Market Street and Market Square: Portsmouth, New Hampshire


A public lottery held in 1762 paid for paving the Market Square in Portsmouth. In the 250 years since, the square and three streets originating from it — Market Street, Pleasant Street, and Congress Street — have remained the hub of downtown commerce and community life year-round. Portsmouth today is a vibrant regional destination for the arts, dining, and heritage tourism, but the city's economy hasn't always been so robust. Faced with declining industry during the 1950s and '60s, the city cleared portions of the downtown through urban renewal. Beginning in the 1970s, creative developers began rehabilitating historic industrial buildings on Market Street for conversion to residential and retail uses.

Designated Area

Market Street and Market Square, which includes Market Square, Market Street between Deer Street and Market Square; Pleasant Street between State Street and Market Square; and Congress Street between Chestnut Street and Market Square.

Market Square and adjoining streets create an ideal street scene for any historic and well-planned square. Lining the streets are 19th century historic buildings blending harmoniously with modern architecture. Wide brick crosswalks enable pedestrians to safely cross the street, and ground-level storefronts allow for window shopping along brick sidewalks.

Planning Excellence

The city also took meaningful planning steps and followed through with implementation. Measures were designed to ensure the vitality of street-level businesses and to protect valuable historic properties including North Church, a beacon of Portsmouth visible from most city vantage points.

A key step in Portsmouth's recovery efforts was the revitalization of Market Square beginning in 1978. Once the site of a military training ground, a meeting house, and New Hampshire's colonial legislature, the renovated Square features wide brick sidewalks, benches, trees and a fountain. Today Market Square is "arguably the busiest intersection in all of Portsmouth," notes local blogger and photographer Philip Cohen, filled with pedestrians, buses, and cars against a backdrop of architecturally distinctive buildings, each with its own history.

Historic value has been preserved along Market Square since the 1950s. Bicycle racks placed in and around the square encourage less vehicle traffic, while benches invite people to relax and socialize. Photograph courtesy of Philip Cohen.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Revitalization, preservation

  • Market Square and adjoining streets part of the local Historic District, which preserves integrity and special character of the downtown
  • A Downtown Overlay District, created in 2006 and encompassing Market Square and adjoining streets, prohibits ground-level residential use and controls location of off-street parking facilities to ensure street-level vitality
  • New mixed-use building at the corner of Congress and Church Streets (6-16 Congress Street, built 2006) houses retail stores, offices, and condos; exemplifies success of Historic District design review measures
  • City Council policy is to construct and maintain brick sidewalks throughout historic district, with wide sidewalks and plazas in Market Square and on Pleasant and Congress Streets

Historic architecture, modern uses

  • Market Street and Market Square feature consistent, 19th century architecture; brick Federalist stores and townhouses built after devastating fire; led city to establish fire district with brick and slate roof construction requirements
  • Market Street features cast-iron storefronts installed in the mid-1800s; Merchants Row (c. 1803, Market Street west of Bow Street), regarded as one of the finest surviving examples of early 19th century commercial blocks
  • Congress Street blends historic and modern architecture and design; existing buildings reflect 19th and 20th century character
  • Federal-style Athenaeum (c. 1805, 9 Market Square) is a nonprofit membership library and reading room established in 1817; includes exhibits, extensive local history collection, research library; open to the public
  • North Church (c. 1854, 2 Congress St.) replaced a 1713 meeting house; steeple can be seen from almost any point in the city
  • Bankers Row (2 Pleasant St.) once home to oldest bank building in U.S.; original 1803 structure destroyed by fire, portions remain from 1869; large dome added 1904; now houses popular Irish pub
  • Old Custom and Post Office House (c. 1860, Pleasant Street at State Street) designed by Ammi B. Young, first U.S. Treasury Supervising Architect
  • Moffatt-Ladd House (c. 1763, 154 Market St.) built in Georgian style and a National Historic Landmark; open to public as house museum since 1912
  • Moffatt-Ladd Coach House (next to main house), one of few surviving 18th century warehouses, preserved and restored in 2009; serves as a venue for New Hampshire Film Festival screenings and other public and private events

Street scene, activities

  • Benches in Market Square and on Congress Street invite people to linger; flowers and a fountain provide visual interest
  • Brick crosswalks calm traffic and increase pedestrian comfort and safety
  • Several bus lines, seasonal downtown bus loop, and bike racks serving Market Square provide multiple options for residents and visitors to access downtown
  • Market Square annual events include Children's Day (May), Market Square Day (June), Summer in the Street (June-August), Christmas parade and tree lighting, First Night (New Year's Eve), foot and bicycle races, art exhibits, film festivals, and seasonal concerts

Renovations to the square include widened brick sidewalks, benches, trees and plantings, and a fountain, all providing a unique value and visual interest to the site. Photograph courtesy of Philip Cohen.

Community pride

  • Portsmouth Harbour Trail and Portsmouth Black History Trail wind through Market Square and adjoining streets; both celebrate local history
  • Market Square seat of colonial government from 1758-1776; site of New Hampshire State House
  • Two treaties commemorated in Market Square: 1713 Treaty of Portsmouth temporarily ended conflict between Abenaki Indians and English settlements; 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth ended Russo-Japanese War
  • Seasonal horse and carriage rides depart from Market Square
  • ProPortsmouth, Inc., established in 1977 with first production of Market Square Day; annual festival celebrating renovation and beautification of downtown Portsmouth hosts 60,000-80,000 people