It isn’t taking sides to point out that a considerable number of locals are less than thrilled with the proposed redesign of the McIntyre Block on Daniel Street in downtown Portsmouth. It was just a year ago that I dug into the story of the now controversial site (“McIntyre Building Stands on Historic Land,” January 8, 2018).
Back then we were promised that the new design would honor the history of the location, which I hope means more than a plaque on a modern hotel or a statue of Sen. Thomas J. McIntyre. If you recall, the once-pastoral lane was given to the city by Bridget Graffort, niece of John Cutt, who was the first “president” of the province of New Hampshire until his death in 1684.
Bridget also kindly donated the land for a future school on Graffort Lane, renamed Daniel Street (possibly for her late husband) in 1813. George Jaffrey’s grand 1730 mansion then stood on the site of the McIntyre Building on a hill between Bow and Daniel streets. It was torn down in the 1920s and bits of the interior can still be seen at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. James Stoodley also built his famous tavern on the site in 1761. Pretty historic spot, right?
Nobody is suggesting we return to those thrilling days of yesteryear. Times change and cities evolve. But here’s a shot from the late 1800s to consider as we change again. By then, Daniel Street had become a tree-lined urban residential neighborhood leading from the river to Market Square. The brick Graffort High School on the right (later City Hall and now office suites) still stands next to the super historic 1715 Warner House museum.
You can still spot Stoodley’s Tavern in the distance in this photo. It was moved to Strawbery Banke Museum in the mid-1960s. What we lost were the simple affordable residential houses seen here on the right, that were replaced by the sprawling 20th-century McIntyre Federal Building. And that seemingly small loss may be at the heart of the problem.
The continued public criticism of the proposed McIntyre redevelopment, as evidenced at Monday’s packed public hearing in City Council chambers, may be a symptom of a debilitating condition. At what point, many citizens seem to be asking, does a city’s healthy economic growth spurt, turn into a case of gigantism? In other words, how much change is too much change? And the only tools we really have to measure that change are public opinion and our shared Portsmouth history – as seen in early pictures like this one.
Image courtesy Portsmouth Athenaeum. “Historic Portsmouth” is presented every Thursday by J. Dennis Robinson whose history books on the Smuttynose murders, Wentworth by the Sea hotel, Strawbery Banke Museum and other topics are available in local stores and on Amazon. He is currently working on a hardcover history of the Music Hall and can be reached at dennis@mySeacoastNH.com. This is weekly image number 758.