HAMPTON: A CENTURY OF TOWN AND BEACH, 1888-1988
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Glaciers, Vikings and Erosion
As described by geologist Charles H. Hitchcock in the Geology of New Hampshire, Great Boar's Head is a lenticular moraine or drumlin, an elongated deposit left by a glacier, perhaps one million years ago. Hitchcock suggested that some of the rocks found around the Head may have come from as far away as the Ossipee Mountains, about 60 miles northwest of Hampton Beach.
Albert N. Dow of Exeter, who had a summer place on the Head, attempted to determine the original size of Boar's Head. In a series of articles printed in the [Exeter] News-Letter in 1925, Dow estimated that originally the drumlin was 2,400 feet wide and extended, in a southeast direction, 3,300 feet into the ocean. Dow based his conclusions on the arrangement of large rocks surrounding Boar's Head left by the erosion of soil over the centuries. Much of this eroded material was washed by the sea into a natural bar that connects the Head to the mainland. Dow believed that the present northwesterly slope of the Head was original and unchanged by nature. Based on conversations with many old-timers, Dow said he thought the point of the Head had receded about 28 feet between 1875 and 1905, and while storms from the north meant that the north side of the Head was eroding twice as fast as the south side, it appeared that sea action was not the only cause for the erosion. Great storms had a serious impact, but Dow believed that the spring thaws, when the clay ran in muddy streams from around the rocks on the slopes, were probably the most active form of erosion.
According to Lewis Nudd, who ran the Eagle House (now the Century House), the erosion also removed the Head's namesake. Nudd, who died at age 90 in 1923, told Head residents that when he was a boy, there was a profile view of a boar's head seen from the south side. Part of this profile was created by a large rock that protruded from the steep bank. Before the turn of the century, Nudd said, the rock fell into the sea, removing forever the profile of the boar's head.
Based on Dow's conjecture that one foot was lost every three years from the point of the Head, the promontory must have been about 300 feet farther into the Atlantic Ocean when one of Hampton's most controversial events occurred. About the year 1004, according to Charles M. Lamprey, who wrote about the subject in the July 4, 1902, [Hamptons'] Union, Norsemen are thought to have traveled along this coast, perhaps as far south as Cape Cod, stopping here and there as they explored the place called Vin(e)land, so named because of the grapes they found. According to the saga, Leif Ericsson made the first voyage, wintering over in log huts at the place he called Vinland. A year later, his brother Thorvald found the same huts and spent two years exploring north and south of the hut location. At one point they landed at a wooden cape, which Lamprey believed was Boar's Head. The sagas record that Thorvald thought the area was so beautiful that he said he would like to build his own home there. After seizing and murdering some Indians, the Norsemen were attacked by a large party of natives and Thorvald was mortally wounded in the battle. He asked to be buried near the headland and wanted his grave to be marked with a stone cut with crosses. The nearest upland adjacent to Boar's Head suitable for a grave would have been on the northerly side of Winnacunnet Road, in the vicinity of today's Surfside Park. There, off Thorvald Avenue on Ash Street, is a large boulder cut with what some people consider to be crosses or runic markings [the stone has since been relocated to the Meeting House Green at 40 Park Avenue].
Lamprey was interested in this story because his family had owned the land containing the stone since before 1672, although he believed the stone lay unnoticed until about 1875. The legend is not mentioned in Dow's History, and it appears that Lamprey developed the idea by himself. By 1902, the land had been sold to Wallace D. Lovell, the street-railway promoter, who, Lamprey wrote, planned to build a Norse monument and create a park. Lamprey said he had read the Icelandic (actually Greenlandic) sagas in which the story of Thorvald was told. While the saga didn't give the exact location, Lamprey did have the rock, and Boar's Head and vicinity did seem to fit the place described in the saga. Lamprey's article, later printed in a Philadelphia newspaper, did much to promote the gravesite theory.
