Portsmouth, New Hampshire

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Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Portsmouth NH aerial view.jpg
Portsmouth, NH - Market Square.JPG
A naval fireboat, Portsmouth, New Hampshire -b.jpg
A Hidden Theater in the Portsmouth Downtown Historic District.jpg
The North Church viewed from the Congress Street in the historic Portsmouth downtown.jpg
Left to right from top: Aerial view of Portsmouth, Market Square, a naval fireboat in Portsmouth, Chestnut Street Arch and historic North Church.
Portsmouth, NH Seal.png
Rockingham County New Hampshire incorporated and unincorporated areas Portsmouth highlighted.svg
Location in Rockingham County and the state of New Hampshire.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Coordinates: 43°4′32″N70°45′38″W / 43.07556°N 70.76056°W / 43.07556; -70.76056
CountryUnited States
State New Hampshire
County Rockingham
Incorporated 1653
Incorporated (city) 1849
Named for Portsmouth, Hampshire
   Mayor Deaglan McEachern
   Assistant Mayor Joanna Kelley
   City Council
  • John Tabor
  • Josh Denton
  • Elizabeth Moreau
  • Andrew Bagley
  • Vincent Lombardi
  • Richard Blalock
  • Kate Cook
   City Manager Karen Conard
  Total16.82 sq mi (43.57 km2)
  Land15.66 sq mi (40.56 km2)
  Water1.16 sq mi (3.01 km2)  6.92%
25 ft (8 m)
  Density1,401.95/sq mi (541.31/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (Eastern)
  Summer (DST) UTC−4 (Eastern)
ZIP codes
Area code 603
FIPS code 33-62900
GNIS feature ID0869312
Website cityofportsmouth.com

Portsmouth is a city in Rockingham County, New Hampshire, United States. At the 2020 census it had a population of 21,956. [2] A historic seaport and popular summer tourist destination on the Piscataqua River bordering the state of Maine, Portsmouth was formerly the home of the Strategic Air Command's Pease Air Force Base, since converted to Portsmouth International Airport at Pease.



American Indians of the Abenaki and other Algonquian languages-speaking nations, and their predecessors, inhabited the territory of coastal New Hampshire for thousands of years before European contact.

The first known European to explore and write about the area was Martin Pring in 1603. The Piscataqua River is a tidal estuary with a swift current, but forms a good natural harbor. The west bank of the harbor was settled by European colonists in 1630 and named Strawbery Banke, after the many wild strawberries growing there. The village was protected by Fort William and Mary on what is now New Castle Island. Strategically located for trade between upstream industries and mercantile interests abroad, the port prospered. Fishing, lumber and shipbuilding were principal businesses of the region. [3] Enslaved Africans were imported as laborers as early as 1645 and were integral to building the city's prosperity. [4] Portsmouth was part of the Triangle Trade, which made significant profits from slavery.

Market Square in 1853 Market Square in 1853, Portsmouth, NH.jpg
Market Square in 1853
Portsmouth Harbor, New Hampshire by William James Glackens (1909) Portsmouth Harbor New Hampshire William James Glackens.jpeg
Portsmouth Harbor, New Hampshire by William James Glackens (1909)
Waterfront, 1917 Portsmouth, New Hampshire (1917).jpg
Waterfront, 1917

At the town's incorporation in 1653, it was named "Portsmouth" in honor of the colony's founder, John Mason. He had been captain of the English port of Portsmouth, Hampshire, after which New Hampshire is named.

When Queen Anne's War ended in 1712, Governor Joseph Dudley selected the town to host negotiations for the 1713 Treaty of Portsmouth, which temporarily ended hostilities between the Abenaki Indians and the colonies of Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire. [3]

In 1774, in the lead-up to the Revolution, Paul Revere rode to Portsmouth warning that the British Royal Navy was coming to capture the port. [5] Although Fort William and Mary protected the harbor, the Patriot government moved the capital inland to Exeter, which ensured that it would be under no threat from the Royal Navy, which bombarded Falmouth (now Portland, Maine) instead on October 18, 1775. Portsmouth was the destination for several of Beaumarchais's ships containing materiel, such as artillery, tents, and gunpowder, to help the American revolutionary effort. [6] African Americans helped defend Portsmouth and New England during the war. In 1779, 19 enslaved African Americans from Portsmouth wrote a petition to the state legislature and asked that it abolish slavery, in recognition of their war contributions and in keeping with the principles of the Revolution. [4] The legislature tabled their petition. New Hampshire abolished slavery in 1857, by which time the institution was effectively extinct in the state.

