Learn about our rare 18th century warehouse and its restoration!
The Moffatt-Ladd Warehouse is a rare survival of a merchant’s store and warehouse from the 18th century. It was modified with the addition of a carriage bay and doors at the front, probably about 1790. Archaeological evidence suggests that it was moved to its current site about 1840, and we suspect that it originally stood on a nearby property, perhaps within the same block as the Moffatt-Ladd House. We interpret the space as a Warehouse and store, and offer activities related to its use for school and camp groups, some of which are designed to be available throughout the season to all families and visitors coming to the site.
The Warehouse is a great venue for a variety of different programs. Its versatility has made it possible for us to offer a wide range of programs, including overnights for Girl Scout troops (through the Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains), Pirate Camp, lectures, and concerts. We also welcome non profits and other groups to consider partnering with us to bring a special event to the public — as we do with the New Hampshire Film Festival and Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival, and the Piscataqua Maritime Commission — or to rent the space for your own program or celebration.
The Warehouse is also available for private rentals.
Story and Purpose of the Project to Restore and Rehabilitate the Warehouse, 2008-2009
Story of the Restoration
In 2005 it became evident that the building then known as the Coach House was in a serious state of disrepair. Thus began an ambitious project to restore this rare 18th century outbuilding (far left in ca. 1885 photograph) which is one of a few colonial-era shops or warehouses to survive on the New Hampshire Seacoast. New Hampshire’s State Architectural Historian describes the Warehouse as a “rare and significant structure.” Its restoration was an act of remarkable dedication to the principles of historic preservation, by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of New Hampshire, which owns the site, and has operated the Moffatt-ladd House & Garden as a museum since 1912.
Skilled artisans have restored the building, using the latest restoration techniques to update the sills, girts, and posts of the timber-frame building. Original material was retained and reused as much as possible. Lumber from an ash tree, removed from the adjacent hillside, was used to construct the beautiful and durable new floor of the Warehouse.
Between April and August 2008 the building was lifted to allow for the excavation of a foundation and perimeter drainage. Prior to this work being done, archaeological investigations and paint analysis revealed that the structure has been on its present site since approximately 1840. The new, modern foundation of the building has been faced with stone, to help preserve its historic character. The building is now heated and available for use from April through mid-November.
Ensuring the Future
The Moffatt-Ladd House Warehouse has made it possible for the museum to broaden its offerings to school groups to include hands-on programs designed to connect Portsmouth’s modern economy to the city’s early history as a bustling colonial port.
In the Coach House’s warehouse space, students learn about the seafaring heritage of the Moffatts, Whipples, and Ladds, and how these merchants’ livelihoods, and the homes in which they lived were all dependent upon the fluctuations of a worldwide economy.
Some of the student activities include lifting and loading cargo by block and tackle, climbing into a sailor’s hammock, and making and writing in a sailor’s diary. Students take what they learn into the main house where they see both imported and locally made goods in use. They also see the connections between the main house, the Warehouse, and the museum’s adjacent waterfront wharf.
Project History and Plan
A Conservation Assessment Plan Review in 1999 set priorities and created a 10-year plan for the preservation and conservation of the museum’s building and collections. Serious structural issues were addressed and solved for the Main House, the Counting House and the ell addition at the back of the Main House.
In 2008-2009 the Society tackled the largest single project in the long-range plan, the restoration of the Warehouse. The needs of the building created the opportunity to transform it into a dynamic space that enables us to broaden our interpretation of the museum site and provide new programming for the community.
We have lifted the building, created a sound foundation for the structure, and have constructed a two-story compatible lean-to addition to stabilize the structure, add preparation and collections storage space, and keep ground moisture away from the restored timber-frame.
Benefits to the Community
The project has allowed us to:
- Preserve a rare architectural survivor of Portsmouth’s maritime past
- Form partnerships with other local organizations
- Provide space for public programs and workshops
- Add dynamic programming and space for events to the city’s rapidly developing Northern Tier
- Open up space for hands-on educational programs that bring Portsmouth’s seafaring heritage to life for a new generation
- Provide space for community events with modern audio visual amenities
- Create a unique rental space for wedding receptions and other social events
- House humidity-controlled storage for archaeological and other collections
- Become an active presence connecting Portsmouth’s waterfront to its commercial and retail center
Changes in technology since 2009 demand that we make upgrades to our sound system and projection screen at an estimated cost of approximately $8,000. We are also developing text panels for the space to be backed with materials matching the interior of the building so that they can be turned during events to blend into the surrounding walls. Each text panel will cost approximately $800; three panels are planned. We will be obtaining estimates for the work needed to properly seal and protect the pigeonholes around the eaves of the building from water damage. If you are interested in donating to these efforts, please contact the office at (603) 430-7968 or click on Donate Now to make a contribution via credit card.