Memorial Bridge

Memorial Bridge Design by James Smith
THE RETURN OF THE (NEW) MEMORIAL BRIDGE   Thursday, August 8, 2013 marks the grand opening of the new Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, NH, complete with a full-circle, ribbon-cutting ceremony, and the neighboring businesses and residences surrounding the bridge will let out a collective sigh of relief!  Thank you to the states of New Hampshire and Maine for the funding and to Archer Western for finishing the project so quickly and efficiently.  Since 1716, the Warner House neighborhood has changed considerably, and for nearly the past 90 years, the relationship between the old Memorial Bridge and the Warner House had reached a certain "it's complicated" status.

During the construction of the first Memorial Bridge in the early 1920s, the entire neighborhood oDetail of 1904 Sanborn Map of Portsmouth, NH. The red line indicates the area of the neighborhood that was demolished either through the construction of the Memorial Bridge in the 1920s or by other building projects.  (Image courtesy of the Portsmouth Athenaeum.)Detail of 1904 Sanborn Map of Portsmouth, NH. The red line indicates the area of the neighborhood that was demolished either through the construction of the Memorial Bridge in the 1920s or by other building projects. (Image courtesy of the Portsmouth Athenaeum.)Detail of 1904 Sanborn Map of Portsmouth, NH. The red line indicates the area of the neighborhood that was demolished either through the construction of the Memorial Bridge in the 1920s or by other building projects. (Image courtesy of the Portsmouth Athenaeum.)f lower Daniel and State streets was demolished to make way for the approach to the new bridge [Between Mulberry, State and Daniel Street in the detail of the 1904 Sanborn Map].  At the time, the Warner House was still a private residence, used as a summer home for the descendants of the extended Warner family.  No longer surrounded by genteel residences of 18th-century Portsmouth elites on the once-fashionable Daniel Street, the house was encompassed by factories, breweries, boarding houses, bordellos and saloons.  The venerable brick house was on the edge of the Memorial Bridge demolition, but not out of shot from the wrecking ball.  (If the house were personified, you could almost see the brick dust falling as it shook uneasily at its possible future...)

 

Dedicated in August 1923, the new Memorial Bridge linked Maine and New Hampshire on the well-traveled Route 1, and due to the rapidly increasing popularity of automobiles, the construction of a few gas stations just off the bridge seemed logical.  Next door to the Warner House, the Judge John S. Sherburne house, then a boarding house, was torn down and replaced with a gas station.  When the last descendant who'd been born in the Warner House died, the remaining heirs decided to sell the old house.  Standard Oil had a plan to purchase the Warner House and tear it down for a gas station, meeting the same fate as the Sherburne house.  Whenthis monstrous plan was brought forth to Edith Wendell, resident of both Portsmouth and Boston and wife of Harvard professor Barrett Wendell, she quickly organized amongst her prominent circle of friends the Warner House Association to raise the $10,000 asking price and save the house.  The Warner House Association purchased the property in 1932 and opened that summer as an empty museum.  This extraordinary act of preservation was carried out during the Great Depression.  So it would appear that the Memorial Bridge had a negative impact upon the Warner House.  But again, this relationship is complicated. With no bridge, would the need for a gas station been there?  Most likely not. And yet, the heirs would still have most likely sold the house, and who knows who would have bought it, or what they would have done with it?  Would Edith Wendell and her friends be as concerned to turn an old house for sale into a museum?  Nothing like the threat of demolition to get the historian's blood pumping.  In the long run, the Memorial Bridge might have actually saved the Warner House.    

 

As a museum, the Warner House has benefited immensely from the Memorial Bridge as its location is prime real estate in downtown Portsmouth with the increased vehicular and pedestrian traffic flow; however, when the old Memorial Bridge closed on July 27, 2011, the traffic pattern altered drastically.  Understandably, the vehicular traffic flow decreased on Daniel Street, but so did the foot traffic, reduced to mostly locals.  Fewer people seemed to use Daniel Street to access either Prescott Park or Market Square.  Economic conditions didn't help either as museum attendance was down across the board.

 

And now...

 

The new Memorial Bridge is opening, the cork off the bottle, and there will be a life flow returning to Daniel Street, a renewed Daniel Street!  The recent improvements are phenomenal with the new sidewalks, the period lighting and the urban landscaping.  Thank you, city of Portsmouth! It seems only right that the Warner House do its "fair share" to improve the look of Daniel Street.  After all, everywhere else is getting a facelift. Recently approved, the Warner House Association has a plan to build a new fence from Daniel Street to Chapel Street, carefully choosing a historically appropriate style from the House's storied past.  Nearly half of the $25,000 budget has already been raised by substantial donations, but the Warner House still needs your support.  If an individual or a local business would like to help with the efforts, please contact the Warner House at (603) 436-5909 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Today, the only freestanding mansion house left on Daniel Street is the Warner House, outlasting other buildings in the ever-changing neighborhood for nearly 300 years.  The Warner House is truly one remarkable survivor.  And now, if the Warner House could talk (we invite you to take a tour and let us know), the House would say to the Memorial Bridge, "Welcome back, old friend."