Sherm Pridham wants people to “tell it like it was.”

The retired Portsmouth Public Library director is elbow-deep in a project at the Portsmouth Athenaeum highlighting the Haven School neighborhood in the South End.

“I am one of several volunteers who wish to preserve the memories and stories of Portsmouth’s recent past by focusing on the average working-class individuals who comprised Portsmouth’s citizenry before Portsmouth became a very successful tourist-centered city,” Pridham said.

The Haven School on South School Street, which opened in 1846, was replaced by Little Harbour School in 1969. The old schoolhouse was converted to condominiums in 1978.

Athenaeum Photographic Collections Manager James Smith is helping coordinate the project, which will involve the scanning of photos of Haven School sports teams, cheerleaders, variety shows and other events as well as the people who lived in the neighborhood and went to school at Haven.

"The Haven School Project is the latest example of the Athenaeum staff and Proprietors (members) working with the community to preserve a Portsmouth neighborhood," Smith said. "In 2012, the Athenaeum worked with the Sons of Italy and the Portsmouth Public Library to preserve family photographs of the North End of Portsmouth."

Smith curated “The North End: A Lost Neighborhood" at the Athenaeum’s Randall Gallery in 2016. The exhibit featured hundreds of images of the ethnically rich section of the city destroyed by an urban renewal project in the late 1960s.

One of the donors for the Haven Project is the family of Arthur C. Clough, a lifelong resident of Portsmouth who was the custodian for 30 years at Haven School and later Little Harbor School.

"Many would know Arthur as Coach Clough as he was the first to organize team sports at Haven School," Smith said. "One photo album includes handwritten accolades of that year's basketball team or cheer squad as well as identifying all the student athletes in the photograph. Seeing this, you understand more about his passion and love for his students, and you see that appreciation and respect returned in a postcard decades later from a former student."

"It's just amazing to me how one photograph can spark a story or validate a claim or become a foothold for historical research," Smith said.

Pridham, who was director of the city’s library from 1973 to 2003, said until now the history of the Haven School neighborhood and other city neighborhoods has been spread among Portsmouth Public Library, the Athenaeum, Strawbery Banke and private collections

“Making it readily and easily available to the public is something I have wished for for a long time,” he said.

He sees the city’s 400th anniversary, which will be celebrated in 2023, as a catalyst for the project.

"I am grateful that the Athenaeum is willing to work with the people who have photographs of the era, and perform the necessary functions to copy, preserve and make them public,” Pridham said.

Smith said all photographs will be scanned and available online for public research. Athenaeum Proprietor Peter Randall is helping lead the volunteer effort to scan the images.

"We hope we can preserve many original photographs here, too, and with history disappearing and the potential for photographs ending up in the trash, we are conscious of the need to act now," Smith said. "Our hope is that other former students, not only from the Haven School but from other schools in Portsmouth, will step in and help preserve their community."

To contribute materials to the project, assist with scanning or donate scanning equipment, contact James Smith at jsmith@portsmouthathenaeum.org.

To visit the online archives of the Athenaeum, go to www.portsmouthathenaeum.org and click on "search catalog." The 201-year-old membership library and museum at 9 Market Square is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, 1-4 p.m.