Shapiro House


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The Shapiro house was home to Sarah and Abraham Shapiro, and their daughter Mollie. Sarah and Abraham were Jewish immigrants from Anapol in the Ukraine. In 1904, Abraham, the last of five brothers to immigrate to the United States, settled in Portsmouth, where his brother Samuel had already made a home for himself, his wife Ida, and their daughter. Abraham married Ida’s sister Sarah, and in 1909, they welcomed their daughter Mollie into the world.


Abraham worked at a shoe factory, and then at a pawn shop, which he owned.   Sarah stayed at home to take care of Mollie.  As a child, Mollie went to public school in Portsmouth and attended Hebrew school at Temple Israel.  Later, Mollie would go to the University of New Hampshire and became the first of her family to attend and graduate from college.


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The Shapiro House was built in 1795, but we have it set to the year 1919, to show what life was like for the immigrant Shapiro family in the Puddle Dock neighborhood.  At this time, Puddle Dock was a crowded place.  Many of the houses which had once been home to a single family were converted into apartments where people from all different countries lived side by side.  Downtown, horse and buggies were still traveling the streets, but automobiles were starting to become a more common sight.



In 1919, the Shapiros had electric lights, rather than relying on candles or gaslight.  They boarded up the fireplaces and heated their house with a coal furnace in the basement.  The Shapiros also had the very first indoor bathroom in the neighborhood!

Since Mollie went to public school in Portsmouth, she learned about American holidays, traditions, and even entertainment from the other students.  She brought all the things she learned back home to her parents.  While Mollie’s family embraced American culture, they didn’t want to lose traditions from their homeland, especially their language and traditional Jewish practices. For example, in the kitchen, you will notice two sets of dishes and silverware.  This is because Mrs. Shapiro kept a kosher kitchen.  In the Jewish tradition, kosher means products containing meat are kept separate from those containing dairy. Mrs. Shapiro even had separate sets of pots and pans so that meat and dairy dishes were cooked separately.  As you explore the house, look at the items and consider whether they are traditional items that the Shapiros would have had or been familiar with in their homeland, or new world items that Molly or others in the Puddle Dock neighborhood may have introduced to the Shapiros.