cloud ship

cloud ship
a raft of sun tipped clouds sailed by

Friday, November 16, 2012

Project Discovery

Project Discovery a Great Adventure in 1981

Published Monday, June 17, 2002 in The Public Garden; the Portsmouth Herald

By Laura Pope

Twenty-one years ago Indiana Jones exploded into mainstream consciousness in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Swashbuckling, fearless and undefeated in his quest to retrieve treasures, the whip-carrying, hat-wearing Indy added the archaeologist to our growing pantheon of male heroes that already included pirates, soldiers and statesmen.

This was the same summer - in 1981 - that I participated in Project Discovery, an educational public excavation of an archaeological site behind the Mary Rider-Wood House at Strawbery Banke Museum. More than 120 regular citizens, ranging from preteens to retirees, and divided almost equally between the sexes, signed up for the summer-long course, led by me and Harvard-trained archaeologist Gray Gratham.

The program, a brainchild of museum staffer Bruce Follansbee and underwritten by state grants, offered everyday people a chance to participate in a process-driven retrieval of artifacts right on museum grounds.

What attracted most of them to the program was the idea that one didn’t need an academic degree to actually do the excavating, cataloguing, photography, map-making or research. It was a project that empowered and educated, at the same time adding to the already impressive archaeological archive on display and in storage at the Jones House exhibit.

Funny how the name of the museum’s archaeology exhibit house matched that of the movie-screen hero. Completely coincidental was the timing of our dig and the visage of Indiana Jones, but this confluence made for overflow crowds and national media coverage of this banner program in Portsmouth’s 10-acre waterfront museum.

Another extensive dig, at the Follett site, located right next to the Jones House, to examine Puddle Dock wharf remnants, also took place at the museum over the course of that summer, though this one was undertaken by three professionals - Faith Harrington, Elisa Jorgensen and Aileen Agnew. A third dig also began that season - a salvage dig at the site on Deer Street where the Sheraton now stands. This one turned out to be one of the most fruitful, complete and intact historic archaeological sites in New England in terms of ceramic and glass finds.

As we taught classes in excavating, identifying, cataloguing and dating a wide variety of artifacts - from shards of ceramic dishes, cups, wine bottles, pipe stems to bone refuse and the like - interest in the dig and its mission took on a life of its own. Every major and minor television station took turns interviewing students and leaders at both digs; The Associated Press did a story that was picked up across the nation, as we found out from our museum president when he returned from a conference on the West Coast; and visits to the museum rocketed.

Though we did not look anything like the movie hero, we were dirt-covered, trowel-packing truthseekers, out to find evidence, a few centimeters at a time, about the families that resided at the Rider-Wood House.

We did unearth a leather tanning vat out back, and the old outdoor privy did much to verify diets and household wares of residents over time. We glued pots together, made careful lists of our finds and learned to appreciate history and how it is compiled. We did much to quell the snob factor of academia by throwing open the door of the profession to the nontraditional student, the amateur.

Teachers signed up, and so did many a father and son, daughter and mother. Some signed on because they had the summer off and didn’t want to travel. Others had always wanted to try archaeology; a few were earning credits; many didn’t know what to expect. An analysis and interpretation program followed the excavations in the spring of 1982, and for a few of the students, archaeology became a second profession.

When funds for these educational programs dried up - and they did with amazing speed in 1982 - several of the amateurs we had trained took over the laboratory duties. Most all the archaeologists at the museum, a record number in fact, fled to other digs, positions or professions. Still, it was one of those rare times when an innovative idea surfaced, found funding and followed through with incredible results.

Post Script: Following excavations and lab work, the Mary Ryder Wood House underwent extensive renovations, re-opening as an exhibit house at Strawbery Banke Museum, including a select display of artifacts unearthed by Project Discovery participants.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Behind the Lens

Bradley John Huckins, Photographer

World traveler who inherited his father's eye for photography.

