For most of its colonial existence New Hampshire’s capitol was headquartered in Portsmouth, on the coast. In 1774 the rebellious Provincial Congress moved inland to Exeter, meeting in the Exeter Town House. In January 1776, New Hampshire became the first colony to set up an independent government and the first to establish a constitution, although Rhode Island was the first to declare independence from Britain. Eventually the makeshift capitol became permanent in Concord although it was not until 1808 that Concord was named the official seat of state government.
Concord, on the western banks of the serpentine meanderings of the Merrimack River, was settled in the 1720s and was incorporated in 1734 as Rumford. It was renamed Concord in 1765 by Governor Benning Wentworth, supposedly as a testament to the settlement of a contentious border dispute.
In 1803, the first turnpike in New Hampshire opened, linking the inland town of Concord with the seacoast’s Portsmouth, launching the town as the state’s transportation and trade center. In 1807 Concord was connected to Boston by way of canal and in a few decades it would flourish as a hub for the railroad industry. Furniture making and quarrying granite from Rattlesnake Hill north of town were also drove the local economy. And the manufacture of carriages and coaches brought the town widespread notoriety.
But for more than 200 years Concord has been a government town. Homegrown Franklin Pierce was sent to Washington as the country’s fourteenth President, giving New Hampshire the honor of being by far the smallest state to ever produce a United States President. Arkansas (Bill Clinton) and Iowa (Herbert Hoover) are the only other states outside the 20 most populous American states to send a favored son to the White House.
Our walking tour of Concord will begin in the heart of the Civic District at the very State House where Franklin Pierce served from 1829 until 1833, in America’s oldest state house in which the legislature still occupies its original chambers...
107 North Main Street
New Hampshire went fishing about for a new capitol building in 1814, considering bids from Concord, Hopkinton and Salisbury. Despite a substantial offer of $7,000 from Salisbury, Concord won. Architect Stuart James Park designed the capitol in the Greek Revival style and granite from the present-day Swenson quarries north of town was used in construction. Inmates of the state prison cut, shaped and faced the stone for the building that was finished for a total cost of $82,000 in 1819. An octagonal drum with large arched windows supports a golden dome with bull’s-eye windows and small lantern. A statue of a huge gold-painted wooden war eagle looking to the left was raised in 1818. In 1957, it was replaced with an element-proof peace eagle statue looking to the right, with the original eagle given to the New Hampshire Historical Society. Today it is America’s oldest state house in which the legislature still occupies its original chambers.
WALK OUT TO MAIN STREET. ACROSS THE STREET IS...
110 North Main Street
For the better part of 150 years the Eagle Hotel was the place in town where the likes of Charles Lindbergh, Eleanor Roosevelt, and a parade of United States Presidents would sign the guest register. The five-story guesthouse (the top story was an 1890s addition that replaced a steeply pitched roof) supposedly takes its name from the gilded wooden eagle on the State House across the street. The Eagle hotel shuttered in 1961. Among the shops represented here is the Concord League Gallery, one of the town’s most famous stores that is operated by the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen.
WALK ACROSS MAIN STREET TO THE HOTEL AND TURN RIGHT, HEADING SOUTH. TURN LEFT DOWN THE WALKWAY INTO EAGLE SQUARE.
7 Eagle Square
This L-shaped structure was constructed as an amenity to the Eagle Hotel in 1882. The front of the building provided quarters for coachmen and attendants of the hotel’s guests while their carriages and wagons were sheltered in the rear. Later the space was adapted for automobiles. In 1983 the Eagle Square space was re-imagined as a market space.
New Hampshire Historical Society Museum
6 Eagle Square
This beefy stone warehouse was constructed in 1870 with rough-faced Concord granite by hardware merchant David Andrew Warde, whose family name was carved into a keystone over the entrance. Warde wanted the building to be a fireproof storage facility for agricultural implements with the heavy stone walls and thick timbers but the interior was gutted by fire before it was even finished. After a century of storage use the building was renovated for use as a restaurant and in the 1990s acquired by the New Hampshire Historical Society to stand duty as a museum.
LEAVE EAGLE SQUARE AND RETURN TO MAIN STREET. ACROSS THE STREET IS...
