Guide to the Friends of the Pearl papers, 1999-2004
Collection number: MC 217
About The Pearl of Portsmouth
("How the Friends Saved the Pearl", written by
Friends of the Pearl, 2008):
The Pearl of Portsmouth is the only historic African-American church structure in the
state of New Hampshire. Built in 1858 by the Free Will Baptist Congregation and was
enlarged in 1868 with the addition of an entry bay and steeple. It was sold to the
People’s Baptist Church in 1915 and served the Seacoast African-American community
until the 1970s.
The church had an active congregation for 125 years and was the heart of black
Portsmouth’s social, political and spiritual life. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
preached at the church on Oct. 26, 1952, while he was a divinity student at Boston
University. His sermon was titled “Going Forward by Going Backward.” The local
chapter of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) received its charter
here in 1958.
The congregation grew and moved to a larger location in 1984. Remodeled for a
restaurant that later closed, the building was subsequently purchased by Margaret
Britton, spiritual advisor to the Unity congregation. She operated the former
sanctuary as a function hall for a wide range of weddings, community forums and
The Friends of The Pearl began as a volunteer committee
concerned with the long-term future of the Pearl Street Church. The ad hoc group
evolved into the project fundraising committee of the Portsmouth Black Heritage
In 2001 The Portsmouth Advocates helped by winning a Preservation Services Grant from
the National Trust for Historic Preservation to assess the Physical damage from
delayed maintenance. Timber framing specialist Arron Sturgis evaluated the
building’s preservation needs and ranked the costs of the renovations.
Using his condition report, The Friends of The Pearl proposed a three-phase plan to
rescue Pearl Street Church from its most serious long-term deterioration. The plans
also offered a unique solution – to preserve the privately owned building and
protect public access to tis historic interior, while allowing continued commercial
In 2002 the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail spearheaded the restoration of the Pearl
Street Church with the support of Boston University’s nationally recognized
Preservation Studies Program, directed by Prof. Richard Candee. Graduate students
prepared the National Register nomination, research local funding opportunities and
advocated Black Grant funds for handicapped access, written grant proposals to state
and national agencies, and exploring bank financing and income opportunities. The
same year the Greater Piscataqua Foundation funded a capacity-building grant for
fundraising and outreach.
New Hampshire’s Landmark and Cultural Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) offered the
Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail a $164,000 matching grant to begin exterior
restoration of the Pearl and to maintain what remains of its historical appearance.
The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA) is represented on
the Friends of the Pearl Board and offered the Rundlet-May House, its 1807 museum
property in Portsmouth’s historic district, as the site for the restoration of the
Pearl’s belfry. This restoration, completed by contractor Aaron Sturgis of
Preservation timber Framing, Inc., took place between may and mid-September 2003.
The project not only rebuilt the decayed belfry and improved the building’s
exterior, but donated a permanent preservation easement, to the New Hampshire
Preservation Alliance, the leading statewide nonprofit preservation organization.
Gary Dodds purchased the building in 2005 and renovated it to add many modern
amenities and increased functionality, and to bring the interior back to more
closely resemble the original floor plan. Today, The Pearl is used for wedding
receptions, corporate events and private parties, as well as public events such as
comedy and dance nights.
About the Friends of the Pearl papers
This collection contains the files compiled by Valerie Cunningham, President of the
Black Heritage Trail, Inc., which spearheaded the restoration of the Pearl Street
Church. It includes correspondence, grant proposals,
fundraising and publicity materials, research materials, articles and newsclippings,
financial materials and photographs.
This collection is open.
Contents of this collection are governed by U.S. copyright law. For questions
about publication or reproduction rights, contact Special Collections staff.
[Identification of item], [Folder number], [Box number], Friends of the Pearl
papers, 1999-2001, MC 217, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of
New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH, USA.
Gift, Valerie Cunningham, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, May 6, 2008 (Accession
MC 218 Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail Papers
|Box 1, Folder 1||Proposal to save the Pearl, 2001 |
|Box 1, Folder 2||Pearl history|
|Box 1, Folder 3-7||Fundraising materials|
|Box 1, Folder 8||Merrill Black|
|Box 1, Folder 9||Corporate Sponsorship of the Pearl of Portsmouth Preservation
|Box 1, Folder 10-11||NH Preservation Alliance, LCHIP |
|Box 1, Folder 12||Historic Registers|
|Box 1, Folder 13-14||Commmunity Development Block Grant (CDBG)|
|Box 1, Folder 15||Steeple |
|Box 2, Folder 1-4||Correspondence, mailing lists|
|Box 2, Folder 5-6||Notes|
|Box 2, Folder 7||Website|
|Box 2, Folder 8||Fliers|
|Box 2, Folder 9-11||Martin Luther King (1952) program|
|Box 2, Folder 12||Singles dance|
|Box 2, Folder 13||Juneteenth|
|Box 2, Folder 14||Second Sunday|
|Box 2, Folder 15||West End tours|
|Box 2, Folder 16||Bahai PAC|
|Box 3, Folder 1||Margaret Britton|
|Box 3, Folder 2||Affordable Housing|
|Box 3, Folder 3||Pearl Arts Project|
|Box 3, Folder 4||Art Speaks, Etc.|
|Box 3, Folder 5||Horace Seldon|
|Box 3, Folder 6||Steve Fowle/Gazette|
|Box 3, Folder 7||New Hope Church - history|
|Box 3, Folder 8||Misc., PBC to 72 Restaurant|
|Box 3, Folder 9||Unity Church|
|Box 3, Folder 10||Free Will Baptists|
|Box 3, Folder 11||Dinah Mayo|
|Box 3, Folder 12-13||Purchase of the Pearl|
|Box 3, Folder 14-||Deeds|
|Box 3, Folder 15||LCHIP|
|Box 3, Folder 16-19||Easement|
|Box 3, Folder 20||Phase I/II|
|Box 3, Folder 21||Zoning|
This box contains legal documents including real estate appraisal, income and
expenses and other financial documents.
This box contains press releases, magazine articles and newspaper clippings
about the Pearl and the Friends of the Pearl. It also contains a VHS tape of
"The Pearl" produced by WMUR for Chronicle Feb. 4, 2004 and photographs,
primarily of renovation of the belfry.