House Lust: An Airy Former Public House and Tavern in Portsmouth’s Town Center is on the Market

Built in the 1600s, it was also a post office and an inn.

This place has served a whole lot of people over its lifetime. Even those with troubled histories, from an elderly hellion to mothers in recovery, found self-worth, shelter and hospitality here.

“I sold this property before,” says Frank Oliveira of RE/MAX Newport, who listed the airy, expansive Colonial last month. “But what really got me excited about the property is when the historical people went through it.”

According to the Portsmouth Historical Society, the circa-1660 Colonial was operated as a “house of publik intertainment for straingers and others” (sic, sic, sic — at least in twenty-first century) by the region’s oldest rabble-rouser, Edward Lay. His rap sheet includes “abusive carriage and expressions” in Connecticut and “abuse and turbulent conduct” on Martha’s Vineyard. The town was reluctant to give Lay a permit, but the Assembly intervened, citing his old age (seventy-one) and his inability to otherwise earn a living.

Lay lasted but three years as proprietor of the inn — during one of which he illegally served “strong drink” and was fined forty shillings — before he died, leaving his wife in charge. Martha grew the business into an alehouse and tavern and, 100 years later, a tavern still operated at the location, per historical records. An expansion made room for a post office and, later, the place served as an antiques shop. In recent memory, the home operated as a facility where young mothers with substance use disorder could work on their recovery while living with their children.

Oliveira says the current owners are consolidating two separate recovery homes — this one, and another in Newport — in a bigger space, necessitating the sale of the house. The property remains zoned for commercial and residential, so future buyers could operate a business from the auxiliary space, which has a separate entrance.

“It’s a different kind of house, and it probably wouldn’t appeal to everyone,” he says.

The right buyer would appreciate history, both in the distant and recent past. Also onsite is an underground bomb shelter that was built in the 1950s. It has three rooms, a cot and an air pipe, Oliveira says.

“I just think, if somebody wants a unique home, this is it,” he says.

Here’s your House Lust:

For more information on 2538 East Main Road in Portsmouth, contact RE/MAX Newport’s Frank Oliveira at 401-848-6755 or visit