Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Portsmouth is a coastal New England city situated in Rockingham County in the southeastern part of the US State of New Hampshire. The city of Portsmouth is New Hampshire’s only seaport, its second oldest city, its first capital, and the oldest settlement. Located along the Piscataqua River, the city of Portsmouth serves as a popular summer tourist destination.


View of Portsmouth, New Hampshire waterfront
View of Portsmouth, New Hampshire waterfront. 

The city of Portsmouth covers a total area of 43.6 sq. km, of which 3.0 sq. km is occupied by water and 40.6 sq. km is occupied by land. The city is drained by three rivers, Berrys Brook, Sagamore Creek, and the Piscataqua River, which borders the US States of New Hampshire and Maine. The city of Boston is located about 89km to the south of Portsmouth, the city of Portland about 85km to the northeast, and the city of Dover about 21km to the northwest. The city is bordered by the towns of New Castle in the east; Kittery in the northeast; Rye in the southeast; Newington in the west; Eliot in the northwest; and Greenland in the southwest. The city of Portsmouth is crossed by several major highways, including the New Hampshire Route 33, New Hampshire Route 1A, U.S. Route 4, New Hampshire Route 16, U.S. Route 1, and the Interstate 95. The city’s highest point is located within the Pease International Airport and rises to an elevation of 34m above sea level. The city of Portsmouth is administered under a council-manager form of government.

Market Square in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Historic buildings on Market Street at Market Square in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Editorial credit: Wangkun Jia / Shutterstock.com

The Market Square in the city’s downtown features many historic buildings, white-steepled churches, art galleries, rustic brick shops and townhouses, sidewalk cafes, seafood restaurants, etc. Located in the South End historic district of the city, the Strawberry Banke Museum is an outdoor history museum that features more than 37 restored historic buildings with colonial, Georgian, and Federal-style architectures. In addition to this, there are many historic house museums in the city, including Governor John Langdon House, John Paul Jones House, Richard Jackson House, Wentworth House, etc. Located adjacent to the Strawberry Banke Museum, Prescott Park is a waterfront park that serves as a perfect place for picnicking among its beautiful gardens as well as a site for hosting various special summer entertainments like the Prescott Park Arts Festival.


Portsmouth's South End historic district after a winterstorm.
Portsmouth's charming South End historic district after a winter storm. Editorial credit: Richard Cavalleri / Shutterstock.com

According to the Köppen climate classification, the city of Portsmouth experiences a humid continental climate, with moderately warm and wet summers and freezing, snowy winters. The warm season lasts from June to September, with July being the hottest month, having an average high temperature of 26.6°C and a low temperature of 17.2°C. The cold season lasts from December to March, with January being the coldest month, having an average low temperature of -6.6°C and a high temperature of 1.11°C. The city receives an average rainfall of 1,287mm and an average snowfall of 165cm in a year.

Population of Portsmouth

As of the 2020 US census, about 21,956 people live in the city of Portsmouth. The city’s population has increased from the 2010 census, which showed that the city was home to about 21,233 residents. The city has a population density of 541.3 inhabitants per sq. km. About 90.0% of the city’s population is considered White, the non-Hispanic group at 87.7%, Hispanic group at 3.2%, African Americans at 2.5%, American Indians at 0.1%, Asians at 4.8%, and two or more races at 2.3%. The census also revealed that there are 10,063 households in the city with a median household income of $83,923.

Brief History

Historic Home of Governor John Langdon in Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Historic Home of Governor John Langdon in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. 

Before the Europeans arrived, the territory of coastal New Hampshire was inhabited for several years by the indigenous American Indians belonging to the Abenaki group and other Algonquian-speaking nations. In 1603, the English explorer Martin Pring became the first known European to explore and write about the area. A fishing settlement was built at the mouth of the Piscataqua River in 1623. In 1630, the west bank of the harbor was settled by the European colonists who named their settlement “Strawbery Banke.” The colonial port prospered due to its strategic location, and soon shipbuilding, lumber, and fishing became the region’s major businesses. Portsmouth served as one of the nation's busiest ports and shipbuilding cities. In 1645, many enslaved Africans were brought to the area as laborers. In 1653, the town was incorporated and named “Portsmouth” in honor of Captain John Mason – the colony’s founder, who also served as the captain of the port of Portsmouth in England.

The town of Portsmouth also initially served as the provincial capital of New Hampshire. Under threats during the American Revolution, the government decided to shift the capital from Portsmouth to the town of Exeter that located much inland compared to Portsmouth. During the Revolutionary War, the African Americans helped to defend the town of Portsmouth and New England. The town of Portsmouth was reincorporated as a city in 1849. Established in 1800, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, is the oldest continuously operating shipyard of the US Navy that also played a significant role in facilitating the economic growth of the city of Portsmouth. On September 5, 1905, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard also served as the site of the signing of the “Treaty of Portsmouth” that officially ended the Russo-Japanese War.

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