Merrimack County Savings Bank
97 North Main Street
New Hampshire Savings Bank was founded in 1830 as the town’s third bank and grew to be the most important financial institution in Concord. Now defunct, the bank lives on its buildings including this Neoclassical vault (1927), 118 North Main Street (1885) across the street and the current Attorney General’s office a block away on State Street (1957). This five-story monument to finance is the only commercial building on Main Street constructed from Concord granite. Merrimack County Savings Bank took its first deposits in 1867.
southwest corner of School Street and Main Street
James R. Hill began building the leather harness that made Concord famous in 1842. By 1847, Hill’s Concord Harness had become a household word, its fame spreading further during the California gold Rush of 1849. Wells Fargo would use the harness for its overland delivery service, P.T. Barnum controlled his circus acts with Concord-produced gear and Buffalo Bill Cody counted on the Concord Harness in his wildly popular western-themed shows. Meanwhile Hill, the largest landowner in town, was busy shaping the streetscape. He constructed this three-story brick block with a rounded corner in 1862. Hill’s harness factory had stood here until the leatherworks were destroyed by fire in 1861. In addition to the State block Hill also constructed the Centennial Block at 57-62 North Main Street (1876 and demolished in the 1980s) and the Columbian Block at 89-93 North Main Street (1870 and since altered).
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON KING STREET TOWARDS PUNCHBOWL STREET. ON THE LEFT IS...
James R. Hill Building
67 North Main Street
James R. Hill died in 1884 and this building was constructed by his children in 1902, as the legendary business was sliding into decline. The brick-stone-terra cotta facade is one of the town’s liveliest. The F.W. Woolworth Co. was the principal tenant, occupying the ground floor for over 80 years. In 1984 the building was transformed as part of the Capital Plaza project that retained the facade.
Morrill Brothers Building
55 North Main Street
The Morrill brothers were Samuel and John and, as the decorative parapet states, their trade was in watches, clocks and jewelry. Concord architect Edward Dow designed this Victorian showplace for the Morrills in 1876. Samuel would die in 1910 and the family sold the business in 1914 but retained the building until 1941.
Concord National Bank
47 North Main Street
Concord National was incorporated in 1806 as the first bank in town and settled here in 1808 where this is considered the oldest brick building on Main Street. A third story was added in 1869 and the Italianate-styled roof brackets and window molds added. The building has endured many facelifts through the years and is now reliving its Victorian appearance.
40 North Main Street
Beginning in the 1850s Phenix Hall, with a 500-seat balconied stage on the second floor was the sight for important Concord events ranging from plays featuring the greatest stars of the day to agricultural fairs to wresting matches to a campaign speech from Abraham Lincoln. The original burned in 1893 but the brick performance hall was quickly rebuilt. The stage was used by local theater companies until 1985.
1-3South Main Street
The Endicott was a businessman’s hotel, greeting guests arriving on the railroad a block away. The four-story Queen-Anne styled building, marked by its prominent circular oriel tower on the corner, was constructed between 1892 and 1894 for dry goods merchant Charles G. Blanchard. Former Governor John B. Smith purchased the property in 1908 and gradually converted it to hotel use. “The Endicott” was the first large commercial structure to rise on Main Street south of Pleasant Street and the first building in town to be conceived strictly for commercial use with no apartments on the upper floors. Ironically, when the hotel closed those upper floors were converted to low income apartment use. The building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987, was damaged by fire in 2012 as it sat vacant awaiting conversion to upscale living units.
TURN RIGHT ON PLEASANT STREE. TURN RIGHT ON STATE STREET.
20 North State Street
This is the oldest meetinghouse in Concord, dating to the days of the formation of the Baptist congregation in 1823. The church’s unusual orientation is said to be the suggestion of a sea captain who advised the building committee to “place her broadside to the wharf- that’s the way we always took on passengers.” The town’s master builder, John Leach, shepherded the church, a simple Federalist-style structure with belfry, to completion. It picked up the more flamboyant Italianate makeover seen today in the 1870s. Only in recent years has the congregation taken on the banner of the CenterPoint Church.
State House Annex
25 Capitol Street at southeast corner of State Street
Every time the New Hampshire government outgrows its Concord quarters the City of Manchester is waiting with an attractive offer to hijack the capitol. The first time came during the Civil War when a half-million dollar offer was made and in the early 20th century the enticement was up to a million dollars. Finally in 1909 the Legislature voted to retain the capitol in Concord, allocating money to fix up the current State House and in 1937, with considerable Depression-era monies from the Federal government, this Annex came on board,emblematic of the stripped-down classicism of many Art Deco American government buildings of the 1930s. The original design of the windows was lost in a fire in 1980. The Annex links to the State House via an underground passageway.
