An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

February 12, 2010

Olde Towne Portsmouth

I headed to Portsmouth today to pick up a Valentine's Day gift and thought I would spend some time walking through Olde Towne. This part of Portsmouth is rich in history and architecture, as well as some great shops and restaurants. Unfortunately the charms of Olde Towne are often overlooked by the rest of Hampton Roads.

There are many churches in Olde Towne, and one of my favorites is a great big confection made of pink granite. Court Street Baptist Church was built in the Richardson Romanesque style, and it looks so exotic that it could possible double as a mosque.
Court Street Baptist Church 2

I tried to get inside for a look, but the ornate door was locked. However, I did get a peek of one of the stained glass windows. The anchor is an appropriate symbol in a city whose existence owes a great debt to the sea.
Court Street Baptist Church Door

Court Street Baptist Church Stained Glass Anchor Detail

Portsmouth's Confederate memorial sits right in the middle of Court St.
Confederate Monument

Confederate Monument Sailor

Live Oaks and an iron fence frame the old Norfolk County courthouse. There is no longer a Norfolk County and now the courthouse is an art museum.
Norfolk County Courthouse

Across from the courthouse is Trinity Episcopal and the churchyard and cemetery are surrounded by a Nandina clad brick wall.
Nandina domestica

Mossy Memorial

Portsmouth has always been a little sleepier than its older sister across the river, and as a result much of the downtown area was spared from the urban renewal bulldozers. Although, there are a great many houses that survived from the colonial era, architectural styles from many other eras can be found as well. The houses are densely packed, but there are gardens and several small parks tucked between them.

Middle Street House Detail

Side Garden

This building was was built as the Macon House Hotel, but during the Civil War it housed troops and was one of the area's many hospitals. Right after I graduated college I rented an apartment in this building. I am not a superstitious man, but this was the only place I ever lived that I felt was haunted.
Macon House

The lightship Portsmouth is now permanently berthed in concrete next to Elizabeth River.
The Lightship Portsmouth 2

The Lightship Portsmouth 1

The Portsmouth Seawall offers great views of the working waterfront and downtown Norfolk.
Elizabeth River 1

Elizabeth River 2

Elizabeth River - Norfolk Skyline

One of our good friends recently moved overseas and divested himself of many possessions, including a panorama taken in 1914 of the Norfolk waterfront. I have always admired it and am grateful it is now in our house. I took the above shot today, at about the same place this photo was taken 96 years ago.


  1. Great tour of Olde Towne Portsmouth. I have driven around Portsmouth (saw Bonnie Raitt at the Portsmouth Pavillion a couple years ago...and John Prine and Nanci Griffith before Isabel at the Pavillion) love the restaurants in Olde Towne... a good German restaurant is there. Also been to Bobby Brown', ok.
    Will have to look at the photos on my larger monitor...want to see both on the same screen.

  2. As a history teacher and the owner of an old house I appreciate the tour.

  3. The Court Street Baptist Church is an interesting example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style . I have enjoyed another example of this style in a nearby town a library in Northampton Ma. ... The Forbes Library. I love the contrast of the dark and lighter stone with all the arches that is so characteristic of that style. The last photo is very interesting! I can see why you would admire and be glad for owning it. ;>)

  4. This makes me itch for a 'road trip'. Thanks for the tour.
    ... Connie

  5. Fascinating before and after of the waterfront.

  6. Great photos Les. I did a photowalk in P-Town last May as part of a "Tweet-up" sponsored by some Hampton Roads photographers on Twitter. They use the hash tag #HRVA. One of my favorite Romaneaque churches is Epworth United Methodist Churchin Norfolk.

  7. Nice tour! I especially liked the mossy lettering on the gravestone. I wonder if I could recreate that for a project.

  8. I love the history and beautiful architecture that is found on the east coast and do miss it. Thanks Les for a wonderful tour! You and your wife have a great Valentine weekend.

  9. Janet,
    Ich liebe den Biergarten! We went there a couple of weeks ago after visiting Anderson-Wright's. My family and friends wanted hot coffee and sweets, I couldn't make it past the volumnious beer list.

    You would like old town, it has lots of history and lots of old houses.

    I need them as I suffer from restless legs syndrome compounded with wanderlust.

    I really like this style as well. It is a shame that buildings are not constructed with as much detail today.

    You are not too far away.

    I have a thing for old photos.

    I like the church as well. It has a more somber tone than Court St.

    I think that organic debris must collect down in the space cut out for the letters, than I guess moss grows. The Trinity churchyard is very shady and moss grows where a lawn would otherwise, which I am sure contributes.

    Happy Valenine's day to you as well. I also appreciate the history that is here. It makes me feel connected and grounded.


  10. Beautiful photos! I find it amazing how similar the Portsmouths are. I grew up in Portsmouth, NH, which looks much like your Portsmouth....It, in turn, looks a good bit like Portsmouth, England.

    I think the moss-filled stone is my favorite of the photos, as well!

  11. What great pictures... I love door knob pic.'s great shot!

  12. Les, I always enjoy coming over and traveling with you. I loved the tombstone with the name and date outlined in moss. Such a beautiful church. Thank you. Happy Valentine's Day.~~Dee

  13. I love the church and that gorgeous stained glass window.

  14. It's great to get a seaside tour in the middle of winter. The extra "e"s at the end of words like Olde Towne always make me want to talk in old-timey accents.

  15. What beautiful architecture, thanks for the tour!

  16. Thank you for this great tour through Portsmouth. Nice!

  17. Super tour of the city. We have friends who live close to Portsmouth and talk about it when they visit. next time we are up there, I want to spend more time there!

  18. Tim,
    Portsmouth does have a unique look. Even though Norfolk has always been a quick ferry trip across the river, the two cities developed different architectural traditions.

    I can honestly say that was my first door knob shot. I am glad you like it.

    I wish I could take everyone on more exotic trips. Happy Valentine's Day to you as well.

    Sweet Bay,
    It looks like every window in the building is made of stained glass. I will have to get back and go inside.

    Maybe talk like a pirate too? I find it irritating when people use that extra e in olde, towne, or shoppe.

    You are quite welcome.

    You are also quite welcome.

    You should definately try to make it. Your friends likely know what to see and where to eat, but if you need suggestions let me know.