Located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s South End Historic District, the Strawbery Banke Museum is an outdoor living history museum, preserving more than 39 historic buildings constructed within the city throughout the 17th through 19th centuries, formerly centered around the Puddle Dock waterway area. Prior to the arrival of Europeans in North America, the area that now encompasses Portsmouth, New Hampshire was the historic home of the Abenaki indigenous people, a tribe of Algonquian language Native Americans.
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Occupation of the Portsmouth area by European settlers dates back at least to 1603, according to records by early settler Martin Pring. The city of Portsmouth was founded in 1623, and in 1630, the area’s Strawbery Banke neighborhood was established, named for the prevalence of wild strawberries along the city harbor’s west bank near the Piscataqua River. Known as a major trade and business region, the Strawbery Banke neighborhood existed for more than four centuries, until proposed urban renewal plans in 1958 threatened to demolish the neighborhood and its historic buildings. Through community efforts by area historic preservationists, the neighborhood’s buildings were saved from demolition, and in 1965, the district was opened to the public as an outdoor living history museum.
Permanent Attractions and Tours
Today, Strawbery Banke is operated as a 10-acre nonprofit living history museum, showcasing 39 preserved historic buildings dating back as far as 1695. As the oldest settled neighborhood in New Hampshire, the neighborhood is located along the former banks of the Puddle Dock waterway, which was filled in during the early 20th century. The district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and has been named as one of the top historic tourist destinations in the northwestern United States by TripAdvisor, Coastal Living Magazine, National Geographic Traveler, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It has also been showcased in a variety of television and travel programs, including the A&E broadcast Guide to Historic Homes of America.
Nine historic homes within the district are open to the public as living history museums, including the home of local author Thomas Bailey Aldrich, whose novel The Story of a Bad Boy is credited as having been a major inspiration for Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer novels. The Georgian style Chase House, built in 1762, showcases the former home of one of Portsmouth’s most prominent merchant families and stands as one of the best remaining examples of an historic upper-class dwelling in the neighborhood. Several homes showcase their evolution of renovations and additions, including the Jackson House, originally constructed around 1800. Others, such as the 1872 Goodwin Mansion, have been relocated to the district from other historic areas of Portsmouth. All homes are fully restored with period-appropriate furnishings correlating to their most notable historic use, and many feature special exhibits on topics such as archaeology or architecture or showcase historic trades such as woodworking and coopering. Staff interpreters are available on site at all homes open to the public, including performers dressed in period-appropriate attire for demonstrations and reenactments. A variety of rotating special exhibits also are featured within the neighborhood’s homes and museums, displaying artifacts from the museum’s collection of more than 30,000 historic items.
At the Jones House, constructed prior to the 1790s, a Discovery Center is provided for young visitors and families, equipped with a variety of exhibits to help children learn about life in colonial America, including historic games, cooking equipment, and outdoor play areas.Stoodley’s Tavern, opened in 1753 as the King’s Arms Tavern, serves as the museum’s educational center, hosting classroom field trips and a variety of public programming for students and adults throughout the year. Other buildings within the district have been renovated for business use, such as the former Dunaway Store building, which is now home to the Mombo Restaurant. The 1796 Walsh House has also been renovated for use for administrative offices and special event rentals.
A number of gardens are also maintained throughout the neighborhood, including six historic gardens showcasing native plant life common to the area from the 16th century through the present. Gardens include the Thomas Bailey Aldrich Memorial Garden, the oldest continually-planted garden within the neighborhood, the Victorian Children’s Garden, and the Strawbery Banke Community Garden. A Horticultural Center within the Cotton Tenant House offers seasonal gardening and food preparation programming, and garden tours and cooking demonstrations are offered during the summer months.
All admission tickets to the neighborhood are valid for two consecutive days, allowing visitors and groups the opportunity to fully explore homes and exhibits at their leisure. Certain homes and facilities within the neighborhood may also be rented for educational opportunities and private special events. A number of public special events are also held within the district throughout the year, including a Children’s Author Festival, a Tuesdays on the Terrace series, a Fourth of July celebration, and a holiday Candlelight Stroll and dinner event.
14 Hancock St, Portsmouth, NH 03801, Phone: 603-433-1100