The Durham Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Durham Historic District can most easily be perceived as two main areas, the Main Street section and the section running to the south along Newmarket Road (Route 108).
The entry to the Main Street section is at the eastern edge of the University of New Hampshire campus and Durham's commercial district, where the Durham Historic District begins with the typically Federal style Joshua Ballard House (28 Main Street), situated prominently on a triangular site at the corner of Main Street and Madbury Road. The visual focus of this area is the impressive Greek Revival style Durham Community Church at the crest of a hill on the south side of Main Street. The church dominates a streetscape that consists of approximately 25 houses, mostly Federal in style, outstanding of which are the Joshua Ballard House (28 Main Street), the Ebenezer Smith House (20 Main Street), the Valentine Smith House (18 Main Street), all in excellent condition, and other originally Federal style houses such as 39-41 Main Street and 35 Main Street, to which Victorian detailing was added in the early twentieth century.
Descending a slope toward the Newmarket Road intersection, Main Street continues east, where its character becomes almost exclusively residential, with, a complementary mixture of styles including the imposing, originally Federal style Red Tower (19 Main Street) with its numerous Colonial Revival additions, the brick, Federal style Cheney office building (10 Main Street), altered but still suggesting its early-nineteenth century origins, the Federal style Richardson House set on a rise overlooking the street (8 Main Street), and a row of three houses built in the early- and middle-nineteenth century with extensive early-twentieth century additions (9-11 Main Street, 5-7 Main Street, 1-3 Main Street), all three of which, though, not stylistically pure, nevertheless contribute historically and aesthetically to the streetscape. The only non-contributing structures in this section of the Durham Historic District are the US Post Office Building, built in 1958 (2 Madbury Road) at the corner of Main Street and Madbury Road, and St. George's Episcopal Church, built in 1954.
At the foot of the hill, the strong visual anchor on the east corner of the intersection of Main Street, Dover Road and Newmarket Road (Route 108) is the impressive brick, round-cornered, Federal style Durham Town Hall. The first intrusions in the Durham Historic District occur at this intersection, namely, a Shell gas station and a two-story brick apartment building, c.1958, on the north side of Main Street and, farther south at 4 Newmarket Road, the Shanley Realtors' Office, b.1952.
This intersection, where Newmarket Road curves to the south, is the beginning of a half-mile area that is basically rural in nature with, well-maintained Federal and Georgian houses set in an attractive natural landscape of towering cedars and ancient maple, chestnut and pine trees.
High on a densely wooded hill overlooking the Oyster River and what was known in Durham's shipbuilding days as The Landing, is the Georgian style Hill-Woodman-Ffrost House (Newmarket Road), the rear section of which is believed to have been built in 1649. Adjoining this property, on Schoolhouse Lane, is a cemetery established in 1796. The wide vista to the south from the top of this hill includes the architecturally and historically significant Adams-Sullivan House (General John Sullivan House), National Register of Historic Places, 1973 (23 Newmarket Road), the home of General John Sullivan of Revolutionary War fame, and the John Mighell House, both Georgian in style and set back among tall trees on the south side of the river, and the Samuel Yeaton House, a simple, Cape-style house built in 1789 (Old Landing Road), the Runlett House, vernacular c.1750 (14 Newmarket Road), and the transitional Federal/Greek Revival Lydia Simpson House ("The Parsonage," 10 Newmarket Road) on the north side of the river. Also visible is the bridge crossing the Oyster River and, to the west of the bridge, the partial ruins of an early mill.
Crossing the Durham Falls bridge, partially of the original rubble stone construction, with a dam on the west side and the site of the original Durham Landing on the east, Newmarket Road winds to the south along the site of a meeting house, built in 1716, now a small park containing a granite monument to General John Sullivan that provides a visual focal point for the entire Durham Falls area.
The Durham Historic District continues south on Newmarket Road, lined on both sides by trees and a rubble stone fence, with no structures for about a quarter of a mile, and terminates with the area traditionally known as Broth Hill. This area consists of approximately a dozen houses, primarily Georgian and Federal in style, surrounding the Town Pound, which was built on this site at the intersection of Newmarket and Durham Point Roads in 1709.
The Broth Hill area comprises a cluster of architecturally significant houses whose integrity remains intact. They range in style from the excellently preserved Georgian elegance of "The Ledges" (Newmarket Road) on the north to the modest, early Federal design of "The Red School House" (Newmarket Road north of Laurel Lane) at the southernmost limit of the district. The Durham Historic District ends with a neatly spaced row of Georgian Cape style dwellings on Newmarket Road representing the most compact single unit in the district. They are strikingly similar in format, but range in design from the extreme simplicity of the Lenharth House on the south to the relatively elaborate detail of the Polk House on the north. The only intrusion in this area occurs behind the Town Pound, a Ranch-style house built in 1965 (intersection of Newmarket Road and Durham Point Road).
The Durham Historic District is comprised of approximately 35 architecturally and/or historically significant buildings that are representative of the growth of the town of Durham, New Hampshire, from its origins in the early seventeenth century to the height of its prosperity as a shipbuilding and trading center in the 1830's. Subsequent development is exemplified in the Durham Historic District by about a dozen houses that were either of original construction in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century or were earlier structures that were altered at that time to accommodate the changing tastes of the Victorian era.