A photo taken during one of his many visits to the Middle East, this of the middle pyramid at Giza, called Khafra (also known as Khafre or Chephren). Distinguished by its remaining cap, it is the second largest pyramid at Giza built by pharoah Khafra, who is also credited with building the Sphinx. Some say the face of the Sphinx is that of Khafra.

Bradley lived for a while at Plum Island, the barrier island off the coast of Newbury, Newburyport and Rowley. Winters could be savage and the island was often cut off from the mainland. Depicted here is one of the many boardwalks at the National Reserve, in full capture of falling snow.
You can almost see your breath in this photo, taken after a winter storm with waves at full crash mode. Plum Island severely erodes during major blizzards and hurricanes and of late, houses have been taken by the sea.
A timeless looking photograph of Plum Island in flood stage. This picture says it all.
This photograph of a rather agile Bradley was taken at Bow Lake by his father.

Assorted photos of Bradley John Huckins. Top is Sepia tone of DJ Bradley Jay at WBCN, The Rock of Boston; Bradley spins at River Rave; Bradley at House of Blues; Bradley, how radio talk show host at WBZ and Jay Talking.
To learn more about Brad, go to: to read an article I penned about his long career in music.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Remembering Iconoclast Jay Smith


Originally published Monday, September 9, 2002 Public Garden column, Portsmouth, NH Herald

Jay Smith: Bon Vivant & Cultural Catalyst

I will never forget the sight. More than 100 people dressed in formal evening attire milled around the bar and moved sluggishly on the dance floor in the ballroom of the Islington Street design firm, now closed.

Helium-filled balloons with long ribbon tails caressed the ceiling. Tuxedoed bartenders served drinks. The swish of satin and crinoline gowns filled the air. Ben Baldwin and his band were trying to coax the swank crowd into steady dancing with up tempo tunes.

Despite all the fixings, the expansive guest list (that also included a guest psychic) and the elegant atmosphere, this holiday party lacked spirit. Most seemed uncomfortable in deluxe duds and too-tight shoes with slippery soles.

And then in walks Jay Smith with an entourage. The perennially dressed down Jay and his friends had come from a Button Factory art exhibition, had gotten wind of this more fancy pants affair just down the road and decided: Why Not?

Ever the joyous gate crasher, Jay did not bat an eyelash when it came to pursuing fun. Rather, he rallied the party at large and soon, those swathed in cocktail attire were boogying next to those in flannel, jeans and sneakers. Even the hostess recognized a party savior when she saw one and instead of asking him how he got in, let him work his magic.

I, like many in the Seacoast, hold many memories about Jay Smith. Most of mine involve Jay at an event of some sort, mixing it up with the proletariat and the polished, the artist and the banker, the musician and the mayor.

The first time I saw Jay was at one of the first Market Square Days. It was raining (as usual), and Jay with a group of friends dashed across Congress Street to stop in at the Kearsarge Hotel for a beverage. He was laughing and talking, leading the uninitiated to an out-of-the-way nook.

Most times, Jay could be found at the Press Room. Tall, dimpled, with chiseled features and a keen mind, this bon vivant liked nothing more than introducing people to one another. At the bar one wintry afternoon, Jay sat between me and Katie Paine, ignited a rousing conversation about the Pease Development Board and then made introductions all around. If only that nude painting above the main bar could re-play some of the brilliant discussions Jay generated!

His most magnificent role – beyond his mostly hidden penchant for institutional and personal generosity, was as cultural catalyst. He was a mover and shaker in the truest sense – connecting all the dots of people from different spheres of his own life into a woven work comprised of an extended, stronger community. The Press Room was his salon, where music, food and drink pulled in a soupcon of thinkers, drinkers, game players, diners, gossips, music makers, music lovers and creative sorts of every stripe. Conversations, arguments, business deals and ideas flowed freely.