Numerous studies have been made of the rock and its crosses, an early formal visit being made in September 1890 when the New Hampshire Historical Society visited the site as part of its annual field day to Hampton Beach, but no attempt was made to determine the rock's authenticity. In 1938, as Jim Tucker was successfully promoting a campaign to restore citizenship to the accused witch Goody Cole, he also suggested giving attention to Thorvald's grave because the stone was then at the center of a dumping ground. In June 1938, W. N. Darling of Minnesota, a Beach visitor for 60 years, was the first to register at the opening of the Ocean House. The [Hampton] Union said he had been studying the claims of Hampton people that Thorvald was buried here. In July, geology professor James Goldthwait of Dartmouth said the boulder had been in place since glacial times. Tucker apparently attempted at a special town meeting to purchase the site of the stone, but the idea was rejected and the rock remained on private property. In 1948, Olaf Strandwold published a booklet, Norse Inscriptions on American Stones. He mentioned the Hampton stone, translating the runic markings to mean bui reis stein, or "Bui raised stone." Bui is the name of a famed Norseman who died in 986. To read and photograph these inscriptions, researchers have filled in the grooves or markings with powder to provide contrast against the surface of the rock. Apparently people disagree as to which marks are manmade, for various photographs appearing over the years in newspaper show different combinations of markings.
Harold Fernald, student of Hampton history and teacher of history and archaeology at Winnacunnet High School, conducted a dig at the site in 1963. He found only undisturbed soil to a depth of 4 feet, where he struck hard pan. He determined that the stone had been moved at least twice. It was moved again in 1967 when the Mantegani family, owners sold the property since 1941, built a cellar for a cottage.
In The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages (1971), Pulitzer prizewinning historian Samuel Eliot Morison wrote about Thorvald's voyage using the same manuscript source that Lamprey used. Morison, however, suggested Leif's wintering place was L'Anse aux Meadows at the northwestern tip of Newfoundland and that Thorvald was killed by Indians on the coast of Newfoundland or Labrador. Another recent book, The Vikings and America(1985), by Erik Wahlgren, places Leif's wintering place on Passamaquoddy Bay, inland from Grand Manan Island. Thorvald's gravesite, he believes, was at the northern end of the Bay of Fundy. Clearly even the experts disagree as to how far south the Norsemen actually traveled. There is even disagreement as to whether the vines of "Vinland" refer to grapes or wild berries.
It would appear there is little evidence to support Lampreys claim for a Norse grave in Surfside Park other than the presence of the rock, because there has been no conclusive evidence indicating that the markings are manmade. No one could convince one Lancelot Francis Quinn otherwise, however. In July 1938, Hampton Union reported that some people recalled the day, some years earlier, when Quinn, A beach real estate man, led a group of volunteers with shovels, pickaxes, and crowbars to see what lay beneath the rock. As they all got ready to strike the rock, supposedly a bolt of lightning came down and hit the rock, "wrenching the tools from the volunteers' hands and cause a general retreat. Since then no one else has attempted such an assault on the rock," the paper said. A Mr. Swett of Haverhill, "who was there," confirmed the story.
Vandals and artifact-seekers have chipped off pieces of the stone; so to protect it, the Meeting House Green Memorial and Historical Association was making plans early in 1989 to move the rock to the Green, where it will be covered to prevent further damage.
Whether or not the Norsemen visited Great Boar's Head, the land remained empty, eroding slowly away until Hampton was settled in 1638. For many years, it was part of the Great Ox Common, which was set aside (and reached only by passing through a gate) for grazing oxen. Horses were prohibited. Finally, as noted in the beginning of this volume, it was settled by Daniel Lamprey, who built a small house there. Until 1893, Boar's Head was center of Hampton Beach summer activity. In that year, the Boar's Head House, owned and operated since 1866 by Colonel Stebbins H. Dumas, burned; after the fire, most of the Head remained empty until August 1904, when it was divided into lots that were sold at auction.
Prior to the auction, other land on the Head, perhaps not part of the Dumas property or possibly sold by Dumas to raise cash, was available for purchase. In 1898, attorney Edwin Eastman and County Treasurer [William Henry Clay] Follansbee, both from Exeter, apparently purchased a large lot on the Head, where they built a large double house for their families. Dr. G. Everett Mitchell of Haverhill, Massachusetts, also acquired some land at the point of the sharp left turn of today's Cliff Avenue, where he built two cottages. In 1899, he constructed a summer house that clung to the south side of the Head like a barnacle -- the name he gave to the cottage. This structure and another cottage were local landmarks for decades, resisting the sea's efforts to wash them away.
