Friends of the Pearl, 1999-2004

Collection number: MC 217
Size: (5 boxes) (1.65 cu.ft.)

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 nonprofit meetings.

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 Trail, Inc.

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 use.

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.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

This collection is open.

Copyright Notice

Contents of this collection are governed by U.S. copyright law. For questions about publication or reproduction rights, contact Special Collections staff.

Preferred Citation

[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.

Acquisitions Information

Gift, Valerie Cunningham, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, May 6, 2008 (Accession number: 2008.05)

MC 218 Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail Papers

Collection Contents

Box 1
Box 1, Folder 1Proposal to save the Pearl, 2001
Box 1, Folder 2Pearl history
Box 1, Folder 3-7Fundraising materials
Box 1, Folder 8Merrill Black
Box 1, Folder 9Corporate Sponsorship of the Pearl of Portsmouth Preservation Initiative, 7/9/2002
Box 1, Folder 10-11NH Preservation Alliance, LCHIP
Box 1, Folder 12Historic Registers
Box 1, Folder 13-14Commmunity Development Block Grant (CDBG)
Box 1, Folder 15Steeple
Box 2
Box 2, Folder 1-4Correspondence, mailing lists
Box 2, Folder 5-6Notes
Box 2, Folder 7Website
Box 2, Folder 8Fliers
Box 2, Folder 9-11Martin Luther King (1952) program
Box 2, Folder 12Singles dance
Box 2, Folder 13Juneteenth
Box 2, Folder 14Second Sunday
Box 2, Folder 15West End tours
Box 2, Folder 16Bahai PAC
Box 3
Box 3, Folder 1Margaret Britton
Box 3, Folder 2Affordable Housing
Box 3, Folder 3Pearl Arts Project
Box 3, Folder 4Art Speaks, Etc.
Box 3, Folder 5Horace Seldon
Box 3, Folder 6Steve Fowle/Gazette
Box 3, Folder 7New Hope Church - history
Box 3, Folder 8Misc., PBC to 72 Restaurant
Box 3, Folder 9Unity Church
Box 3, Folder 10Free Will Baptists
Box 3, Folder 11Dinah Mayo
Box 3, Folder 12-13Purchase of the Pearl
Box 3, Folder 14-Deeds
Box 3, Folder 15LCHIP
Box 3, Folder 16-19Easement
Box 3, Folder 20Phase I/II
Box 3, Folder 21Zoning
Box 4
Legal documents

This box contains legal documents including real estate appraisal, income and expenses and other financial documents.

Box 5

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.



Legal Papers
Letters & Postcards
Newspapers & Publications
Photographs, Slides & Negatives
Video Recordings