The White House was opened by a local man, Henry Hamilton, in 1891 to sell fashionable ladieswear and menswear to the growing numbers of tourists entering Portrush. He had left Portrush for America in 1875 to make his fortunes, leaving his clothes at the edge of the River Bann to shamefully fake his own suicide to avoid debts. He became the director at a publishing company in California before returning to Portrush 15 years later a wealthy man and marrying a former sweetheart. On his return Henry Hamilton invited all his previous creditors to a meal and there was an envelope in front of each dinner plate. When the guests all opened the envelopes, they found the money that was owing to them before Hamilton’s bankruptcy – however, it’s not clear whether interest was included or not!
The White House was named in honour of the owner’s American connections and became famous for supplying “Irish homespuns, hosiery and lace, Irish china and hand-embroidered Irish linen” across the world- even to British royalty (a trend beginning with Queen Victoria) and an Indian Rajah! Henry Hamilton established a world-wide mail order business based on an annual catalogue despatched to all existing and prospective customers.
Due to the success of this mail order business Portrush, despite its small winter population, required a substantial Post Office – which explains the large, three-tiered former Post Office building in Causeway Street. This building now houses the Public Library and the offices of Portrush Community Enterprises. During World War 2 there wasn’t as much money for luxury goods, but the White House was still a popular destination, especially for the American GIs, who got a day off from duties at their base in Derry/ Londonderry and those stationed in and around Portrush who would often come into the White House and buy footballs to send back home.
The White House continued after the war and was very popular with residents and visitors. The mail order business had ceased by this time but it was still one of the largest department stores in the north of Ireland. With the retirement of Mr Eric Hamilton the White House was sold to Moore’s of Coleraine and is now part of the Ulster Stores group of companies.