Cropper's Fish House Gets Voters' Nod to Stay

Article Allowing Cropper to Own Replica Approved

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, March 14, 2008

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON -- While he's not a commercial fisherman, Dave Cropper will be able to retain ownership of the replica Doggett fish house.

Voters on Tuesday rejected purchasing the fish house from Cropper, but overwhelmingly declared he can keep it at the Ruth G. Stimson Seashore Park.

"I'm disappointed the town did not want to purchase it," Cropper said. "But I'm thrilled by the overwhelming support behind the article to allow it to stay."

The vote ended a bitter battle that resurrected old wounds from those families who were forced to tear down their fish houses in 1959 because they were not commercial fishermen. Several residents including Karen Current argued Cropper should tear down the fish house because he's not a commercial fisherman.

"The good news to come from this battle is that people have learned the history of the fish houses," said Current, who was disappointed in the vote. "At this point that's all I can really say."

Current's father, Kenneth Langley, was one of 11 owners forced to tear down their fish houses following a 1959 Supreme Court ruling, which basically backed up a 1950 Town Meeting vote.

At the time, residents voted the houses were on town property and had to be removed within six months unless they were used for fishing purposes.

Only two houses -- one owned by Doggett and another owned by Harold Mace -- were allowed to stay because they were still being used for fishing. Current said she was outraged when she found out Cropper was the new owner of the Doggett fish house.

Cropper, who owns Cinnamon Rainbows Surf Company in Hampton, purchased the house in 2003 from Barbara Doggett with the promise to restore it to its former glory.

But when he tore down the weathered structure because it could not be salvaged and rebuilt a replica in its place in 2006, the issue of him not being a commercial fisherman came to light. At the time, Cropper said he had no idea about the old Town Meeting vote and if he did, he would have never purchased it.

Instead of forcing Cropper to tear down the replica fish house, selectmen put forward a warrant article to resolve the issue by having the town purchase it for $22,700.

Cropper put forward the petition warrant article, which eventually passed, to allow him to retain ownership.

"I just wanted to make sure it remains there," said Cropper, who agreed in the article to donate it to the town after his death. "My plan right now is to keep it and maintain it. But the offer for the town to purchase it in the future will always be on the table."