in a Colonial Mansion
J. Dennis Robinson, January 2012
Wentworth-Gardner House, Portsmouth, NH
What’s on your wedding gift list? How about a grand mansion filled with ornate wood carving and elegant wall paintings overlooking the fast-flowing Piscataqua River? That is exactly what Madam Mark Hunking Wentworth gave her son Thomas and his bride in 1760. The Wentworth’s were the wealthiest family in New Hampshire before the Revolution. The next famous owner, Major William Gardner served under George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. (The restored 1740-era home of Washington’s private secretary Tobias Lear is next door.). But by the early 20th century Portsmouth’s waterfront neighborhood had fallen on hard times and the Wentworth-Gardner house was chopped up into rented apartments.
Portsmouth almost lost this architectural treasure, but in 1915 it caught the eye of Wallace Nutting, the most famous antiquarian of his era. Nutting, a former minister, had “a love of the beautiful.” He bought six historic homes across New England and restored them to their original glory at great personal expense. Then he used his houses as the backdrop for a series of elaborately posed photographs featuring period furniture and models in vintage clothing. Nutting employed an army of women to hand color these black-and-white pictures, many featuring the rooms of the Wentworth-Gardner House, which was Nutting’s favorite property. The clever businessman sold 10 million copies of his photographs that hung in houses all across America.
Today some consider the Wentworth-Gardner House to be the finest example of Georgian architecture in New England. Can you picture yourself in these luxuriously restored rooms? For the first time, the nonprofit organization that manages this historic house is offering select couples the opportunity to do what Wallace Nutting did 100 years ago. The grand stairway, palladium window, early wallpaper, carved panels, murals, and classic decor make the ideal backdrop for unforgettable portraits. It’s a rare opportunity for couples with a passion for the past.
“Wedding” link on the group’s Web site offers a super video that details the photo offer. A second video shows sample wedding photographs taken in the house by local professionals. Thanks to the survival of the Wentworth-Gartdner House and other historic properties, the gentrified South End now includes some of the most prized real estate in town. But the narrow streets and tightly-packed wooden homes still conjure the spirit of a maritime community centuries old.
The Wentworth-Gardner & Tobias Lear Association
50 Mechanic Street, Portsmouth, NH 03801
Official Web site:
Take your wedding photos in a beautifully restored 1760 mansion listed on the National Historic Register. Event and wedding rental not currently available.
$500 first hour, $300 per additional hour (deposit required)
J. Dennis Robinson knows history. The author of a dozen books and a thousand articles on heritage topics, Dennis is also editor of the popular history Web site SeacoastNH.com.
As your guide, he seeks out historic coastal sites and asks the all-important question – Do you do weddings? His monthly blog is a SeacoastWeddings.com exclusive.