New Hampshire Tidbits: Portsmouth’s Haven Park and Porter Statue

Statue of Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter in Haven Park, Portsmouth NH. Photograph courtesy of Richard S. Marsh.

I’ve taken the tour many times–a relaxed horse-drawn carriage ride taken through historic Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and right by Haven Park with the statue of General Fitz John Porter.  It is the real history that interests me more than whether the horse lifting one leg has any significance (which it doesn’t).  Much has been written about this locale, so I won’t repeat it, but I will share some unusual historical tidbits I discovered.

First: How was Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s Haven Park named, and when was it created?
The Park came about by a donation of property by Eliza Appleton Haven (1825-1897) to the City of Portsmouth–see Resolution below.  Reportedly the gift came about because her direct ancestor, Dr. Samuel Haven,” wished it so.  Any houses sitting on the property were acquired, moved or dismantled to create a park space.  Until 1899 the newspapers indicate that the park needing to be, or currently being cleaned up as some had been using it as a dumping place. So, Haven Park was named after Eliza A. Haven and the entire Haven family.  It technically was accepted by the City of Portsmouth in 1898 but the park was not completed until around 1900,  just in time for it to be altered again between 1903-1906 when the statue of Major Porter was added. The Park today is located between Edward Street, Pleasant Street and Livermore Street, bound on one side by South Mill Pond.

Sketch of Fitz John Porter and signature from “History of New Hampshire,” page 60.

(1) Resolution by Portsmouth NH to accept the gift of property.
27 May 1898 Portsmouth Herald, page 1. Joint Resolution in relation to Haven Park
Be it resolved by the City Councils of the City of Portsmouth, as follows:
That the city of Portsmouth hereby accept the lands devised to it by Eliza A. Haven, as appears by paragraph five of the will, now on file in the probate records for the county of Rockingham, and the lands devised to it by Charlotte M. Haven, as appears by paragraph fourteen of the said Charlotte’s will now on file in the probate records of said county; and said lands are accepted by said city subject to all the conditions, restrictions and reservations in said will expressed, pertaining to said devices. And said city also accept the legacy of two thousand dollars in the will of said Eliza A. Haven made to said city for the purpose of expending as much of the same as may be necessary in putting in order the grounds of said lands, in laying out walks and avenues, in fencing the park and in planting forest trees, shrubs, evergreens. Said lands above referred to are bounded as follows: Northerly by Pleasant street; easterly by land of Eliza A. Haven and by land of the heirs of the late Albert R. Hatch; southerly by the South mill pond and westerly by land owned by Eliza A. Haven and by the heirs of the late Edward Parry. Also a parcel of land bounded westerly by the above lot; southerly by land of the heirs of the late Albert R. Hatch; easterly by Livermore street, and northerly by Pleasant Street. Alderman Bates moved the gift be accepted and the resolution adopted under suspension of the rules. [the resolution passed].

Dedication Plaque at statue of Maj Gen Fitz John Porter, Portsmouth NH. Courtesy of Richard S. Marsh.

Second: Who built the Statue of Major General Fitz John Porter, and when was it dedicated?
An equestrian bronze statue of Maj. General Fitz John Porter was created through a donation of Mr. Robert Henry Eddy of Boston, and possibly additional funds from Portsmouth NH’s Grand Army of the Republic. It was dedicated at Haven Park, Portsmouth NH July 1, 1906. There was a great deal of controversy about the placement of this statue, SEE Boston Globe article from 31 March 1923.

A bit of background on the placement of this statue follows. Over the course of 7 years local newspapers mention several suggestions as to where the statue might be placed. In 1902 the Portsmouth Herald reported that some wanted to place the Fitz-John Porter statue in Haymarket Square but others argued against it saying the site was “too cramped for it.”  A public meeting eventually was held to obtain the opinion of and suggestions from the local residents. By 1903 it is apparent that Haven Park was determined to be the best place and the Portsmouth Herald of 5 May 1903 reported: “LAYING THE BASE. The work of laying the heavy granite base for the Fitz-John Porter statue in Haven park was started today. Alderman Lester has a gang of men there and all the granite has been hauled to the spot.”

Plate 2 of the Maj Gen Fitz John Porter statue base in Haven Park, Portsmouth NH. Photo courtesy Richard S. Marsh.

The earliest record I can find of this statue is  from The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol 56, 1901 reported on the death of Mrs. Annie Goddard Eddy, widow of the late Mr. Robert Henry Eddy, who was a civil engineer who had died in 1888, and a friend of the Major General Porter. That obituary noted “In addition to several other bequests, he gave to the city of Portsmouth, N.H. $30,000 for an equestrian statue of Major General Fitz John Porter, a native of that place.”

