The How House Historic District comprises three buildings of architectural and historical significance, erected by the How family on contiguous lots on Danforth and Pleasant Streets between 1799 and 1818. Although the houses front on two different streets, they are connected by shared lot lines on the inside of the block. The houses can be seen together from several vantage points and their common building materials and Federal style give them much of the integrity of appearance that they had when they were first erected.
Daniel How moved from Methuen, Massachusetts, to Portland in 1795, and in 1799 built his home at what is now 23 Danforth Street. In 1817 Daniel How erected a house on the back of his property at 40 Pleasant Street as a wedding gift to his son John. In 1818 Daniel How’s brother Joseph erected a double house at 30-32 Pleasant Street beside that of his nephew.
When the How Houses were built, Commercial Street did not exist and from the elevated locations on Danforth and Pleasant Streets, the houses, (especially the Daniel How House) commanded views of Cape Elizabeth, the Casco Bay islands, and the harbor. Now surrounded by later commercial development, the three houses survive as a fine Federal-period enclave which recalls the appearance of this section of Portland in the years immediately after the War of 1812. They also reveal one family’s conservatism over a twenty-year period in building houses that shared many stylistic, structural, and functional similarities. None of the three houses has undergone major alteration on its street front, and all have been recently refurbished, are in excellent condition, and still function primarily as residences.
The Daniel How House at 23 Danforth Street was built in 1799 as one of the first Federal-style houses in Portland.A two-and-a-half story brick house with end chimneys, gable roof, and granite trim, its symmetrical façade reveals a four-room and central hallway plan. The brick of the front is laid in Flemish bond, another characteristic of high-style aspirations, and the entrance surround nearly doubles the height of the actual door-way. Phased with Doric detailing and semicircular fanlight, the entrance serves to elevate the house above the level of simple vernacular building and it also responds sensitively to the raised site that once overlooked the harbor.
The John How House at 40 Pleasant Street of 1817 follows the format and plan of the Daniel How House – another brick Federal-style two-and-a-half story house with four end chimneys, gale roof, and granite trim. In one respect simpler, the brickwork throughout is common bond. However, the house has an especially fine arched and recessed entrance with an elliptical fanlight and rectangular sidelights, all articulared with fine wood mouldings.
The Joseph How House at 30-32 Pleasant Street of 1818 is similar in style to the other two houses, but its plan is that of a double house for two families. It is also taller than the other two hosues, having three-and-a-alf stories under a gable roof phrased by end chinneys. Its double entrances are arched recessed following the model of the fan and sidelights of the John How House, and its brickwork is common bond.
The How Houses Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and locally designated in 1990.