From the mid-nineteenth century into the early years of the twentieth century, most of Portsmouth's houses of ill-fame and low-class saloons were concentrated on Water Street, (today Marcy Street). City officials and the police gave unofficial sanction to those activities until 1912, when a series of four apparent murders of marines from the Navy Yard brought demands from Navy commanders that the area be cleaned up.
The Gloucester House Not fewer than ten brothels existed on Water Street at the height of its notoriety. The Gloucester House was generally regarded as the most refined and its prostitutes commanded the highest rates in town. The building stood at the corner of State and Water Streets. The madam was the colorful Mary Baker, a statuesque beauty who is said to have sported two diamonds inset in her front teeth. Photograph of Gloucester House, Patch collection. Courtesy of Strawberry Banke Museum.
Cappy Stewart Charles "Cappy" Stewart operated a thriving brothel and saloon at 51 Water Street, opposite the then-defunct Marine Railway. From 1897 to 1912, he was arrested only twice, neither offense involving prostitution. After the city's clampdown on vice, in the area, he became a successful dealer in antiques. Photograph of Charles "Cappy" Stewart. Courtesy of Strawberry Banke Museum
Tree Island Beginning in about 1877, Four Tree Island, owned by Charles E. Grey, was used as "a place of entertainment" featuring prostitution and cock fighting. A dance hall and a small museum there housed such things as shoes worn by Jesse James and numerous stuffed animals. Much of this collection was destroyed by a fire in 1906. Today the island is a public park, accessible by causeway just past the Pierce Island Bridge. Photograph of Four Tree Island courtesy of Portland Athenaeum
Chief Marshall Thomas Entwistle For years City Marshall Thomas Entwistle, an Irish immigrant, Civil War hero, and highly popular officer in the town ensured that his force would have little to hamper the operations of the brothels and saloons on Water Street. It was commonly believed that he did so on the behest of city officials, many of whom were reputed to be frequent patrons of the brothels. Entwistle resigned from the force in 1912, bowing to intense pressure from a new city administration. Photograph of City Marshall Thomas Entwistle courtesy of the Portsmouth Police Department.
Scene before the creation of Prescott Park
The waterfront area remained seedy long after the brothels and saloons were cleaned out. It was not until the 1930's and the creation of Prescott Park that it slowly began to acquire its present landscaped and gentrified appearance.
Photograph of Portsmouth before Prescott Park courtesy of Portsmouth Athenaeum.