As an arts reporter I discovered quite by accident Jay’s philanthropic support of the Music Hall. Less accidental were first hand reports about Jay helping people finance the purchase of homes. Or paying staff out of his own pocket when times were lean. Selfless generosity was just another element of a character profile that included those of an aesthete with a unbridled passion for music. I ran into Jay at post-Telluride parties, at Katie Paine’s grand fetes at the farm, on the street and at various house parties all over the Seacoast. The last time I saw him at Katie’s, he was driving a red, vintage sports car and accepting the attentions of several females gathering in the Great Room. I managed to coerce him onto the dance floor for a spin to the sounds of the Curt Bessette Band. Jay Smith left the most vivid impression with me in February 2001 at the post-funeral gathering upstairs at the Press Room for musician, Grieg Westley. I knew Jay was musical and heard from Harvey Reid how he and Jay cut a track on his Circles CD, with Jay on bodhran late one evening at the Daniel Street music room.

Still, that did not prepare me, or those gathered in honor of Grieg, for Jay’s spontaneous burst of song on the stage. Singing clearly, sweetly, boldly, and without accompaniment, Jay Smith sang his heart out in an old ditty that brought Grieg’s spirit forcefully forward. There were few dry eyes. I turned to Kent Allyn, who like me, was shaking his head in wonder at the angel singing his song before us.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Good Medicine article

Appeared in Summer 2012 Northeast Flavor, New England's Food & Wine magazine


Good Medicine

Integrating the healing power of organic farming at Serving Ourselves Farm with renewal of life skills at Boston’s Long Island Homeless Shelter

Laura Pope

“Working at the farm, tending the gardens, is particularly suited to recovery. It’s a place to quiet the mind, meditate and focus on the tasks at hand. Growing food is a very clear activity; it’s not complex in the way a lot of the world is. The sea breeze makes it a perfect environment to work outdoors.”

So says Erica La Fountain, farm manager at the four-acre, certified organic Serving Ourselves Farm at Long Island Shelter in Boston Harbor, about the very real positives of aligning the organic farm ethic with social change. The farm provides food to the homeless, trains homeless individuals in a wide variety of skills, attracts volunteers, offers a sanctuary to troubled youth while also serving the community at large.

Each growing season, the farm yields 25,000 pounds of fresh organic food—vegetables, fruits and herbs, eggs and honey – that helps to provide 2,000 meals each day for 800 homeless persons at the Long Island and Woods-Mullen shelters. Some of that bounty also lands in local restaurants – including the swank Hamersley’s Bistro, Ashmont Grill, Tavolo and Barbara Lynch Gruppo, while 20 percent goes on display for sale at farmers’ markets in Boston.

The brainchild of Boston Mayor Tom Menino, Serving Ourselves Farm was founded as a vocational training program in 1996, as part of the Boston Public Heath Commission’s Homeless Services Bureau. The farm also partners with the City’s Office of Jobs and Community Services, which funds Youth Options Unlimited, YOU, a training and employment program for court-involved youth. For seven weeks each summer, a large group of youth from YOU arrives at the farm to lend helping hands. 

“There are so many different aspects of work and training here,” explains La Fountain, who brings a background in social service, organic and community farming to SOF. “There’s the seeding, tending and harvesting, then the Culinary Arts Program in the shelter kitchen where trainees learn to prepare meals, as well as methods to preserve harvest foods such as pickling and drying herbs,” she adds. “We also maintain an apiary for the honey and to help pollinate the plants, and tend our free range laying hens. Our adult trainees become mentors to our youth participants.”

The farm is one component of the Serving Ourselves Program (SOS), an integrated, holistic program which focuses on developing basic work and life skills, while providing services to homeless individuals. Each season, the farm employs as many as six client workers, who receive shelter, meals, case management, education services, health services, and counseling while in the program. After graduation from the program, each client worker is helped with finding work and housing.

In addition to the training programs, the SOF utilizes the Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA model. Those who purchase farm shares in CSA are given a reusable bag of fresh produce every week throughout the growing season, a delectable stash gathered by trainees and volunteers.

