I’ve rhapsodized a bit in a past post about how much I enjoyed a visit to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and hoped to return. I got my wish and recently spent several days there teaching a workshop. One of the great things about my job is access to historic sites and in this case, the workshop was held at a grand eighteenth-century home– yes, one that President George Washington really did visit (in 1789).
The large white Governor John Langdon House sits two blocks from the center of town. Langdon, while not a name known to most Americans, was a signer of the U.S. Constitution and three-term governor of New Hampshire. Our guide called him the “founding father who didn’t make it into the history books.” In any case, he took advantage of the booming maritime economy in the 1700s and had his hands in the lucrative privateering industry during the American Revolution. The house was meant to show his status in society and is filled with amazing molding, handcarved pine meant to look like masonry, and wainscotting. Beyond the double parlor, other rooms in the house offer different stories. A rector and his wife lived in the house for forty years and rebuilt a fire-damaged section in the popular Greek revival style. At the end of the nineteenth century some Langdon descendants bought the house and added a large dining room designed by Stanford White, an exact replica of a room in another house in Portsmouth.
I often look for a book to read that is set in a place I’m visiting. I found the perfect book at the indie bookstore in town. The Story of a Bad Boy by Thomas Bailey Aldrich is a semi-autobiographical novel published in 1869 and described as a humorous, poignant yarn of one lad’s adventures. Sound familiar? It was supposedly the inspiration for Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The book is set in the fictional town of Rivermouth, really Portsmouth. The town comes to life in this endearing tale of nineteenth-century boyhood. The protagonist, Tom Bailey, lives with his grandfather Captain Nutter, his sister and an Irish servant. Tom gets into all kinds of troubles as he interacts with the neighborhood kids. It’s considered one of the first in the “bad boy” genre of literature.
The Nutter house, where Aldrich lived, sits not far from the Langdon house. It, too, is restored and open to the public, part of Strawbery Banke, an excellent 10-acre outdoor museum featuring three hundred years of history. Alas, I had left Portsmouth by the time I learned about the Nutter house. I guess I’ll just have to return again.