The house known today as the John Paul Jones house was built in 1758 for Gregory Purcell, a sea captain and merchant. When built, the house was considered to be at the edge of downtown and was amongst only a handful of stately three story homes in the city.
The house is a fine example of Georgian architecture with its gambrel roof and symmetrical five bay fronts. Its interior, with some of the original Georgian heavy molding, panels and carved woodwork intact, features two rooms on each side of a central hall and staircase. One of the front parlors provides a good example of changes in architectural taste during the federal period when it was remodeled. This room contains the classical thin lines popular during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
The house changed hands several times during the nineteenth century. Owners included, Woodbury Langdon, Henry and Alexander Ladd, who rented the home to Senator John F. Parrott, and Samuel Lord. The Portsmouth Historical Society has operated the house as a museum since 1920.
The house has been known as the John Paul Jones House for several generations. Jones (1747-92), the celebrated naval hero of the American Revolution, spent time in Portsmouth in 1777 and again in 1781-82. He is believed to have rented a room in this house during 1777, when the widow of Gregory Purcell was operating a boarding house here. There is a wide range of material on Jones available in print and online; a helpful introduction to his life and career appears on the seacoastnh.com website.
The Society is working to restore the Garden of the John Paul Jones House to Samuel Lord’s 1859 diagram of the landscape. The pathways were recreated in the fall of 2004 with the proper foundation and top layer of clamshells… Sod taken from the pathway was placed near the foundation of the house. Overgrown bushes and old yew trees have been removed or trimmed. The 1,000 tulip bulbs planted then are now a lovely frame of color for the lawn.
In June 2005, a crew from Urban Tree Service donated their time to take down a dead 20-foot tree adjacent to the Middle Street front gate In its place, a 10-foot lilac complements two white lilacs — “Agnes Smith” and “Anna Amhoff” named for past Presidents of the Portsmouth Garden Club and cultivated at UNH by Professor Owen Rogers — donated by the Portsmouth Garden Club and planted along with a dwarf apple and cherry tree. We are also hoping that historic lilacs from the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion will take root. The memorial garden was replanted with several varieties of herbs.
Our gardens are a community effort. Thanks to the many businesses, the City, the Navy, Portsmouth Garden Club, UNH PrOVES, Forestry Center, Tree Stewards and Board members who volunteer their time month after month to keep our gardens beautiful.