Portsmouth Athenæum

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Portsmouth Athenaeum
Portsmouth Athenaeum, Portsmouth, NH.jpg
Portsmouth Athenæum
Portsmouth Athenæum is located in New Hampshire
Portsmouth Athenæum
Portsmouth Athenæum is located in the US
Portsmouth Athenæum
Location 9 Market Square, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Coordinates 43°4′37.5″N 70°45′27″W / 43.077083°N 70.75750°W / 43.077083; -70.75750Coordinates: 43°4′37.5″N 70°45′27″W / 43.077083°N 70.75750°W / 43.077083; -70.75750
Built 1805
Architect Bradbury Johnson
Architectural style Federal
NRHP reference # 73000171[1]
Added to NRHP May 5, 1973

The Portsmouth Athenæum is an independent membership library, gallery and museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, United States. It preserves material relevant to local history, and sponsors exhibitions, concerts and lectures for its proprietors, scholars and the general public. The building has been listed as the "Portsmouth Athenaeum" on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973.[1]

The Athenæum Society[edit]

Market Square c. 1905

It was founded in 1817 as the Portsmouth Athenæum Society.[2] The institution's 1805 Federal style building, located on Market Square at the city's heart, was acquired by the society in 1823. It was designed by architect Bradbury Johnson (1766–1820) as the office for the New Hampshire Fire & Marine Insurance Company, which went bankrupt.[2] In 1981 and 1995, the society expanded into the third floor of 6-8 Market Square to accommodate its Copley Research Library and Randall Gallery.

Like most athenæums, it combines the functions of a library with those of an art gallery and museum. The institution retains certain 19th century customs—members are "proprietors," and the director is "keeper." Its collection now includes more than 40,000 books, with an archive of about 12,000 photographs, 4000 of which are posted on the Athenæum's website.[3]

Market Square in 2009

Portsmouth was once a major New England seaport. As a consequence, the Athenæum has a strong emphasis on maritime history, particularly shipbuilding at Badger's Island and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, both located across the Piscataqua River in Kittery, Maine. Walls are hung with paintings of ships and the half models used to plan their construction.[3] There are portraits of prominent figures from Portsmouth and the region, including sea captains, merchants and shipbuilders. The reading room features a full-length portrait of Sir William Pepperrell.[2]


The Copley Research Library and Randall Gallery are open to the public without charge.

  • Tuesday and Thursday, 1 p.m. - 4 p.m.
  • Saturday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., or by special arrangement

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Michael A. Baenen. "A Great and Natural Enemy of Democracy? Politics and Culture in the Portsmouth Athenaeum." Institutions of Reading: the Social Life of Libraries in the United States. Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007

External links[edit]