“We emphasize kitchen staples in our plantings – potatoes, tomatoes, greens, onions, carrots and summer squash,” says La Fountain. “Then we plant 30 other vegetables in smaller quantities for our culinary arts program, farmers’ markets and the CSA, such as garlic, radishes, leeks, beans, broccoli, turnip, kale, beets, scallions, cherry tomatoes and eggplant.”

Like any truly sustainable and successful program, collaboration and inclusion are key factors. “The Boston Public Health Commission has a unique public/private partnership with the Friends of Boston’s Homeless, a non-profit charged with raising funds for our program. They recently hosted our first Celebrity Harvest Dinner. Each celebrity chef prepared a course for more than 100 diners, raising $25,000.
Ultimately, results are what make the Farm such a remarkable tool in transforming lives.

“Our trainees interface with all the visitors and volunteers at the farm. They share knowledge with others about their tasks, they answer questions, they teach. We’ve had trainees go on to jobs directly tied to farm skills – in the florist business or in landscaping. A lot of them lose weight and cook better meals as a consequence of working here. In the end, our great success rate in job placement comes from transferable skills learned here: accountability, responsibility, respect. Serving Ourselves Farm is all about a great physical and mental recovery.”

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Bridge that Opened Downtown

Written in August 2002 for The Public Garden, my bi-weekly column in the Portsmouth Herald

It’s hard to equate in modern terms the excitement generated in Portsmouth and Kittery on Aug. 17, 1923. Though newspaper clippings at the time greatly detailed the big event - the opening of the Memorial Bridge - not even the most optimistic politician or city planner could have imagined the positive impact the new bridge would have on the economy and growth of the city.

Former Portsmouth Mayor Eileen Foley - who at age 5 was selected to cut the silk ribbon, at the middle of the new bridge, signaling its opening - sums it up this way: "The opening of the bridge was really the opening of downtown Portsmouth."

The new $2 million drawbridge connected Portsmouth and Kittery, Maine, at a crucial downtown crossing point, eliminating the need for Portsmouth-side shipyard workers to catch the ferry to the PNSY at the coal company (now the salt pile) on upper Market Street.

A dilapidated toll bridge maintained by the Boston & Maine Railroad - crossing near where the Sarah M. Long Bridge, or Middle Bridge, now stands - became obsolete. Pedestrian sidewalks along the new bridge made it possible to walk from Portsmouth to Kittery.

Several businesses opened when the bridge did, including The Rosa Restaurant on State Street and John’s Barber Shop on Daniel Street. The surge in pedestrian and auto traffic demanded more services, and so sprang a hybrid downtown community composed of businesses and residences.

The carefully engineered Memorial Bridge also adapted to fierce river currents and tides. The middle of the span, powered by two 100-horsepower motors, could be raised to a maximum 180 feet, allowing lofty ships to do business upriver.

This feat was tested for the first time in February 1924, when the four-masted Helen B. Gring of Boston passed through with several feet to spare. It was estimated that as many as 15,000 cars would cross the bridge each day for the city’s tercentenary celebration a few weeks after the bridge opened.

The idea to build the three-span cable drawbridge began in 1917 by both New Hampshire and Maine legislators. The cost of building this top-of-the-line span was shared in equal parts by the states of New Hampshire and Maine and the U.S. government. At the time, there were only two other bridges of its kind - in Portland, Ore., and Jacksonville, Fla.

In 1920, contractors in Boston were selected to build the piers and abutments for the bridge. The piers were positioned in bedrock, at some points going as deep as 82 feet below the high-water mark. These necessary foundations required 14,000 barrels of cement, 6,000 tons of sand and 12,000 tons of gravel. Several homes were torn down to make way for approaches to the bridge. By December 1922, the last of the three metal spans - each of which measured 300 feet - was floated into place by the American Bridge Company.

In late August of the following year, opening ceremonies attracted more than 5,000 people, gathered at either end of the bridge. Several dignitaries, including Gov. Brown of New Hampshire and Gov. Baxter of Maine, were in attendance.

