "New Hampshire Theatre Project". Retrieved August 27, 2010. 
  15. ^ "Pontine Theatre, Portsmouth, NH". Retrieved August 27, 2010. 
  16. ^ "Prescott Park". Retrieved August 27, 2010. 
  17. ^ "Seacoast Repertory Theatre". Retrieved August 27, 2010. 
  18. ^ Choate, David "Whaling Wall endangered" Sept. 14 2010, Seacoast Online
  19. ^ "Pan Am Clipper Connection". Archived from the original on January 11, 2007. Retrieved August 27, 2010. 
  20. ^ City of Portsmouth CAFR
  21. ^ "Eco-municipalities". Retrieved August 27, 2010. 
  22. ^ "Sister Cities for Portsmouth, New Hampshire".,%20New%20Hampshire. Retrieved May 29, 2013. 
  23. ^ The Wire

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