Prescott Park, Portsmouth, NH
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Prescott Park owes its existence to the foresight and good will of two Portsmouth sisters, Mary E. and Josie F. Prescott. With the fortune they inherited in 1932 from their brother, Charles, they systematically purchased and cleared properties along the Piscataqua River. Their goal was to create a public waterfront park, free and accessible to all, replacing what had become a run down and seedy industrial area. The first parcels of land were deeded to the City in 1940, and the Prescott sisters’ trust was established in 1949, upon the death of Josie. The City of Portsmouth, with considerable assistance from the Prescott Trust, maintains and preserves Prescott Park.

Black-Eyed Susans blooming in August
Shaw Warehouse at Prescott Park

The Shaw Warehouse was built around 1806 and was owned by Abraham Shaw, a merchant active in privateering during the War of 1812. It was later the home and storehouse of Portsmouth’s notorious “Cappy” Stewart. Still on its original site, Shaw’s (Union) Wharf, the western end of this trio of buildings is the warehouse. It now houses work space for the Prescott Park maintenance staff on the ground floor, while Prescott Park Arts Festival works out of the upper floors. There are public restrooms on the driveway side of the building. The eastern end of the complex is more modern, and houses garage and shop facilities in two single-story additions.

The Sheafe Warehouse is a ca. 1740 timber frame warehouse with a waterside overhanging second story, useful for lifting cargo directly from the decks of smaller vessels into the building. It was originally located on the southern side of the park, near the present Peirce Island Bridge. Since its heyday, the building has been used as a boat building shop, a carpentry shop, a storage facility, and a museum of folk art. It currently hosts the New Hampshire Art Association summertime juried show, from late June through August. In the shoulder seasons, the Gundalow Company uses the space for exhibits, activities and inclement weather cover.

The 1935 photograph below, taken by Clement Moran for the Historic American Buildings Survey, shows the decrepit condition of the Sheafe Warehouse by the early 20th century.

Sheafe Warehouse at Prescott Park
Sheafe Warehouse 1935 photo

The Sheafe and Shaw Warehouses are the last to remain of the many large warehouses that filled the waterfront during the 18th and 19th centuries.

In July 2011, the access driveway, which is atop Shaw’s/Union Wharf, was renamed Water Street, the earlier name of current Marcy Street.

NH State Register of Historic Places plaque at Prescott Park

And in October 2011, the two historic buildings were recognized as having historical and architectural significance and were added to the New Hampshire State Register of Historic Places.

These maps, from 1813 and 1877, show the original locations of the two warehouses.

1813 map of Portsmouth waterfront
1877 map of Portsmouth waterfront

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page updated 29 July 2018
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