Editor’s note: The Athenaeum 200series celebrates the 200th annversary of the Portsmouth Athenaeum by highlighting unique items, photographs and artifactsin its collection.
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A 1999 exhibit in the Athenaeum’s Randall Gallery, “History In Your Hand, Souvenirs and Tourism in Portsmouth, 1870-1930,” asked the question: What brought tourists to Portsmouth?
According to an essay in the exhibit catalog, during 1870 and 1930 a combination of disposable income, leisure time and ease of travel resulted in the growth of tourism.
These years coincided with the Colonial Revival era, a time when America’s past was romanticized, according to exhibit curators Deborah M. Child and the late Joyce Geary Volk.
“Portsmouth offered architectural gems and superb furniture of the Colonial and Federal periods as well as a lively and well-documented history,” the catalog essay states. “The town, its seaside setting and its houses and interiors were written about in books, newspapers and magazines.”
By the 1870s, most tourists came to Portsmouth by rail.
“Others came by sea, and, after 1900, tourists began to arrive by car. Those vacationing at nearby seaside resorts could come for the day by electric railway, trolley or ferry,” the essay says.
In 1924, William Sumner Appleton, the founder of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England) urged Portsmouth to raise funds to buy the 1664 Jackson House, the oldest surviving structure in the city and the oldest wood-frame structure in New Hampshire.
He noted that more tourists meant more dollars in Portsmouth pockets.
“Every dollar spent in adding to this heritage from the past will come back to us manyfold in business brought by the constantly increasing tide of summer motor travel,” Appleton wrote to prominent members of Portsmouth society and the local business community.
The house is now a Historic New England property, and one of the many Portsmouth destinations for tourists from all over the world.
The Portsmouth Athenaeum is located at 9 Market Square, and is open to the public Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1-4 p.m., and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 603-431-2538 or go to www.portsmouthathenaeum.org where you can search the 28,000 images in the online collection.
Compiled by Sherry Wood