Rockingham Hotel

More From Portsmouth More From New Hampshire

Guilt, worry and regret about actions done can cause restlessness.

A spirit who may have died from an accident can’t accept its death.

Untrue accusations made against people can still sear their spirits…




Tom and I couldn’t miss this grand, massive 5 story brick building, being a prominent presence on State Street. The word, “ROCKINGHAM” in gold letters is prominently displayed on the front. One also can’t help but notice the 4 gold lions strategically placed in its front facade. Fancy brickwork is lovely as well.

Inside, the beautiful woodwork found on the hotel’s original octagonal dining room ceiling was the work of the craftsmen from Pullman car Woodworkers in 1889. The outside panels of the dining room are a “Lindcrusta Walton, formed by pressed linen, separated by mahogany molding. The middle octagonal panels in the room are hand-painted, hand-carved Spanish Mahogany.”

The lights are all original to the hotel, inlaid with precious jewels. The foyer and dining room floors are made of marble, though the floor is covered in the dining room for safety reasons.

The first floor is home to the upscale Library Restaurant and Bar, in the old hotel library and dining room. The marble top found on the bar in the lounge area, was originally on the front check-in desk of the Rockingham hotel. Other businesses occupy the other spaces on the remaining footage of the first floor. Floors 2-4 are condos and apartments, that are rented/owned by people of Portsmouth.



Mover and shaker Woodbury Langdon married Sarah Sherburne, daughter of a rich merchant, who also happened to be his boss in 1765. Woodbury built a three story mansion on the spot of the current Rockingham building, as a place for his bride and family to live. They prospered as a couple, and raised 10 children, 5 boys and 5 girls.

When their family home burned down in the great fire in 1781, Woodbury rebuilt his mansion using brick, recreating a grander three story brick mansion, considered by many to be the most handsome brick home in New England, where he eventually retired, with Sarah by his side.

Woodbury Langdon was a strong patriot who contributed in many ways to his community and the new nation. Besides being a judge, he served as a Senator for New Hampshire to the Continental Congress for a year; 1779-1780. Though he was reelected, he chose to stay in New Hampshire, becoming a representative to state government, serving from 1778-1789. He served on the executive council as well, from 1781-1784.

From 1806 to 1883, the Langdon family home was transformed into a Public House, which meant it was turned into a commercial enterprise; offering a bar for alcohol sales, serving food, and had public rooms for events and occasions. In 1833, the building also became a hotel, under the ownership of Thomas Coburn.

In 1870, the building was bought by a wealthy brewer, Frank Jones, who enlarged the original building, creating an upper class hotel for the well-to-do. Unfortunately, the hotel was mostly destroyed in another fire in 1884, leaving only the original octagonal dining room. Jones simply rebuilt the hotel around the dining room, making the structure truly glorious, by spending a boatload of money, sparing no expense. This resulted in a solid, well-built, beautiful structure, meant to last for a long time.

Over the many years, this structure, in all its various stages of development has been honored by many famous people, who ate a meal here, and/or stayed overnight. George Washington, Franklin Pierce, James E. Polk, Theodore Roosevelt, Chester Arthur, William Taft, and John F. Kennedy are among the celebrity guests of this historical building. Being a favorite spot for politicians, it wasn’t surprising that the Russian-Japanese Treaty was signed here on August 8th, 1905.

In 1973, the hotel was sold to a development corporation, who wisely renovated the building into retail space on the first floor, and into condos and apartments on the other floors. It is still in great shape and going strong today, as of 2010.



Urban legend/ancient rumors suggest that Woodbury Langdon’s wife, Sarah Shelborne Langdon had an affair with the dashing John Paul Jones, who conveniently was a boarder in the stately home of the widow Purcell, just down the road, on Middle Street. There is no proof that Sarah was unfaithful. With 10 children to take care of, I wonder when and how would she find the time?