Old Federal Building
North State Street between Park and Capitol streets
The federal government established a presence in Concord in 1889 with this massive granite structure that did duty as both the town post office and a United States court house. Supervising architect of the United States Treasury, Mifflin E. Bell, gets credit for the eclectic design which bring together bits of Victorian styles such as Gothic (gabled windows and steep pitched roofs), Romanesque Revival (arched entrances) and Colonial Revival (symmetrical massing). The federal government moved on in the 1960s and the building has served as s state legislature building ever since.
RETURN TO CAPITOL STREET AND TURN RIGHT. AFTER ONE BLOCK, AT ITS END, ACROSS THE STREET IS...
Concord City Hall
41 Green Street
Cost considerations are why Concord City Hall is an island of brick amidst a sea of native granite. After deciding to move out of its digs in the Merrimack County Courthouse, a resolution was passed on January 11, 1902 authorizing $150,000 for the lot, new building and furnishings. Sixteen sites were considered before this property was acquired for $23,500. Plans favoring a Colonial flavor by architects Warren, Smith & Biscoe of Boston were selected and the rusticated brickwork was laid on a base of Concord granite. Native stone is much in evidence on building’s trim trim, especially the quoins around the windows. Behind City Hall is a two-story, L-shaped brick structure erected in 1908 on plans by William M. Butterfield to serve as the State Armory. After the state gave the building to the city n 1960 it served as a community center.
TURN RIGHT ON GREEN STREET.
Concord Public Library
45 Green Street
The New Hampshire State Legislature passed a law in 1849 authorizing towns to set up public libraries for its citizens; the first books in Concord were lent in 1857 from a room on the second floor in City Hall. Patrons paid 37 cents a year for the right to check out books. This Art Deco building came along in 1940, a depression-era project. The rear extension is a 1965 addition.
TURN RIGHT ON PARK STREET.
New Hampshire Historical Society Library
30 Park Street
This is the go-to stop for anything pertaining to New Hampshire history. The imposing block-long Beaux Arts library building is the handiwork of Guy Lowell, accomplished Boston architect and landscape designer. An 1899 graduate of the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Lowell won the commission in 1909, the same year he created his most lauded public building, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Only the finest materials were used in construction. Lowell crafted the perfectly symmetrical edifice with blue-gray granite hauled out of nearby Rattlesnake Hill and outfitted the library with bronze doors and grills and massive Doric columns; interior floors and walls are marble imported from Italy and Tennessee.The library was dedicated on November 23, 1911. In the pediment above the main door is a sculpture by New Hampshire native Daniel Chester French, America’s foremost monument sculptor of the early 20th century (the sitting statue in the Lincoln Memorial is his work). Working with a single, flawless block of Concord granite,” French carved the Society’s crest flanked by figures representing Modern History and Ancient History. The library is named for its principal benefactor. Edward Tuck, a native of Exeter. After graduating from Dartmouth Tuck entered finance in the employ of John Monroe & Company, working mostly from the firm’s Paris office. He retired before he was 40 in 1881 and went to live in France permanently but endowed his home state and college generously through the intervening years.
New Hampshire State Library
20 Park Street at northeast corner of State Street
Amos P. Cutting, an architect from Worcester, Massachusetts, drew up the plans for this impressive civic building in 1891, blending classical Renaissance elements with the popular stylings of master Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson. With asymmetrical massing, the building was constructed of rock-faced red Conway granite and trimmed with smooth-faced Concord granite trim. In its original form it sported a square tower that was removed in the 1960s. The building also housed the State Supreme Court for eighty years before becoming solely a library.
TURN LEFT ON STATE STREET. TURN RIGHT ON CENTRE STREET.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
21 Centre Street
The stirrings of Episcopalianism in Concord began in 1818 when a small band of congregants met in St. Thomas Chapel that met in the Masonic Lodge on Main Street until a small frame church was constructed in the 1820s. In 1856 the cornerstone was laid for this Gothic meetinghouse that served the congregation until 1984 when an arsonist’s torch destroyed all but the exterior walls.
TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET. TURN RIGHT ON PARK STREET.
18 Park Street
Nathaniel Gookin Upham constructed this house in 1831 and it stands today as the only unaltered Federal-style home in downtown Concord. Upham was thirty years old when the house was constructed, a Dartmouth-educated lawyer on his way to being appointed to the New Hampshire Superior Court in 1833. He would give up his seat in 1843 to take charge of the newly formed Concord Railroad. “Walker” was his grandson Charles Rumford Walker, a surgeon and president of the New Hampshire Medical Society for a short while. The state purchased the brick house in 1979; it was the listed on the National Register of Historic Places a year later.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT THE STATE HOUSE.