Thomas Jefferson's 1807 embargo against American trade with Britain severely disrupted New England's trade with Canada, and several local businessmen went bankrupt. Portsmouth was host to numerous privateers during the War of 1812. In 1849, Portsmouth was incorporated as a city. [3]

Once one of the nation's busiest ports and shipbuilding cities, Portsmouth expressed its wealth in fine architecture. It has significant examples of Colonial, Georgian, and Federal style houses, some of which are now museums. Portsmouth's heart has stately brick Federalist stores and townhouses, built all-of-a-piece after devastating early 19th-century fires. The worst was in 1813 when 244 buildings burned. [3] A fire district was created that required all new buildings within its boundaries to be built of brick with slate roofs; this created the downtown's distinctive appearance. The city was also noted for the production of boldly wood-veneered federal-style (neoclassical) furniture, particularly by the master cabinet maker Langley Boardman.

The Industrial Revolution spurred economic growth in New Hampshire mill towns such as Dover, Keene, Laconia, Manchester, Nashua and Rochester, where rivers provided water power for the mills. It shifted growth to the new mill towns. The port of Portsmouth declined, but the city survived Victorian-era doldrums, a time described in the works of Thomas Bailey Aldrich, particularly in his 1869 novel The Story of a Bad Boy .

In the 20th century, the city founded a Historic District Commission, which has worked to protect much of the city's irreplaceable architectural legacy. In 2008, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Portsmouth one of the "Dozen Distinctive Destinations". [7] The compact and walkable downtown on the waterfront draws tourists and artists, who each summer throng the cafes, restaurants and shops around Market Square. Portsmouth annually celebrates the revitalization of its downtown (in particular Market Square) with Market Square Day, [8] a celebration dating back to 1977, produced by the non-profit Pro Portsmouth, Inc.

This emphasis on historic preservation and revitalization was the result of much pain and destruction. Portsmouth is largely walkable due to its network of streets and tight blocks filled with preserved Revolution-era homes. However, like many other cities all over the region (and nation), Portsmouth was hit by Urban Renewal, a planning tool used nationwide to provide Federal funds to address “urban blight” and revitalize downtown cores after decades of suburbanization and loss of tax revenue. An urban renewal district for Portsmouth was its North End neighborhood, which similar to Boston’s, was home to an Italian-American population. [9]

In 1964, federal funds were allocated to the North End project area in Portsmouth, for urban renewal. Prior to redevelopment, the North End was a mix of residential and commercial buildings, with many older houses converted into storefronts with apartments above. In the mid-1960s, the area was considered overcrowded, run down, and a fire hazard. As a result, the Portsmouth Housing Authority proposed the destruction of approximately 200 buildings, a school, and a church and redevelopment for commercial, industrial, and public use, rather than for residences. The project would displace approximately 300 families as a result. In 1968, Portsmouth Preservation Inc., a preservation organization was formed to attempt to save some of the historic building stock in the area slated for redevelopment. After bitter fighting and preservation advocacy, just fourteen houses were saved and mostly moved to an area known today as “The Hill”. [10] This preservation was only the beginning, and eventually efforts conspired to created the afformentioned historic district. Urban renewal was many events that led to its creation.

Portsmouth shipbuilding history has had a long symbiotic relationship with Kittery, Maine, across the Piscataqua River. In 1781–1782, the naval hero John Paul Jones lived in Portsmouth while he supervised construction of his ship Ranger, which was built on nearby Badger's Island in Kittery. During that time, he boarded at the Captain Gregory Purcell house, which now bears Jones' name, as it is the only surviving property in the United States associated with him. Built by the master housewright Hopestill Cheswell, an African American, [11] it has been designated as a National Historic Landmark. It now serves as the Portsmouth Historical Society Museum.

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, established in 1800 as the first federal navy yard, is on Seavey's Island in Kittery, Maine. [12] The base is famous for being the site of the 1905 signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth [13] which ended the Russo-Japanese War. Though US President Theodore Roosevelt orchestrated the peace conference that brought Russian and Japanese diplomats to Portsmouth and the Shipyard, he never came to Portsmouth, relying on the Navy and people of New Hampshire as the hosts. Roosevelt won the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomacy in bringing about an end to the war.


Portsmouth downtown from I-95 PORTSMOUTH NH.jpg
Portsmouth downtown from I-95

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 16.8 square miles (43.6 km2), of which 15.7 square miles (40.6 km2) are land and 1.2 square miles (3.0 km2), or 6.92%, are water. [14] Portsmouth is drained by Berrys Brook, Sagamore Creek and the Piscataqua River, which is the boundary between New Hampshire and Maine. The highest point in the city is 110 feet (34 m) above sea level, within Pease International Airport.