However, it could be theorized that perhaps Sarah did face some possible unmet needs. She got married as a teenager, though it probably was the norm at the time. Sarah wasn’t a grown woman yet, and perhaps didn’t realize what she needed in a marriage. As her husband was gone a lot due to his public service and business dealings, in the beginning of their marriage, one can see that she may have been lonely, in need of attention. She may have succumbed to John Paul Jones’ charms, and got what she needed from a man who was there.

Guilt, worry and regret about what they have done in life’s circumstances can cause a spirit to be restless.

However, as Portsmouth is a small town, it doesn’t take much for tongues to start wagging vicious gossip. Many women were probably jealous that someone so young could marry such a handsome, man with great prospects. As a young girl, perhaps she was caught talking to him, becoming more than a friendly neighbor, perhaps inviting him over to visit; more than once. Or worse, she might have been seen leaving his place alone, which is even more scandalous. Perhaps she was found guilty via public opinion, when she wasn’t actually a participant in adultery; just a violator of what was acceptable socially at the time.

Entities are sometime restless when they are declared guilty by either a court of law, or by public opinion of doing something they didn’t do. They want to clear their name somehow in this world, before they can let themselves go to the light and peace of the next world.

During the hotel days, a woman went for a swim at the nearby beach. She unfortunately drowned. People who die from unexpected accidents, sometimes can’t accept their untimely demise, and continue on as if nothing has happened.



Possible Entity of Sarah Woodbury

This entity may be the spirit who roams the halls and various apartments/condos in the building, looking to perhaps be the matron hostess in the house, looking after the guests in her home, hoping that this will clear her name from the untrue scandal. Or, she may be unable to rest, because of her guilt about the affair, so she puts herself to work, acting in a role that she was familiar with.

This spirit definitely seems to enjoy the old library/dining area, and lets herself known to the living in the lady’s rest room of the basement of The Library Restaurant. Women, while in the stalls, have heard the rustling sound of a large, full dress in the bathroom, when no one living was there.

The entity of the drowning victim

Her apparition has been described as a female entity with long black hair with streaks of gray highlights, wearing a long, white night gown. Before such an appearance in front of the living, the strong aroma of the sea fills the air. Since she adores the building, the last place she loved while alive, perhaps she has decided to join the staff and make people feel welcome, to earn her extended stay there.

Since the opening of The Rockingham, she has been a friendly, welcoming entity, and there have been many witnesses to her appearance in residents’ apartments/condos, and also has been known to appear in hallways and then does a disappearing act through the nearest wall.


Probably so, as the reports by witnesses still continue to this day. I think that there are 2 female spirits in house, though no hard evidence has been captured by either unofficial or professional paranormal investigators.

The entity seen in apartments/condos and in the Library Restaurant and its basement; Could be Sarah Woodbury still enjoys the rooms of the restaurant, and still lets other women know of her presence in the bathroom. There is no smell of the sea.

In 1998, this female apparition came to visit Esther Buffler, the first poet laureate who was elected by the citizens of Portsmouth. Soon after Esther Buffler moved into her apartment in The Rockingham, this gracious female apparition, dressed in a white night gown, appeared in front of Esther, bringing a welcoming, calming aura to the room. Esther also noticed the strong aroma of the sea. Esther saw this entity many times as well. This entity obviously was a poetry lover, and wanted to be on the welcoming committee. Esther was inspired, and wrote a poem about her, entitled “The White Lady of the Rockingham.” Reports of this entity continue today.




The Rockingham Hotel building, now the home of The Rockingham Library Restaurant, and other commercial businesses on the first floor, and condos on the other floors, can be found on State Street, very near Middle/Maple Street. Fleet Street is the other cross street. Porter Street runs right behind The Rockingham Hotel building. The Portsmouth Music Hall is within walking distance of this large building.


  • “Haunted New Hampshire” by Thomas D’Agostino
    Schiffer Publishing LTD, 2006

Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

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