An old clipping reads: "The governors met at the boundary line of the middle span and shook hands. There was the tooting of auto horns; boats in the river blew their whistles." Then little Helen "Eileen" Dondero, later Foley, cut the pink silk ribbon, inaugurating the bridge into service.

"I don’t really know why it was me cutting the ribbon that day," said Foley from her Portsmouth home. "My father, Charles Dondero, worked at the Internal Revenue and my mother was at home with us girls. This was years and years before she became Portsmouth’s first female mayor. I do remember wearing a crepe de chine dress with tatting and that a woman fetched me from my mother at the Daniel Street side of the bridge and brought me to where the ribbon was to be cut. I also remember that after cutting the ribbon Governor Baxter held me in his arms."

Later, the delegation would enjoy a lobster dinner in celebration.

Foley added that a collection of materials from opening day, including the ribbon she cut and relevant newspaper articles, was framed, which years later she gave to Sen. Tom McIntyre in Washington, D.C., to bolster his research on ownership of the bridge.

"When he lost his election, his office was cleaned out," she continued, "and that framed piece with all of the bits about the bridge were lost."

Another news clipping reporting the opening reads: "Traffic was opened and immediately a pandemonium broke forth and an avalanche of traffic moved in both directions. Boys on bikes (from both sides of the bridge) rushed forward to see who would be the first to reach the opposite shore."

Portsmouth’s two other bridges would come much later. The Sarah M. Long Bridge opened in November 1940, and the $50 million six-lane Interstate 95 bridge opened in 1972.

Postscript: The Memorial Bridge was dismantled in the winter of 2011-12 and will be replaced with another, more modern bridge.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Front Door Decor

Portals of Past Elegance

Period tools and techniques in hand, John Schnitzler tends a most visible architectural legacy of Portsmouth, New Hampshire and the surrounding Seacoast, through the renovation of colonial door surrounds more than two centuries old.

 “Some surrounds call for simple, small repairs,” explains the Maine-based carpenter who learned his trade under the tutelage of the legendary master carpenter, Norm Clark, at Portsmouth’s 10-acre maritime neighborhood museum, Strawbery Banke.

“Other door surrounds require major surgery when they have to be taken apart piece by piece, to be repaired, duplicated or replaced.” Schnitzler has salvaged at least two dozen door surrounds in Seacoast New Hampshire and southern Maine over the course of  two decades.

Once a booming, urban seaport, Portsmouth and her legendary echelon of merchants, shipbuilders, lawyers and government figures – and before the American Revolution, her Royal Governors – required impressive dwellings to mirror their social standings in an unrivaled, exhilarating heyday of prosperity.

In the 18th century, Georgian and Federal embellishments, entirely the creation of English architects tapping Roman and Greek antiquities, appeared in all manner of interior and exterior architecture as well as furniture and decorative elements in the colonies, most prominently in door surrounds.

“The doorway of a house proclaimed to all the status and wealth of its occupants, who could afford the skills of superlative carvers and joiners working in tandem to accomplish the grandest entrance possible,” continues the bespectacled artisan with his trademark pencil perched between cap and ear.

 With restoration, these artifacts endure as a testament to the outstanding caliber of trade dynasties working in Portsmouth almost two decades before the Revolutionary War.

Several trade families – the Dearings, the Whiddens and the Harts, to name just a few – sprang into action to fulfill the architectural appetites of the upper class. They also left their telltale marks inside – from interior columns and detailed trim and moldings to carved mantels and corner cupboards.

The Chase House, a refined Georgian (named for England’s King George III) era home, built in 1762, features two contrasting door surrounds; one fancy, one a little less so.  Ebenezer Dearing, 1730 - 1791, lived for a time in the two-story residence and is credited with carving the finely executed Corinthian capitals and dense, ornate detailing in the front door surround as well as another of his calling cards, an elaborately carved mantel, festooned with a delicate, French-inspired rococo pattern of flowers, fruits and ribbons, adorning the formal parlor fireplace.


