In 1904, war broke out between the Empire of Russia and the Empire of Japan. Both countries were fighting for dominance in Manchuria (now part of northern China) and Korea. It wasn’t long, however, before heavy losses on both sides and the economic impact of the war in both countries led Japan to ask President Theodore Roosevelt to negotiate a peace treaty. Because August 1905 was the month chosen for the summit, Roosevelt picked Portsmouth, N.H., as the location for the negotiations, as it would be much cooler than sweltering Washington D.C. The resulting Treaty of Portsmouth was signed in September of 1905, the first international treaty to be signed in the United States, and Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in 1906.
Historians believe that the hospitality of the residents of Portsmouth and surrounding areas played a significant informal role in creating an atmosphere that made the settlement possible. When the Russian and Japanese diplomats came to Portsmouth, both groups were entertained by some of the city’s most prominent citizens. One of them was Portsmouth’s most eminent doctor, a noted expert on hospital design who’d served as a surgeon during the Civil War.
Dr. Arthur Heffenger acquired his Portsmouth home a few years after the Civil War and some 35 years later, entertained the visiting Russian diplomats there. One of them later wrote: “In the evening we went to a party at Dr. Heffenger’s, an old resident of this place. The young people danced, some of them sat about the garden and flirted, everywhere there was genuine gaiety and simplicity. I especially liked the terms that existed between the young men and the girls—much freedom of manner and familiarity, perhaps even too much.”
Today, Heffenger’s house and garden, which dates back to 1804 and is now known as the Pickering-Heffenger House (after the good doctor and its first owner), is available for purchase. The six-bedroom, four-bathroom, 7,823-square-foot home, set on 0.4 of an acre of land, was recently listed for $3.89 million by Tony Jalbert with Tate & Foss Sotheby’s International Realty.
Much of the grandeur of the 1905 era remains in the house today, especially in the elaborate woodwork of the public rooms: quadruple crown moldings, marble mantels and opulent staircases. The rest of the commodious home includes many fireplaces, nooks and crannies, and lots of fantastic built-ins. Little of the past remains in the thoroughly modern kitchen that sports wide-planked cherry floors, granite countertops and multiples of each appliance.
Dr. Heffenger was a noted sportsman; old photos of him in the Portsmouth Athanaeum show him mounted on his favorite horse, and there are photos of his prize-winning foxhounds. The stables he built to house his steeds and hounds have been converted to apartments, two one-bedroom units and one two-bedroom unit, all with ample parking.
The property is just steps away from downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s oldest city and still a tourist draw because of its quaint authenticity. Given its size and charm, the home would make a fabulous historic inn or B&B, while the apartments could be also used as short term vacation rentals. Indeed, the sellers have already thought of that: there’s a license in place to convert the house to an inn.
Along with its unique legacy, plenty of potential exists to make new history with this fantastic old house.