Portsmouth has a humid continental climate [15] (Dfb) in spite of its maritime position, due to prevailing inland winds. Summers are moderately warm with winter days averaging around the freezing point, but with cold nights bringing it below the required −3 °C (27 °F) isotherm to have a humid continental climate. With high year-round precipitation, the cold winters can often be very snowy and summers wet. [16]

Climate data for Greenland, New Hampshire (5 miles SW of Portsmouth)
Record high °F (°C)62
Mean daily maximum °F (°C)32.6
Mean daily minimum °F (°C)16.3
Record low °F (°C)−26
Average precipitation inches (mm)3.63
Average snowfall inches (cm)17.1
Source 1: [17]
Source 2: [18]


Historical population
1790 4,720
1800 5,33913.1%
1810 6,93429.9%
1820 7,3275.7%
1830 8,0269.5%
1840 7,887−1.7%
1850 9,73823.5%
1860 9,335−4.1%
1870 9,211−1.3%
1880 9,6905.2%
1890 9,8271.4%
1900 10,6378.2%
1910 11,2695.9%
1920 13,56920.4%
1930 14,4956.8%
1940 14,8212.2%
1950 18,83027.0%
1960 26,90042.9%
1970 25,717−4.4%
1980 26,2542.1%
1990 25,925−1.3%
2000 20,784−19.8%
2010 21,2332.2%
2020 21,9563.4%
sources: [2] [19]

Portsmouth is the sole city in Rockingham County, but the fourth-largest municipality, with fewer people than the towns of Derry, Londonderry, and Salem.

As of the census of 2010, there were 21,233 people, 10,014 households, and 4,736 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,361.1 people per square mile (525.5 people/km2). There were 10,625 housing units at an average density of 681.1 per square mile (263.0/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 91.5% White, 1.7% African American, 0.2% Native American, 3.5% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.7% some other race, and 2.3% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.8% of the population. [20]

There were 10,014 households, out of which 20.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 35.5% were headed by married couples living together, 8.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 52.7% were non-families. 39.2% of all households were made up of individuals, and 11.8% were someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.03, and the average family size was 2.75. [20]

In the city, the population was spread out, with 16.6% under the age of 18, 7.7% from 18 to 24, 32.2% from 25 to 44, 27.6% from 45 to 64, and 15.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40.3 years. For every 100 females, there were 94.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.6 males. [20]

For the period 2010–2014, the city's estimated median annual household income was $67,679, and the median family income was $90,208. Male full-time workers had a median income of $58,441 versus $45,683 for females. The city's per capita income for the city was $42,724. About 4.0% of families and 7.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 6.9% of those under age 18 and 7.1% of those age 65 or over. [21]


Jefferson Street at the Strawbery Banke Museum JeffersonSt.jpg
Jefferson Street at the Strawbery Banke Museum

Heinemann USA is based in Portsmouth. Before its dissolution, Boston-Maine Airways (Pan Am Clipper Connection), a regional airline, was also headquartered in Portsmouth. [22] Companies with headquarters in Portsmouth include packaged software producer Bottomline Technologies and frozen yogurt maker Sweet Scoops.

Top employers

According to the city's 2020 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, [23] the top ten employers in the city are:

1 US Dept of State Consular Center 1,300
2 Lonza Biologics 1,100
3 Liberty Mutual 1,000
4 HCA Hospital 1,000
5City of Portsmouth817
6Bottomline Technologies638
7 John Hancock 400
8 Service Credit Union 378
9 Amadeus 362
10 High Liner Foods 330

Arts and culture

The Portsmouth Downtown Historic District encompasses the city's historic urban core and Market Square. [24] The city has a vibrant restaurant culture. In 2023, it was reported that the city had 36,000 restaurant seats for a population of 22,000. [25]

Sites of interest

Street musicians perform across from North Church (July 2014) Street musicians in Portsmouth, NH IMG 2667.JPG
Street musicians perform across from North Church (July 2014)

Historic house museums

Governor John Langdon House Portsmouth, NH - Governor John Langdon House.JPG
Governor John Langdon House


The Seacoast United Phantoms are a soccer team based in Portsmouth. Founded in 1996, the team plays in the Northeast Division of USL League Two (USL2), one of the unofficial fourth-tier leagues of the American Soccer Pyramid.

Freedom Rugby Football Club is a men's rugby union team based in Portsmouth, founded in the summer of 2014. The club is an active member of USA Rugby and New England Rugby Football Union (NERFU).