His son, William, 1759 - 1813, continued the family business, carving columns and other ornamental features all around the city. Together, their collective style survives in the capitals at Sherburne, Wentworth-Gardner, Governor Langdon and Moffatt-Ladd Houses, St. John’s Church, on several mantels and the oval carvings on the facade of the Portsmouth Athenaeum.  

 The signature on Dearing capital carvings is distinct, says Schnitzler: “A zig-zag dart or lightning bolt carved into the tops of capitals.”

 Wallingford Hall, a merchant’s manse in Kennebunk, Maine, dated to 1807 and now a public marketplace, displays the quintessential Federal door surround and floor plan.

 “The house stands in amazingly large scale,” he says, “and the rooms inside are huge, so the door surround must match that scale.” The entryway opens extra wide, with newfangled features – transom sidelights and an elliptical skylight.

Built in brick in 1818, on Pleasant Street, one of Portsmouth’s most opulent thoroughfares, the Treadwell-Jenness House is only one of several city residences commissioned by and named for the well-to-do merchant family.

The front door, which Schnitzler freed from a small hall addition and returned to its original position, represents a classic door surround with a half-circle, arched transom featuring a leaf or flute pattern drawn in glass with lead tracery.

These elements display a change in door surround styles ushering in the Federal period, a style christened in honor of the new federation of states that included new fluting, reeding and beading woodworking techniques as well as curved walls and curved staircases inside.

The new approach took hold in New England in 1785 and held sway through the 1820s, brought to the fore by next generation builders such as James Nutter, Jonathan Folsom and journeyman joiner, Shepard Frost, like the Dearings, Harts and Whiddens before them.  

To restoration carpenters such as John Schnitzler, these enduring woodworks are prize relics, worthy of salvation and admiration.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bringing the Mills Back to Life

The Artists At Salmon Falls Mills Usher in a Collective Cultural Economy

It’s often impossible to trace just how the momentum for a movement started, but in the case of the Salmon Falls Mills in Rollinsford, New Hampshire – just across the river from South Berwick, Maine – the spark for what would become a central arts hub began with a simple request.

“ We never started the renovations with the intention of renting to artists,” remembers Leanne Cutter Pellerin, general manager of Cutter Family Properties that bought the nearly deserted pair of brick mill buildings in 2000. “We had no idea there was such a local demand for studio space.  We actually had an artist approach us with the request that we create an artist studio for her.  Once we started and word got around, the Upper Mill quickly filled with various artisans.”

The Mills at Salmon Falls,, these many years later remain a hive of cultural activity, with more than 100 artists and artisans, both full-time and hobbyist, established and emerging, working out of 110 studios. A dizzying array of artists that includes painters, performers, jewelers, furniture makers, photographers, fabric artists, woodworkers and craftsmen of every stripe populate the Upper Mill, as do two martial arts studios, a troupe of African drummers and a gregarious group of belly dancers. The Lower Mill houses commercial and light industrial tenants as well as artists, plus the Elysium Arts Folk Club, a café, dance studio and Rollinsford Public Library.

In early May and again in November, Mills artists fling open their doors for Open House events that attract throngs of visitors out to shop, watch a performance, observe a demonstration or talk to a variety of artists.  On just one floor, visitors may watch a glass artist create a one-of-a-kind window pane, admire a wall of paintings created by two artists sharing the studio, marvel at futuristic comic book illustrations peppering a wall in the lobby, take in a photography exhibit or gawk over hand-made clothes.

“For us, the Open House provides positive exposure that allows us to educate the public,” says Ron Tuveson, a gilder (who specializes in a 3,000-year-old technique called water gilding), frame-maker and restorer from Kittery who works out of the Lower Mill with his son, Jared.

At one time, Tuveson operated four separate studios on the fourth floor of the Upper Mill. “The artists were calling me Ronald Trump because of that but what it really meant was that I was walking six to eight miles a day between studio spaces.” A recent move to a spacious, 2,000-square-foot studio in the Lower Mill has meant “more working and less walking” and continued involvement in “a wonderful, creative atmosphere that allows us to get input from other artists.”

