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Frank Jones' foray into ale-making in Portsmouth is a success

September 01. 2014 8:24PM

Frank Jones of Portsmouth was the love of Delana Harrington Curtis’ life — and he was captivated by her for more than 30 years.

It was unfortunate for Delana, however, that Frank enjoyed a comfortable domestic arrangement with wife, Martha. He was an unfaithful husband, but his marriage would remain intact.

Martha was the widow of Frank’s brother Hiram, who had tragically committed suicide. Money considerations likely weighed into Frank’s decision to marry Martha, as a large debt he owed to Hiram’s estate was conveniently forgotten after the wedding. Frank was further bound to Martha by his devotion to his dear niece, Emma Isabel, who was Martha and Hiram’s daughter. He adopted six-year-old Emma soon after he and Martha were married in 1861.

Franklin (Frank) Jones was born in 1832 on a farm in Barrington. He was the fifth of seven children of Thomas and Mary Jones. Frank received only a meager education in the local schools, and he would always have difficulty writing. What led to his success in life was his innate genius for business, his compelling personality, and simple hard work. Frank came to Portsmouth when he was 18 years old to apprentice in his brother Hiram’s store. When he was 20 he started selling pots, pans, and tin ware door-to-door out of a horse-drawn wagon.

In October 1858, Frank entered into a partnership with local ale brewer John Swindell. Ale is a type of beer that is brewed from malted barley, and often included hops. There was a large demand for this alcoholic beverage, which is heavier and darker than regular lager beers.

Frank became sole owner of the business in 1859, and in the years that followed, he expanded and improved the plant until Frank Jones Brewing Co., Ltd. became one of the largest ale breweries in America.

By 1882 the company produced 150,000 barrels of ale a year, and it employed 500 men by 1888. In 1889, Frank incorporated the business as a stock company, and eager British investors bought up shares. Frank held onto a healthy portion of the stock, and he continued to manage the operation for several years. The brewery would continue producing ale until New Hampshire became a statutory prohibition state in 1917 (national Prohibition was enacted in 1920).

The money earned from ale-making enabled Frank Jones to delve into other lucrative enterprises, including hotel development. In 1867, he bought the small City Hotel on Congress Street in Portsmouth, which he renamed the National House. In 1870, he acquired the Rockingham Hotel on State Street and extensively upgraded the brick building, converting it into a first-class establishment. After the hotel was heavily damaged by fire in September 1884, Frank rebuilt it, turning it into an even more elegant and imposing structure. Today the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, houses condominiums and the Library Restaurant.

In 1879, Frank Jones bought the Hotel Wentworth in the town of New Castle, near Portsmouth. The hotel had been built in 1874 on a rise overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It was the largest wooden structure on the New Hampshire coast. Frank remodeled it in the French Second Empire-style, turning it into one of the grandest hotels of Victorian-era America.

To attract affluent clients, he added a nine-hole golf course to the grounds in 1897. The hotel was renamed Wentworth-by-the-Sea in 1946. It closed in 1982 and remained abandoned for several years.It came close to being demolished before it was finally renovated and reopened in 2003 as a Marriott luxury resort.

In addition to his hotel interests, Frank Jones was involved in other industries including railroads, banks, utilities and shoe manufacturing. He was a founder and first president of the Granite State Fire Insurance Co., as well as a stockholder and director of the Union Publishing Co. in Manchester, which published the Manchester Union newspaper.

When in Manchester on business he would spend time with Delana Curtis in her home on Elm Street, which he had generously remodeled for her. Also, Delana would travel to the seacoast to stay at either the Rockingham or the Wentworth, where she would be able to see Frank.

Next week: A hotel venture in Maine, and a summer house for Delana Curtis.

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Aurore Eaton is a historian and writer in Manchester, e-mail her at

History Aurore Eaton Manchester

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