The Strawberry Banke Museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is auctioning off one of its properties on February 19. The museum has determined that it is unable to devote the funds and effort necessary to restore, or even maintain, the property, and that money realized from the sale could be put to better use in helping to restore the museum’s 37 other properties. They hope that a purchaser will be able to invest the resources necessary to preserve the house. There will be easements in place restricting the kinds of modifications or renovations that can be done to protect the historical integrity of the building.
The Lord House was built for Reverend Joseph Buckminster by the North Church of Portsmouth in 1792. The church sold the house in the early nineteenth-century and it was lived in by local merchant Frederick Wendell and his descendants from 1878 until the 1960s. The last owner, Marion Wendell Lord, willed the house to Strawberry Banke in 1967. The house, located at 118 Pleasant Street, is about one block away from the core campus of Strawberry Banke and is currently in use as office space. It is, unfortunately, a fixer-upper. It needs a new roof, some chimney repointing, and it does not currently have a kitchen. There are two half-baths, but no full baths.
Still, the house has much to offer. Remarkably, the original doorbell is still in place, the original privy is still in an attached 1820 barn, and there is an elaborate smoke chamber in the attic for smoking meats. The two-story Georgian style home has 9 rooms and sits on .33 acres which include a private garden and a number of connected outbuildings. Plenty of parking, too. The house sits right across the street from the Governor John Langdon House (below right), a museum house run by Historic New England and a popular venue for weddings and other receptions.
The auction is being conducted by Murphy Auction & Realty. The sealed-bid auction will take place at the house site at 11AM on February 19. A $25,000 deposit is required, with the balance due in 30 days for the successful bidder. There is a 10% buyer’s premium and buyer broker participation is encouraged. There is no reserve but Strawberry Banke reserves the right to refuse bids. For complete details on the auction particulars, easement restrictions, parcel description, and field card tax info, download the buyer’s package at the Murphy Auction Site (it’s a large pdf file- 38 pages long, and they require you provide your contact info to get it, but it is very complete). The property can be previewed on February 6th, 12th, and 19th from 10AM-11AM.
Other Historical Societies have tried similar sales. Things don’t always go smoothly. The Rochester Historical Society in New York outgrew their headquarters “Woodside Hall” and were unable to keep up with an estimated $1 Million in deferred maintenance. This past August, they sold the property for $450,000 to a local couple, who plan on converting the building back to a single family residence and maintaining the historical integrity of the property. What started as a well-intentioned strategic decision ended up in the New York Supreme Court. An angry group of members accused the society of not working in the best interests of the society’s collections and attempted to block the sale. The Court affirmed the society’s sale in November, but the purchase won’t be finalized until May, and the outcome is still uncertain.
That’s unlikely to happen at Strawberry Banke- they have a successful track record selling museum property. The 1770 Wentworth-Winebaum House was sold in 2007 with similar preservation easements. That sale has worked out very well- the purchaser has gotten the restoration effort well under way, and the proceeds have gone into an endowment for the maintenance of the museum’s other buildings.