There is no shortage of historical exploration that can be done in Portsmouth. Discover the founding and growth of Portsmouth for yourself with the many sites and tours available.
Historic Buildings in Portsmouth
There is a ton of history etched within the walls of these historic buildings around Portsmouth.
Benthall-Brooks Row Houses- Crawford Street
These English basement homes date back to the 1840s. All three brick houses were built by a sea captain named Brooks. He built only one floor a year to allow for adequate settling. Brooks lived at 421. 419 is the only house that still has the servant’s quarters in the back of the house.
Grice-Neely House- 202 North Street
Dating back to 1820, this home evokes the atmosphere of New Orleans in the exquisite ironwork of the balcony and the stairway.
Hill House Museum – 200 Block of North Street
Built by Colonel John Thompson in the 1800s, his adopted son John Thompson Hill began a long line of Hills to reside in the home until 1961. At that time it was willed to the Portsmouth Historical Association. This is the best example in Olde Towne of unchanged English basement homes.
The Nivison-Ball House- 417 Middle Street
This house was originally located on Crawford and had to be moved when a railroad track was being laid. It was previously thought that the house was built around 1784 but research now shows that it was built closer to 1754. During the War of 1812 it was a barracks. In 1824 General Lafayette was entertained here as well as President Andrew Jackson and his cabinet in 1833.
The Pass House- Corner of Crawford Pkwy. & London Street
Built in 1841, it was used by the Union forces during the Civil War as the Federal Adjutant General’s Office. It received its name because passes, which were required to leave Portsmouth, were issued here.
The Washington Reed House- 351 Middle Street
This home was originally a two-and-a-half-story, six room house built by Captain John Thompson. After the Civil War, Washington Reed purchased the home and added six additional rooms. It is an excellent example of late-Georgian architecture.
The Watts House- Corner of North Street & Dinwiddie Street
Colonel Demsey Watts built this house in 1799. It was originally constructed on a hill between Dinwiddie and Washington Streets. The home was moved to its present location in 1808. Congressman Henry Clay, Chief Black Hawk, and President Andrew Jackson have all been entertained here.
Historic Houses of Worship
Portsmouth is home to a number of historic houses of worship that are still in operation and available to tour.
Explore the many historic cemeteries throughout Portsmouth. The city’s oldest cemetery is Cedar Grove, whose grave sites date back to the 1700s.
Historic Monuments & Landmarks
Portsmouth has a number of historic monuments & landmarks honoring important figures in Portsmouth’s long history.
Historic Norfolk Naval Shipyard
Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth is the oldest US Navy shipyard in the United States, dating back to 1767 and originally named Gosport Shipyard. After being destroyed during the American Revolutionary War, Drydock No. 1 was built as the first (and now oldest) operational drydock facility in the US. Once again destroyed during the American Civil War, it was rebuilt with its current name as the modern shipyard it is today. Officer’s Quarters A, B & C were built in 1837 and are still in use as housing to this day. If you look closely, you can see repairs from when bricks were knocked out in order for soldiers to shoot during the wars.
Black History of Portsmouth
Discover the local history with sites & tours.
Learn more about Black History in Portsmouth by visiting Truxton, the United State’s first wartime government housing project constructed exclusively for African-American residents. Make sure you stop by one of the historically black churches or cemeteries, and take a virtual tour to discover Portsmouth’s role in the Underground Railroad. Learn more about heroes and historic events that shaped the lives of Portsmouth’s African Americans by taking the Heroes and History walk.
Walk the Path of History
Use informative placards around town to guide you through 300 years of American history.
More than 250 years of American history is unveiled during the Olde Towne Walking Tour. As you walk streets with names like London, Queen, King and High, you can trace the roots of Olde Towne back to 1752 when William Crawford took 65 acres of his plantation and laid out the area in streets and half acre lots. He called the new community Portsmouth after his hometown of Portsmouth, England.
Characters from Portsmouth’s history brought to life & available for tours and appearances.
Olde Towne Historic District
Encompasses 89 buildings with Federal & Greek Revival style townhouses known as “basement houses,” along with other historic buildings and churches.
Port Norfolk Historic District
This suburban area was developed between 1890-1910 with Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman & American Foursquare style residences.
Cradock Historic District
These 759 Colonial Revival & Bungalow style buildings were developed in 1918 in response to the massive influx of Naval Shipyard workers during World War I.
Truxton Historic District
Developed exclusively for African-American residents as a result of the rapid influx of workers at the Naval Shipyard during World War I.
Park View Historic District
This neighborhood was developed in the late-19th and early-20th centuries with Queen Anne, Colonial Revival & American Foursquare style single family homes.
Explore the Lafayette Trail
General Lafayette helped America become the independent nation she is today. Follow along General Lafayette’s path through America during his farewell tour between 1824-1825, where Portsmouth was but one stop.
Portsmouth’s Historical Markers
Get out and find some of the 28 Historical Markers of sites & buildings that helped shape Portsmouth’s history.