Oddly, the newspaper stories of 1906 when the statue was finally dedicated, do not mention the Eddy bequest at all.  New York Times, 2 July 1906 [same information in several other newspapers of the time] STATUE TO FITZJOHN PORTER. Dedicated at Portsmouth, N.H. on Malvern Hill Anniversary. PORTSMOUTH, N.H., July 1–The statue to Major Gen. Fitzjohn  Porter, erected through the efforts of the Grand Army, and presented to the city, was dedicated in Haven Park to-day, this being the anniversary of the battle of Malvern Hill, in which Gen. Porter distinguished himself. In connection with to-day’s event, there was a parade in which detachments of the United States Marine Corps., the State Militia, and veterans of the Civil and Spanish wars participated. The statue was presented to the city by Commander Michael E. Long of the Grand Army post and accepted by Mayor (of Portsmouth NH) William E. Marvin. The orator was Gen. Alexander S. Webb of New York, who was a personal friend of Gen. Porter.

Third: What artist created the Maj-General Fitz John Porter statue?
The creator of this statue was Irish-American sculptor James E. Kelly (1855-1933). According to Michael Cervin who wrote about James E. Kelly’s work, Mr. Kelly interviewed over 40 Civil War generals, including Maj. Gen Fitz John Porter, to glean authentic information to compose his works.

Bronze Plate by sculptor James E. Kelly at the base of the Maj Gen Fitz John Porter statue in Portsmouth NH. Photograph courtesy of Richard Marsh.

The Boston Globe, Boston MA, 17 Sep 1905.
During the most tense period of expectations and speculation as to the outcome of the peace negotiations between the Russians and the Japanese, the final touches to a monument, commemorative of exploits in war, almost escaped notice in Portsmouth.

On August 24, the last one of the panels for the colossal statue of Gen. Fitz John Porter, unveiled July 1, 1904, was placed in the pedestal. The panel is of bronze, 6 feet by 4, representing Gen. Porter reconnoitering the enemy’s position from the “runaway balloon,” and perhaps portrays one of the most thrilling incidents of the civil conflict.

Gen. McClellan’s army was besieging Yorktown, Prof. E.T.C. Loew [sic Lowe] of the engineering corps, a practiced aeronautic and a great believer in the time of balloons for observation purposes in war, had made a number of ascensions, on many of his trips being accompanied by Gen. Porter. It takes practice and experience to enable one to readily make out the topography of a country from a great height in the air. The balloon was held by a silk cord or rope and was usually sent up a distance of about 2500 feet.

Plate at base of Maj Gen Fitz John Porter Statue showing him being wounded. at at Chapultepec. Courtesy Richard S. Marsh.

Porter had become an expert as an observationist, but knew little of the practical management of the balloon. About 5 o’clock in the morning of April 11, 1862, Porter decided to make an observation, and jumped into the car. The men were paying out the rope as usual when suddenly it snapped and the balloon was free, with the general the sole occupant. He appeared over the edge of the car waving his hands frantically.
“Open the valve,” shouted Prof. Lowe, “Climb to the netting and reach the valve rope!”
Porter heard and understood. He climbed up the netting but was unable to reach the cord, which was turned around by the wind. Then he descended to the floor of the car again, unslung his field glass and coolly proceeded to take observations.

This attitude of soldierly indifference to his own peril, this determination to make the most of his opportunity is the “psychological moment” that the sculptor, James E. Kelly, has selected for his work. The incident is historic and everything connected with its portrayal in bronze is depicted with the marvelous fidelity to minute details for which Mr. Kelly is noted. Mr. Kelly had several conversations with Gen. Porter, and also with Prof. Loew, concerning the uniform worn by the general on that occasion, the field glass used in making his observations and everything that occurred on that hair-raising ride through space.

The hotel at which the Russian and Japanese peace plenipotentiaries stopped at Portsmouth is within a stone’s throw of the Porter monument.

 Fourth: Did Portsmouth NH honor Major General Porter in any other way?
Yes, at least one other.

In the column, ‘Tales of a Distant Past’ by Ray Brighton in the Portsmouth Herald of 27 April 1957, page 4 is related: “PORTER STREET. This narrow by-way has had several names. From Middle street to Fleet it was called Fetter lane from the prison that once stood in the southwest corner of its intersection, with Chestnut street, and from Fleet to Pleasant it was Pond lane. In 1838 the selectmen changed the name of the whole length to Warren street for Dr. Joseph Warren, killed at Bunker Hill. Some time in this [20th] century it was changed to Porter street, honoring that controversial figure of the Civil War, Gen. Fitz-John Porter.

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4 Responses to New Hampshire Tidbits: Portsmouth’s Haven Park and Porter Statue

  1. Amy says:

    Portsmouth is such a beautiful spot. We have stopped there for lunch a couple of times en route to visit friends in Maine. Next time I will have to look for Haven Park and the statue. Great name for a park—if I hadn’t read this, I would have assumed that they meant that park was a haven.

    • Janice Brown says:

      Amy, a member of the Haven family donated the land to the city. Whether or not it was a “haven,” is a question, though it seems to have been for the statue which the residents did not seem to want.

  2. Pamela Barrett says:

    Haven Park will always have a sad memory for me as a good friend sat on the bench and died. However, it is a very inviting place to spend some time.

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