The Durham Historic District is located on a part of the site of the Oyster River Plantation, which was eventually to become the town of Durham. Originally a part of nearby Dover, New Hampshire, the Oyster River settlement traces its origins to the first quarter of the seventeenth century.
In 1649, Valentine Hill, a Boston merchant, settled in Oyster River and soon after was granted 500 acres of land with accommodations for timber, including the Durham Falls area, a part of the present Durham Historic District. The house that he built on this land still stands in good condition at the top of the hill on Newmarket Road overlooking the Oyster River. By 1655, the settlement's first meetinghouse and a number of garrison houses had been built and the livelihood of the settlers was based on farming, fishing, and trapping.
The town of Dover voted in 1701 to create a landing place to the east of the present bridge over the Oyster River, and the settlement began to prosper as a center for lumbering as well as for agriculture. Surviving houses of the early and middle eighteenth century include the Georgian style General John Sullivan House (also known as the Adams-Sullivan House, 23 Newmarket Road, National Register, 1973), the Valentine Smith House (18 Main Street), "The Ledges," on Newmarket Road, and a number of vernacular dwellings, undocumented but probably built during this period, such as the Winborn Adams House, the Runlett House (14 Newmarket Road), and the house on the west side of Smith Park Lane.
Following numerous petitions by the Oyster River inhabitants, the Province of New Hampshire decreed the formation of the Town of Durham in 1732, and the first town meeting was held that year in the settlement's second meetinghouse, built in 1716 on the present site of the General Sullivan Monument on Newmarket Road. By 1767, Durham had become a rural village with a population of 1,232 and was beginning to become a port of entry to the interior regions of New Hampshire and Vermont, with the Durham Landing as a way station.
Beginning soon after the close of the Revolutionary War, the town experienced a period of prosperity related to its shipbuilding and commercial activities. An important factor contributing to the development of the town's economy was its location on the first New Hampshire turnpike, which was built in 1796 from the western end of the Piscataqua Bridge to Concord, thus connecting Portsmouth, the chief seaport of the state, with the future state capital. The turnpike passed through what is now Durham's Main Street, an important part of the Durham Historic District.
The high incidence of Federal style dwellings in the Durham Historic District can be seen as a reflection of the town's prosperity during this period. Significant houses built after the Revolution and in the early years of the nineteenth century include, among others, the Joshua Ballard House (28 Main Street), the Ebenezer Smith House (20 Main Street), the Richardson House (8 Main Street), and the Red Tower (19 Main Street). One of the prominent citizens of this period was Joseph Coe, a merchant and shipbuilder, who was responsible for the construction of the brick, Federal style Durham Town Hall, c.1825, surviving as one of the outstanding structures in the Durham Historic District. The population of the town reached its height around 1830, but it began to experience a decline as a trading center as more and more towns developed in the interior of the state and as the railroad began to penetrate the surrounding areas in the 1840's. Although the shipbuilding yards continued to be auctioned until nearly the end of the nineteenth century, shipbuilding ceased after 1845.
This decline may be responsible for the limited number of Greek Revival structures within the Durham Historic District, the exceptions being the Lydia Simpson House, c.1830-40 (10 Newmarket Road) and the James Paul House, c.1830-40 (24 Newmarket Road), both of which show the influence of the Greek Revival style, and the typically Greek Revival Durham Community Church, built in 1848-49. A new historical and economic period for the town began when the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts was moved from Hanover to Durham in 1893. (In 1923, this institution became the University of New Hampshire, and since that time the interests of the town have been linked closely with those of the University.)
Original construction in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century is represented in the Durham Historic District by houses such as the Victorian vernacular rental unit at 29 Main Street, built in 1897, the Colonial Revival style Red Tower Stable, c.1895, and the Old Post Office, built in 1907 (27 Main Street). Houses of earlier eras to which Victorian detailing was added around the turn of the century include 39-41 Main Street, 35 Main Street, the Red Tower (19 Main Street) and 1-3, 5-7, and 9-11 Main Street.
The Main Street area, in spite of minor commercial intrusions within some of the houses on the south side of the street, retains a sense of continuity representing a full range of Durham's architectural history. The Newmarket Road area, basically rural in nature and displaying a heavier concentration of unaltered Georgian and Federal style houses, strongly reflects the integrity of the relationship between the built and natural environments within the Durham Historic District.
Intrusions in the Durham Historic District are minimal and seriously detract from its character only at the intersection of Main Street and Newmarket Road.
Marston, Philip M. "Durham, New Hampshire, In 1825," in "Old Time New England." Boston: The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities," 1944.
Stackpole, Everett S. and Thompson, Lucien. History of the Town of Durham, New Hampshire (Oyster River Plantation), Durham, N.H., 1913.
Thompson, Mary Pickering. Landmarks in Ancient Dover. Concord, New Hampshire: Republican Press Association, 1892.
White, Melvin Johnson. A Historical Study of Old Durham. Durham, N.H.: University of New Hampshire, 1903- Bachelor's Thesis (University of New Hampshire Library).
† Bernard Hiatt, Strafford Rockingham Regional Council, Durham Historic District, Durham, NH, nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.