Just when we least expect it, a new blog post for TMS Architects arrives from our guest historian, J. Dennis Robinson.  The subject of this one was timely as it had been in the local papers and was wonderful to get more information about this particular building on State Street in downtown Portsmouth.

 

A 1930's era photograph by architect John Mead Howells of the Federal cape built of wood as an exemption to the Brick Act of 1814 and currently being revived. Source: Portsmouth Athenaeum

A 1930’s era photograph by architect John Mead Howells of the Federal cape built of wood as an exemption to the Brick Act of 1814 and currently being revived. Source: Portsmouth Athenaeum

“Karen Bouffard didn’t have to stick her neck out and save the old Drown House on State Street in Portsmouth. She could have let it go. “But what can you do?” Karen says casually. “I love old things.”

I don’t get downtown much, and it was purely by accident that I bumped into carpenter Carl Aichele on State Street a few weeks back. Carl was standing outside the little wooden building across from Dos Amigos. To be honest, I was headed to the Shaines ice cream shop on the corner for a banana cone, when Carl hailed me. I had thought the little building was a goner and was amazed to see it being built up rather than torn down.

Carpenter Carl Aichele reviews the history of the 1814 Drown House now bing preserved in Downtown Portsmouth. Source: J. Dennis Robinson

Carpenter Carl Aichele reviews the history of the 1814 Drown House now bing preserved in Downtown Portsmouth. Source: J. Dennis Robinson

Over the years the little cape has been a TV repair shop, a lounge for valet parking attendants, a ski shop, an antiques store, a used clothing store, and a shop selling gourmet dog treats. I didn’t know the story of the building, but I knew it had dozens of tales to tell.

Carl was giving me a quick tour when Karen Bouffard walked in. Karen is a real estate broker and a long-time local, raised in Kittery. I knew her distantly from the Portsmouth Athenaeum, a diminutive blonde who drives a huge red truck. We climbed down into the basement where she showed me an enormous stack of boulders that once held up the floor of the little shop. The stone pillar is topped by a massive chunk of wood that looks like it was salvaged from a shipwreck. A steep stairway with narrow treads, more ladder than staircase, had to be removed to meet modern building codes. But the rare one-and-a-half story structure still looks much as it did when the fire-ravaged wooden city was being rebuilt in brick.
Suffice it to say, we got talking. It was clear that Karen had come to love the building. Her purchase had saved it from certain destruction. She saved a lot of history too. Karen was bubbling over with tales of the building at 102 State Street. It began as the home and shop of the Drowns, a prominent family of silver and goldsmiths. Their first building was destroyed by the fire of 1813.

You can read all about it by clicking the link below. The story appeared in the Portsmouth Herald and on my website. I posted a link on Facebook and immediately the comments poured in. Preserving the funny little building seemed to make people happy. “Thank you Karen, whoever you are,” someone wrote. Good news travels fast.

READ: Saving Old State Street
http://www.seacoastnh.com/History/History-Matters/saving-the-old-state-street-store/
J. Dennis Robinson is editor and owner of the popular website SeacoastNH.com and author of 12 books about history. His latest release is MYSTERY ON THE ISLES OF SHOALS: Case Closed on the Smuttynose Island Ax Murders of 1873. You can follow his history postings on Facebook. His newest website is www.SmuttynoseMurders.com

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