We took a look at the history of Eastern White Pine in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in Volume XXVIII of the White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs, published in 2009, exploring its origins as a major purveyor of white pine lumber and the legacy of the architecture that was built with it. Now, let’s zoom in on one of Portsmouth’s most beautiful and celebrated historic structures, the Governor John Langdon House.
Built in 1784 by John Langdon – merchant, shipbuilder, Revolutionary War leader, signer of the United States Constitution and three-term governor of New Hampshire – the Georgian mansion is a sight to behold, even from far across its lawns. Praised for its beauty by George Washington, who visited in 1789, the house boasts grander proportions than most residences of that era as well as an elaborate entryway sheltered by a portico topped with a balustrade.
But the defining feature of the Governor John Langdon House might just be its spectacular interior woodwork, all carved from Eastern White Pine. The extraordinarily high level of craftsmanship seen in the trim, staircases, ceiling medallions and other elements of the home are attributed to master joiner Ebenezer Clifford, who also worked on many other old homes along New Hampshire’s Piscataqua River. During that time, millions of board-feet of Eastern White Pine would have been flowing down the river to the port of Piscataqua, headed to the colonies.
Langdon spared no expense on these Rococo-style carvings, and it shows. Visitors admire them in person at the mansion, which is now a National Historic Landmark and open for events and private tours. A recent artist residency at the house by regional sculptor Amanda Fisk even focused on “the overlapping roles of eastern white pine in our nation’s history and in Langdon’s life and career,” noting the importance of the species in the mansion, the ships Langdon built and the local economy.
To see the oldest white pine house in Portsmouth along with details on the Buckminster House, the Wendell House and other notable Eastern White Pine structures in the city, check out the White Pine Monographs.