Missing Places: Yoken’s Restaurant in Portsmouth NH (1947-2004)

Yoken’s Restaurant on Lafayette Road in Portsmouth NH closed in September of 2004. yokens postcardThe property was sold, and the original landmark demolished.  Now some are trying to rescue the “Thar She Blows” trademark sign. In a city known for the preservation of its ancient buildings, the enthusiasm for a metal and neon artifact of a mere 66 years is not surprising.

Portsmouth-ites love their landmarks, even odd ball ones like slag piles, green bridges, submarines, singing bridges. In addition to a long history of saving or re-inventing their landmarks, they still have major failures.  Only time will tell whether the Yoken’s sign falls into the former or latter group.

Another question arises, at what point do you decide that a landmark is worth bulldozing, or alternately that is should be saved?  Is the “Thar She Blows” whale sign worth the 50K it will  cost to repair and upgrade it?  At any rate in April the sign was finally removed for repairs.   For the moment it appears that all the money in New Hampshire won’t help without the city of Portsmouth’s approval.  There has been a modest ground swell of support.  The “Save the Yoken’s Sign” Project has its own Facebook page, with more information on how to add your name to petition, supporting the signs re-installation.

In order to understand the present, we need to journey back into the past. The year 1946 was the beginning of the post-war economic boom.  Many neighborhoods and farmer’s fields were being flattened to make way for shopping malls–progress it seemed. The Portsmouth Herald of Tuesday, March 5, 1946, reported the following:

No opposition was registered, at a public hearing before the planning board last night, to a proposal that land at the corner of Peverly Hill and Lafayette Roads be rezoned as a commercial area.
  Lucien E. Geoffrion, architect represented Harry E. Yoken, the petitioner, and told the board that because of heavy traffic and the trend of growth of the city in the direction of that spot on the highway he believed that the six-acre plot in question should be rezoned to commercial.
  He offered blueprints for a shopping center, “which would give the city more than $3,000 a year in taxes” with room in the rear of a rambling building for 600 cars to park.  The structure would be 500 feet long, 100 feet deep , and would be situated 90 feet from the road.
  The main section would house a colonial style restaurant separated from wings on either side by driveways.  Facing the building, the left wing plans contain a proposed beauty shop, liquor store, ten bowling alleys, cleaning and laundering establishment, and super market.  The other side of the driveway might contain a gift and stationers shop, furniture, drug, hardware, grain and farm implements stores, plus a bus waiting 25th anniversary ad for Yokens 1972room.
  After the reading, Chairman John W. Durgin called an executive session, at which members of the board, Mrs. Hilda Hundley, M.E. Witmor and Forrest M. Eaton discussed a Portsmouth zoning survey compiled by Arthur C. Comey, Boston consultant.

Harry E. Yoken was not new to the Portsmouth.  He had lived in the area, and ran a produce company (fresh fruit and vegetables).  The Portsmouth Herald,  (NH) dated Friday, December 16, 1938, page 7: “Harry E. Yoken has taken over the building formerly occupied by J.T. Davis at 173 Market street and will open a wholesale grocery business.”

It would seem natural then, for a man with so much knowledge of retail food to enter the restaurant business.  And that he did, with his second wife Clarice (nee MacLeod).  His business model catered to everyone and his low prices appealed to this generation who had just come of out a war where many things were rationed.  His tasty meals were served quickly, and families (the growing generation of baby-boomers) were enthusiastically welcome.  His $1.00 menu was a popular offering–something continued even into 1972 on the restaurant’s 25th anniversary. Eventually members of his his second wife’s family, the MacLeod family, partnered with him and continued the business after his death.

Harry Euruchem Yoken, was the son of Russian immigrants to immigrated to New York, and then to Fall River MA.  Harry E. Yoken was born 29 December 1898 in Fall River, Bristol Co., MA, and died November 1972 at “The Valiant House,” his winter home in Hollywood, California.  At that time in the summer months he was living in Rye, Rockingham Co. NH.  He married 1) about 1920 to Harriet A. Chaveson [his son's bio states the surname is ChaveNson], daughter of Aaron & Bessie Chaveson of Fall River MA.  She was b. 8 January 1899 and died 18 Sep 1985 in Fall River, Bristol Co. MA.  Harry married 2nd) about 1937 to Clarice B. MacLeod.  She was b. 19 June 1909 in Kensington, Prince Edward Island, Canada,  and died 14 March 1997 .  Clarice is buried at Temple Israel Cemetery in Portsmouth NH.

Harry’s son by his first wife Harriet, Commodore Richard Lewis Yoken, was a US Navy V-12 graduate, serving as an officer aboard a subchaser and a destroyer escort in World War II and took part in the invasions of Sicily, Italy and Southern France.  He was interviewed by his alma mater, Rutgers University in 2010, providing several interesting stories about the family genealogy.  Richard Lewis Yoken was born 14 June 1920 in Bridgeport CT and passed away in August of 2011.


Portsmouth Patch: New Businesses Coming to Former Yoken’s (January 2013)
Portsmouth Patch: Developers to Invest $50K to Rehab Yoken’s Sign (May 2013)


1. FamilySearch – various births, marriages, and deaths.
2. Various newspaper sites, i.e. NewsBank, NewspaperArchive, WorldVitalRecords.3. Rutger’s Interview with Commodore Richard Lewis Yoken
4. United States Census, 1910-1940


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5 Responses to Missing Places: Yoken’s Restaurant in Portsmouth NH (1947-2004)

  1. Bill West says:

    Janice, something similar happened the next town over from here, in Whitman, Ma. The Toll House Restaurant, the birthplace of Toll House cookies, burned down and a Wendy’s now sits on that land. But the town managed to save the original small Toll House Restaurant sign with the painting of a town crier and it sits at the edge of the
    Wendy’s parking lot.

    • Janice Brown says:

      We do get so attached to some of our landmarks, don’t we? I didn’t know about the Toll House cookies sign. Next time you are out there, can you snap a photo please?

  2. Paul Sand says:

    Minor typo: “Harry E. Yoken was born 29 December 1898 in Fall River, Bristol Co., MA, and died November 1872″. (See, Janice, somebody does read that genealogical stuff.)

    My wife’s also from Fall River, she’ll be interested to know that Mr. Yoken was from there too.

  3. It is a landmark. I gave directions the other day and said, “Go straight past Yokens” and the other person knew exactly what I was talking about. A landmark even without the sign and building on the site.

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