The city of Portsmouth operates under a council-manager system of government. Portsmouth elects a nine-member at-large City Council to serve as the city's primary legislative body. [36] The candidate who receives the most votes is designated the Mayor (currently Deaglan McEachern), while the candidate receiving the second-highest vote total is designated the Assistant Mayor (currently Joanna Kelley). While the mayor and council convene to establish municipal policy, the City Manager (currently Karen Conard) oversees the city's day-to-day operations. [37]

Portsmouth city vote
by party in presidential elections [38]
Year Democratic Republican Third Parties
2020 72.53%10,66326.09% 3,8361.37% 202
2016 66.57%8,91127.13% 3,6326.30% 843
2012 67.38%8,84831.13% 4,0881.49% 195
2008 70.19%9,14728.62% 3,7291.19% 155
2004 66.24%8,43632.86% 4,1850.90% 115
2000 59.93%6,86234.03% 3,8966.04% 692
1996 62.03%6,34329.47% 3,0148.50% 869
1992 51.71%6,13230.05% 3,56318.24% 2,163
1988 51.99%5,37746.67% 4,8271.33% 138
1984 46.93% 4,41852.76%4,9670.32% 30
1980 39.60% 3,66643.46%4,02316.94% 1,568
1976 49.89%4,30348.34% 4,1691.77% 153
1972 44.81% 3,65654.60%4,4550.59% 48
1968 53.80%4,28542.34% 3,3723.86% 307
1964 70.43%5,58529.57% 2,3450.00% 0
1960 51.88%4,68748.12% 4,3480.00% 0

Portsmouth is part of New Hampshire's 1st congressional district, currently represented by Democrat Chris Pappas. Portsmouth is part of the Executive Council's 3rd district, currently represented by Republican Janet Stevens. In the State Senate, Portsmouth is represented by Democrat Rebecca Perkins Kwoka. In the State House of Representatives, Portsmouth is divided among the 25th through 31st Rockingham districts. [39] [40]

Politically, Portsmouth is a center of liberal politics and a stronghold for the Democratic Party. Ronald Reagan was the last Republican presidential nominee to carry the city in his 1984 landslide reelection. In 2016, Portsmouth voted 67.70% for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, 62.53% for Colin Van Ostern in the gubernatorial election, 64.48% for Maggie Hassan in the senatorial election, and 62.16% for Carol Shea-Porter in the congressional election. [41] In 2014, Portsmouth voted 70.05% for Maggie Hassan in the gubernatorial election, 67.34% for Jeanne Shaheen in the senatorial election, and 68.34% for Carol Shea-Porter in the congressional election. In 2012, Portsmouth voted 67.56% for Barack Obama in the presidential election, 70.16% for Maggie Hassan in the gubernatorial election, and 68.50% for Carol Shea-Porter in the congressional election. [42]

In March 2014, Portsmouth became the first municipality in New Hampshire to implement protections for city employees from discrimination on the basis of gender identity, by a 9–0 vote of the city council. [43]







The city is crossed by Interstate 95, U.S. Route 1, U.S. Route 4, New Hampshire Route 1A, New Hampshire Route 16, and New Hampshire Route 33. Boston is 55 miles (89 km) to the south, Portland, Maine, is 53 miles (85 km) to the northeast, and Dover, New Hampshire, is 13 miles (21 km) to the northwest.

The Cooperative Alliance for Seacoast Transportation (COAST) operates a publicly funded bus network in the Seacoast region of New Hampshire and neighboring Maine including service in, to and from Portsmouth. [44] C&J is a private intercity bus carrier connecting Portsmouth with coastal New Hampshire and Boston, as well as direct service to New York City. [45] Wildcat Transit, operated by the University of New Hampshire, provides regular bus service to the UNH campus in Durham and intermediate stops. The service is free for students, faculty and staff and $1.50 for the general public. [46] Amtrak's Downeaster train service, is available in Dover and Durham, nearby to the northwest. Allegiant Air offers scheduled airline service from Portsmouth International Airport at Pease (PSM). [47]

Sister cities

Portsmouth's sister cities are: [48]

Portsmouth also has friendly relations with: [48]

Notable people

See also

Related Research Articles

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Helen "Eileen" Foley was an American politician. Foley served as the Mayor of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, eight terms from 1968–1971, 1984–1985, and 1988–1997. She remains the longest-serving mayor in the city's history. She represented the 24th District in the New Hampshire Senate for seven terms, including one term as the Democratic Party Minority Leader.

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Further reading