With an original section dating back to 1695, the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion is thought to be the only surviving home to a colonial Royal Governor in the United States. Portsmouth native, Benning Wentworth, was appointed Royal Governor in 1741 and served in that capacity until 1767. He moved into what was once a simple fisherman’s home that he had expanded into a 40-room mansion. The mansion was later purchased by Boston artist, J. Templeman Coolidge III, in 1886 and transformed into an artist’s colony until it was donated by his widow to the state of New Hampshire in 1954. It was fully restored in 1966 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1968. The mansion and grounds are now administered by the New Hampshire Division of Parks and open to the public May through October.
King George II separated the colony of New Hampshire from Massachusetts during war
with Spain, referred to as the War of Jenkins’ Ear. In doing so, the Crown required a colonial
governor for the new colony and the king appointed Portsmouth native and
Harvard graduate (1715), Benning Wentworth.
At the time, Portsmouth, as its name implies, was an important import-export
center, intimately involved in the era’s “triangular trade.” The Wentworths were a prominent mercantile
family during this time. Benning
Wentworth accepted the governorship in return for dropping a legal claim of
payment against the British government.
then moved the seat of his colonial government to a 100-acre plot of land along
Little Harbor in 1753. The 1695
fisherman’s home located there had been expanded in 1730 and Wentworth would
expand it again in 1750, creating the rambling, clapboard mansion that occupies
the space to this day. Wentworth
resigned as governor in 1767 after colonists accused his administration of
corruption, excessive taxation and nepotism.
He was succeeded by his nephew, John Wentworth and later donated 500
acres for the creation of Dartmouth College.
Wentworth was also known for his somewhat scandalous marriage to his
much younger housekeeper, Martha Hilton, in 1760 after the death of his first
wife. This marriage is the subject of a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem. Wentworth died in 1770 in Portsmouth.
and grounds were later acquired by the Cushing family in 1816 and they began
showing it to the public in the 1840s. In
1886, the home and 15 acres were purchased by John Templeman Coolidge. Coolidge was a talented Boston artist and a
trustee of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
He, along with the founder of the Society for the Preservation of New
England Antiquities, Sumner Appleton, restored the mansion and the Coolidge
family used it as a summer home. Eventually,
Coolidge turned the site into a summer artist’s colony that was visited by the
likes of John Singer Sargent, Edmund Tarbell and Isabella Stewart Gardner.
died in 1945 and the land and mansion were donated to the state in 1954 by Mary
Abigail Parsons Coolidge. The home
underwent an extensive restoration in 1966 and a barn on the site was converted
into a visitor center in the late 1990s and became an art gallery and winter
art school in 2000. The gallery then sat
idle until the Drift Gallery relocated there from Kittery, Maine in 2013. Today, the site is devoted to hosting community
events and supporting the local arts.