Museum logo

Object Record

  • Email This Page
  • Send Feedback
Object Name Sign, Informational
Title The Great Fires of Portsmouth
Artist James L. Garvin
Date 1976
Place of Origin Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Description "The Great Fires of Portsmouth." "Until the early 1800s, all of Portsmouth had narrow streets crowded with wooden buildings. Parts of State Street were as narrow as the present-day Hunking Street. The compactness of the town, combined with the inflammable nature of the buildings, the necessity of heating and cooking with open fires, and the primitive hand-pump fire engines that were the best then available, rendered the community a vertiable tinder-box. A further danger arose from the face that scores of craftsmen, many of them working in wood and creating highly combustibe shavings, had their shops in the lower rooms of the old houses of the town. Timothy Dwight, President of Yale College, visited Portsmouth in 1796 and remarked of its buildings, " When a traveller observes the contiguity of many, and the proximity of almost all the rest, he cannot but shudder at the thought of their exposure to a conflagration. In my own mind, I confess, a continual alarm irresistibly prevailed..."

"Dwight's worst fears were justified early on the morning of December 26, 1802. Fire suddenly burst through the back wall of an old wooden house near Market Square, used both as a bank and a dwelling. The flames progressed relentlessly, stopping only at the river's edge. Over a hundred buildings were destrpyed. "The whole beauty of the town is gone! is gone!!!" lamented the New Hampshire Gazette."

PHOTOS: A PORTION OF THE PORTSMOUTH MAP OF 1813, SURVEYED BY J.G. HALES, SHOWING AREAS DESTROYED IN THE GREAT FIRES OF 1802, 1806, AND 1813.
Accession Number 2016.8