B enjamin F. Webster was born in Epsom, New Hampshire on September 7, 1824, the son of Richard and Mary (Polly) Webster. His parents were from Rye, N.H., and would eventually return there before young Webster completed his education. In his later life, he remembered Rye with a gift to the Rye Library.
Mr. Webster came to Portsmouth at the age of seventeen and was apprenticed to Benjamin Norton, a local carpenter. He mastered not only trades connected with building construction, but also became a proficient ships joiner, at a time when many famous Clipper Ships were constructed on the banks of the Piscataqua River.
On January 2, 1849, at the age of 24, Webster was married to the former Sarah A. Senter. They had two children, Merritt and Stella.
His career as a building contractor prospered. He and some other prominent men formed a syndicate and rebuilt the Congress Block that had been destroyed by fire on November 30, 1865. In addition to this building he supervised the construction of the Kearsarge Hotel, the Cabot Street School, remodeled three Churches, and built many of the notable Victorian residences of Portsmouth. He became one of Portsmouth's wealthiest men and largest property owners.
In 1880, Mr. Webster reserved a choice piece of land bounded by Highland, Broad, and Merrimac Streets set amid beautifully landscaped grounds located on a hilltop that was once known as "Rundlett's Mountain," where he constructed a Mansion for he and his family. In design, the house is a combination of the "Italianate" and "Renaissance revival" styles, the latter a nineteenth century development that often lent its mannered elements to furniture designs. The inside of the mansion is extraordinarily sumptuous, making lavish use of woods such as walnut, mahogany, and gumwood.
Mr. Webster died after a short illness at the age of 91, on January 5, 1916. Funeral services were held from his home here at 84 Broad Street on January 8, 1916. He was buried in Harmony Grove Cemetery located in the South Cemetery on South Street and Sagamore Avenue. He was preceded in death by his wife Sarah on April 23, 1913.
After Mr. Webster's death, his daughter Stella continued to live in the Webster Mansion, until she had to enter the Wentworth Home. During her lifetime she traveled around the world several times, was credited with many charitable acts, was very active with the Portsmouth District Nursing Association, the Family Welfare Association, served as trustee of the Wentworth Home and was also a charter member of the Graffort Club.
Stella Webster died on February 21, 1952 at the age of 97, in Portsmouth. She was buried in Harmony Grove Cemetery beside her father. .
In the early 1950's, the Webster Mansion on Broad Street was purchased by George Bradford Ward, a Portsmouth Funeral Director. This large brown house with its turreted cupola was superb for holding funeral services.
For many years J. Verne Wood, a cousin to Mr. Ward, conducted his undertaking business in the Buckminster House on the corner of Islington and Bridge Streets. Mr. Wood called his funeral home Buckminster Chapel, after the Rev. Buckminster who had lived in the house and served as Pastor of the North Congregational Church from 1779 to 1812.
Sometime in the 1940s George B. Ward succeeded J. Verne Wood as funeral director and from that time on the business was known as the J. Verne Wood Funeral Home. When Mr. Ward moved the business to the Broad Street Mansion, he also brought along the name of Buckminster Chapel.
After the passing of George Bradford Ward on April 20th, 1973, Mr. Ward’s brother, Nelson Kellogg Ward and nephew, Fred Grant Ward, Jr, continued the family business. As a professional organist Nelson K. Ward eventually decided to leave the funeral business to continue his career as a professional musician leaving Fred G. Ward, Jr. the sole owner.
Even to this day after the passing of J. Verne Wood, George Bradford Ward, and Fred G. Ward, Jr, funeral services are still being conducted by Fred’s wife, Dorothy L. Ward and their children, in the Buckminster Chapel here on Broad Street perpetuating the name of one who conducted in Portsmouth, a distinguished ministry many years ago, and enabling people the opportunity to continue seeing a Benjamin F. Webster masterpiece.