Consensus holds that Portsmouth, New Hampshire, has it all. Not content with a distinguished naval history only, the city of about 20,000 has blossomed like the strawberries once did on the banks of the Piscataqua River. Now, while remaining conscious and protective of its historical assets, it provides a welcoming haven for a diversity of art and business. It has been aptly nicknamed “The City of the Open Door.”
Connecting to the Past
The English settlement which was to become Portsmouth began in 1623, and was known as Piscataqua, for the river along which it lay. The name soon changed to Strawbery Banke, though at its incorporation as a town in 1653, the name was changed again, to Portsmouth, after the town in England that its founder had served. Because of its location on the river and its proximity to the ocean, Portsmouth quickly became a major center for shipbuilding and mercantile trade across the Atlantic.
In fact, Portsmouth was a pivotal place for much historical action. Although less celebrated in Revolutionary legend, Portsmouth (the capital of the New Hampshire colony until trouble with the British increased) received a warning visit from Paul Revere about a year before his famous “midnight ride” to Lexington and Concord. John Paul Jones, the famous Revolutionary War naval hero, boarded in town. In 1800, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard became the first federal navy yard. Furthermore, two treaties were signed here, one in 1713 to end the fighting between the English and the Abenaki Indians, and the second in 1905, endingthe Russo-Japanese War.
Because most of Portsmouth’s income came from ships, the Embargo Act of 1807 made life difficult for those trying to make an honest living on the waterways, although some privateers struck it rich. The Industrial Revolutionand the advent of the railroad only added to the difficulties. A little deprivation, however, prevented the demolition and updating of many historic buildings. Now Portsmouth, which upgraded from a town to a city in 1849, is a thriving center once again, but with preserved reminders of its past glory.
Connecting to the World
The city of Portsmouth serves as the metropolitan center for that segment of the New Hampshire/Maine border known as “the Seacoast.” As such, it provides employment and income for the area. According to the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, a person relocating to Portsmouth generally does so in order to work there. Although the city is only 50 miles each from Boston, Massachusetts; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Portland, Maine, relatively few people commute from Portsmouth to work in those cities. There would appear to be little need to commute anywhere else for work when you already have a foot in the “Open Door.”