Noted painter and teacher, Stan Moeller, of York, ( sings the praises of the Mills; with the natural light pouring into the studio spaces and the mellifluous sound of the river lead the list. “The whole place has a buzz of creative energy,” he states emphatically, detailing his work routine:  I love my 600-square-foot studio where I can paint large, stretch canvases, frame my paintings, store my frames and paintings. I have my large art book collection at my disposal. I can get in there in the morning, put on some coffee, turn on my music, an iPod full with 3,000 songs hooked up to my stereo, and paint for hours and hours and just get lost in the process.”

On occasion, he hires the Tuvesons to build custom frames for his paintings, and like them, embraces the experience of being surrounded by other hard-working artists. “I have made good friends with other creative folks. Brad Auger and Dale Vigent at Vigent Custom Finishes make the panels I paint on and Allan Breed made my heirloom quality paint box I use when I paint on location. All have become friends, especially Allan, and his son, Sam.”

The name Allan Breed ( is synonymous with the finest in reproduction period furniture and cabinet making – anywhere. This South Berwick resident, restoration prodigy and famed Furniture Master operates studios and The Breed School at the Mills where students learn the particulars of making American 18th century furniture  by hand using traditional tools and techniques.

Like most at the Mills, longtime fabric artist Wen Redmond, communicates her regard for the Mills fervently: “There are a variety of people that use the Mills for studios, business and even storage. For me, it can be a gallery, a place to hold workshops, to make art in an atmosphere of a creative community.”

Adds Pellerin: “I think bringing the mills back to life positively impacts the surrounding communities in many ways.  Of course it brings revenue to this area just from having all the extra people eating lunch and whatnot, but I also think it adds character to this area.” 

The Mills at Salmon Falls are owned by Cutter Family Properties (603-749-8879), located on the 4th floor in the Lower Mill. To find out more about the mills or to make an inquiry about renting, contact or (603) 749-8879.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Restored Treasure

 It’s hard to imagine what 18th century builders, carvers, joiners and other craftsmen would say about the restoration of one of their most magnificent Portsmouth mansions in New Hampshire – the Henry Sherburne House.

Rather than renovating back to one point in time, ambitious restoration plan homeowner, Fred Lowell, enacted – with the assistance of Portsmouth builder, Carl Aichele, and architect, Steven McHenry – a custom approach, honoring not one or two distinct architectural eras, but three.

An historic decorative arts dealer from Hopkinton, New Hampshire, Lowell bought the regal home in the fall of 2002 and began comprehensive restorations the following summer.

He immediately recalls his first and lasting impression of the home: “I liked the architecture of the house; it’s as fine as any house in Portsmouth. We took almost a year to figure out how to do exactly the restoration we wanted.”

Split down the middle, figuratively, from roof to basement, one side reverted back to the mid-1700s, the Georgian period, while the other half  was restored to 1840s Greek Revival era, a period which followed the Georgian and Federal styles. Entirely modern living quarters were installed at the rear of the house in a two-story ell. 

The vision behind the extensive plans forged work and living quarters while paying homage to the home’s important history spanning more than two centuries.

 The well-documented structure is listed on the National Register as a 1725 construction financed by Portsmouth merchant Henry Sherburne, though most architectural historians and preservationists today believe the home was built later in the 1760s as the residence of cabinetmaker, Richard Shortridge. Later, the lofty structure became home to merchant brothers, Samuel and Thomas Rice. Despite disagreement over the exact date of its manufacture, experts agree the home sparkles as a prime example of high-style Georgian architecture.

Lowell’s restoration of the elegant house comes as yet another lucky break for the building. It was saved from the wrecking ball of federal urban development in the late 1960s and carefully removed from a dense swath of tattered, doomed period homes in the North End along the Piscataqua River, to a ‘no demolition zone’ across the street dubbed The Hill. At this juncture, a new basement was added, some remodeling done and the once-palatial residence served as a senior citizen center for many years.

