The Lear House was built circa 1740 and is an example of the Georgian architectural style. The house has a graceful hip-roof and is considered a mansion because of its size. The house is actually one of the most modest of Portsmouth’s historic house museums and gives tourists a view of how the middle to upper middle classes lived. The Lear House was built by Captain Tobias Lear III. He was the grandfather of Tobias Lear V, who became the private secretary to President George Washington.
Tobias V was born in the house in 1762, was raised in the house, and returned, a beloved and successful son of Portsmouth, with President Washington in 1789. Washington visited Madame Lear, Tobias’ mother, in the front parlor while a crowd watched the audience from the street. The story is well documented and a celebrated piece of the city’s history.
The house stayed in the Lear family until 1860. After this time, the house became a tenant house until it was purchased by Wallace Nutting in 1917. He then sold the property to Jessie Varrell, who in turn sold it to William Sumner Appleton of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England). Appleton sold the house to the newly-formed Wentworth-Gardner and Tobias Lear Houses Association in 1940.
The house has been left largely intact although it was a tenant house for much of the late 19th century into the 20th century.