Rundlet-May House: A “Modern” 1808 Federal Home in Portsmouth, NH

Each year I spend a week on the beach on the North Shore of Massachusetts, an we typically take a drive up the windy coast which eventually plops you right into downtown Portsmouth, NH. It has always reminded me a bit of Salem, MA in the way that historic homes line the narrow streets, and it certainly has a sense of New England charm to it. This past weekend we made an overnight trip of it – and while I only made it to one of out three Historic New England homes that are located in Portsmouth, it gives me a nice excuse to go back!

Historical Highlights

  • This pretty, three-level Federal style home was built for James Rundlet, his wife Jane, and their seven children in 1808. James & Jane would welcome SIX MORE children while in this home for a grand total of thirteen – omg.
  • James grew up in Exeter, NH (where the Gilman Garrison house is!) and moved to Portsmouth in 1794 to start his business. He dabbled in a few different trades, but became intrigued with textiles such as lace and velvet, along with more simpler & common fabrics of the time, and that is how he amassed his fortune. His shop was located in downtown Portsmouth, and another similar shop sits in its place today.
  • The War of 1812 was not kind to most businesses in the area, but James Rundlet became the exception as he secured a contract for the US government to supply cloth for the soldiers uniforms – cha ching! He later even received accolades from President Madison for the quality of his wool.
  • Rundlet, aside from a businessman, was very interested in technology and insisted on having the best of the best in his home. You see evidence of this still today as you visit the house, with his top of the line 1809 kitchen, the vents in the floors and on the side of the fireplaces to distribute heat more evenly, and the “amenities” he had designed for his house staff. He grew up on a farm, and therefore ran a self-sufficient household by eating what they grew and their farm animals. His affinity for technology reminds me of William Emery Channing Eustis and his home, the Eustis Estate – I wonder how they would have gotten along!
  • James Rundlet passed away in 1852, leaving his fortune and home to his family. Louisa Rundlet, one of his daughters, returned to her childhood home in 1858 with her two twin children after the unexpected passing of her husband. Her brother, Edward, was a local doctor also residing in the home, and ran his practice out of the home as well. Two more of James & Jane’s daughters also still lived in the home – so, it’s safe to say it remained a full house.
  • Four generations of Rundlets would call this house “home”, continuing through 1936 with one of Louisa’s twins also becoming a doctor, and living in the home with his wife Mary Ann. They worked hard to keep the house “as is”, which is why we can still enjoy today original wallpaper and other details. They did, however, have an impact on the grounds and the gardens you see are their design, along with the sweet pet cemetery as they were animal lovers.
  • Another generation of the Rundlet-May family began using the home as a summer retreat in the late 1930s, Ralph & Gladys May, and Ralph is the one who connected the home with Historic New England, who owns it today! He deeded the home to the preservation society in 1971 and operates today as a house museum.

Favorite Places

Kitchen

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James Rundlet installed this Rumford range & roaster in 1809, and was apparently one of the first Americans to test out this technology. The large circle to the left of the fireplace was for roasting meat, and the burner technology to the right of the fireplace (you can see five small fireboxes close to the ground) is a precursor to how we cook on a range top today. He also had a smoke room built on the third floor, where he could pull a knob on this fireplace to release smoke up the chimney into that room to smoke pork. I would have definitely said yes to an invite to dinner with the Rundlets!

Study

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Such a cozy room that felt really intimate to who Ralph & James were. Memorabilia covers just about every surface, including smoking pipes & sentimental pieces such as dog collars belonging to their furry friends who rest in the pet cemetery below.

Garden 

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I’m a sucker for pretty flowers, what can I say. I can only imagine that this place is beau-tee-ful in the early spring – though I have no complaints about early October!

Scullery

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Apparently, the Rundlet house was the place to be a house maid if you had a choice. James liked efficiency – and designed the home to be just that. All of the outbuildings are actually attached and ‘indoors’, so the workers didn’t have to brave cold temperatures to use the loo or get supplies. He also designed the home so that there is actually a well inside, just off this scullery, along with a huge copper “set kettle” that would allow the staff to boil large amounts of water at a time. Work smarter not harder people!

Parlor

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This peach colored wallpaper is original and what James & Jane picked out in the early 1800’s – so pretty! It’s amazingly well preserved, and the drapes are a beautiful as you would expect in the home of a textile businessman.

Visiting Tips

  • Portsmouth, NH has a lot to offer – historic homes, delicious restaurants, and all right on the water. Make a day of it!
  • There are two other Historic New England homes located in Portsmouth – so have at it! Portsmouth is fairly compact, so wear some comfortable shoes and plan to do some walking!

Top Photos

Below are some of my favorite shots of the Rundlet-May house but I’ll be sharing more on our Facebook & Instagram pages! Enjoy!

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Wow, what a wonderful pursuit! I would be so totally into doing this! I am looking forward to getting to explore New England even more next summer. Thanks for sharing all of this!

    Like

    1. Candice says:

      So glad you enjoy following my journey! It’s definitely been fun – already anxious for the houses to open up again next Spring! :0)

      Liked by 1 person

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