Touring the home in the midst of restoration, Lowell details his thinking behind how each decision was made with respect to dating rooms.

“We tried to capture the way the house evolved – not go to the way it looked when it was built. We went back to the last time the house had something to say, back to the 1840s when the homeowners left some of the rooms to its original, Georgian state and updated others to the latest, Greek Revival style.”

At one point in time, the house was split into a duplex to shelter two families, a fairly common practice in Portsmouth homes, even those with sterling pedigrees. At Sherburne House, Georgian features were left alone on one side and the newer update of Greek Revival elements were added to the other side. This footprint is the template Lowell followed in the main house.

To illustrate his point further, Lowell reveals a section of the foyer wall exposed to reveal three distinct building styles.  “Taking apart the house means mending the facts and discovering things. We took off paneling in the foyer and we can see 18th century lathe and plaster and over that, Greek Revival lathe and plaster and over that, wallboard from the 1970s when the house was remodeled after its move.”

Completely revived, the Sherburne House encloses living quarters, a workshop, ample storage space and three galleries full of Queen Anne, Chippendale and Federal furnishings and accessories. “The house now boasts two historic periods, but with modern settings,” enthuses Lowell.

The lovingly restored front door surround, with its delicately carved Corinthian capitals, broken scroll or swan’s neck pediment centered with a finial-topped pedestal, announces to all the home’s early Georgian roots. The portal embellishment was removed, and painstakingly restored by Portsmouth master restoration carpenter, John Schnitzler, who took more than 200 hours to pull apart, repair or re-create the numerous pieces. The carved rosettes positioned prominently on the pediment, lost over time, were reproduced – hand-carved – by McHenry.

Past this splendid gateway, a fully resplendent front hall, dated to the Georgian era, opens to a central staircase.

A doorway on each side of the room testifies to both Georgian and Greek Revival aesthetics undertaken over time under one roof. “These two doorways are of different heights; the one on the right has a taller Greek Revival door, the other a shorter Georgian one.”

To the left, beyond the shorter door, a formal living room displays typical Georgian embellishments including pilaster with carved capital window and door treatments, mantel and crown moldings, all original to the house. The room behind it, perhaps another bedroom in the original era, later a kitchen when the house was split in two, is now restored to a Georgian age library.

A central staircase leading to a second floor continues the split of Georgian and Greek Revival floor plans. Above the formal living room, the Georgian style persists in a master bedroom featuring the original floor and fireplace with crown molding. An adjacent room will become a display room for late 18th and early 19th century glass and porcelain. “This was probably a second bedroom,” says Lowell.

The formal dining room, off the first floor entry foyer and to the right past the taller doorway, bears all the markers of a Greek Revival room. “Here we tried to create the modern 1840 room where the walls moved in and the windows were made deeper.” Above, on the second floor, a Greek Revival sitting room and bedroom matches rooms below in meticulous detail.

The two-story ell at the rear of the house was built in three sections, explains Lowell. “It began as a lean-to with roof, then changed to a shed with a roof and eventually was enlarged into a two-story addition.”

Here, the floor plan includes a kitchen and sun room on the first floor and a suite of bedrooms with vaulted ceilings on the second floor. An elevator was built in this part of the house to accommodate an elderly member of the household and the efficient movement of Lowell’s antiques. 

The biggest surprise during renovations surfaced on the third floor, in attic space.

Here, on the ‘Georgian side’ of the house, a small finished room with original floor boards featured a small fireplace and was made into a servant’s quarters.

Other remodeling for this uppermost wing converted a room behind the servant’s quarters into a modern bathroom with woodwork matching the servant’s room, and at the rear of the house, a modern bedroom and bathroom. Precise in every detail and fit for its early occupants, the newly minted Sherburne House wears a cap of fresh, wooden shingles.