The 1904 auction was controversial because some people suggested the Head should become a park. The Boston Record reported in September 1904, "The Great Boar's Head property at Hampton Beach, the most charming section of New Hampshire's brief coast line, is being cut into small lots for cottages and the public which has heretofore been allowed to gaze from it [only] will be permitted to gaze at it. A distorted and antiquated sense of economy has alone stood in the way of the State acquiring the head and turning it into a public reservation as Massachusetts has done along her shore line." Similar comments came from newspapers in Newburyport and Springfield, Massachusetts, and Dover, New Hampshire.
Despite the concern over the development of Boar's Head, the auction was held on August 18 with 30 shorefront lots and 34 interior lots offered. Lot 61, about halfway up Cliff Avenue, was purchased by the Worledge family from Windham, New Hampshire. They had often visited the Beach, driving over in a horse and wagon. When the auction was held, they arrived to buy a lot. A nearby lot was purchased by Weinbecks, and the two families later acquired the long building that had been the hotel bowling alley. It was cut in half, a piece was moved to each lot, and the structures were rebuilt into cottages. The Worledge family cottage was named the Windham, and it was here that daughter Helen spent her early summers, playing with the children of Lewis Nudd, who owned the nearby Eagle House. Helen recalled playing near the New Boar's Head Hotel windmill and the lovely hotel gardens. The hotel burned in 1907, the same year the standpipe was built on the Head, finally providing cottages with running water. Prior to this time, Lewis Nudd sold water to the cottages for $2 for the summer. Residents had to walk down to his well and carry the water back up for cooking and washing. Helen Worledge grew up to be Helen W. Hayden, Hampton's first woman town clerk and selectman.
Helen recalls that 12 to 15 cottages were built soon after the auction, with the finest one constructed on the tip of the Head by Albert Dow, who paid $1,600 for his lot. A few years later, about 1914, Dow sold his land to Samuel K. Bell of Exeter, and Dow moved his house a few lots down on the north slope. In front of his house, Dow built a breakwater and planted grass to protect the slope. Bell bought another lot and a half, investing some $20,000 in land, and hired Boston architect Philip S. Avery to design the Tudor-style house that still occupies the site, which many people believe has the best view on the New Hampshire coast. At the south edge of Bell's property were the fishermen's stairs, also called Fifty Steps, a right-of-way down the bank to a small fish house and boat landing used by fishermen and gunners for many years. To protect his privacy, Bell built a wall, and since the steps would have been inside his property, he negotiated with the Town to have them moved and provided a 6-foot right-of-way. Some years later, Charles Greenman, whose father Charles had acquired the Bell property, became concerned because "lovers" and sightseers often walked down the steps and around on the breakwater to the front of his property. He feared smokers would set the grass on fire and perhaps burn his house; so, when the steps were in need of repair, he convinced the Town to remove them rather than replace them.
The Windham cottage was built beside a right-of-way down to the Lewis Nudd property. About 1908, Mrs. Nudd became too ill to cook meals for the Eagle House guests and Lewis Nudd feared he would lose his customers. Noticing that Mrs. Worledge often had many relatives staying at her cottage, Nudd asked her is she would agree to serve his guests three meals a day. Since she had been cooking for her own guests for free, Mrs. Worledge decided to try it for pay. Thus began a 35-year business for Mrs. Worledge, who later opened her own cottage to summer boarders, accommodating 24 people at a time. Some of these guests returned for 25 summers.
In order to feed her guests, Mrs. Worledge relied on the various horse-drawn delivery wagons of the day. Helen Hayden recalls buying clams from Horace Bragg, who came twice a week, primarily in August, and purchasing meat from Jimmy Janvrin, who came three times weekly, making a separate evening trip if you needed a fresh-killed chicken. W. L. Redman delivered fresh fish and vegetables daily. Helen's mother traded with H. G. Lane's store in the Village. She recalls delivery man Warren Hobbs, a onetime Hampton selectman, as being "the most accommodating person I ever knew. He would come in, sit at your table and take the order. If you needed thread, shoestrings, medicine at the drug store, any notions, anything that came from another store, other than Lane's, he would take your order, go downtown, buy the things for you, and bring them back in the afternoon." She remembers as a child buying ice cream from an Exeter ice cream man. It came in a cardboard cup with a tin spoon for 5 cents.
The family moved back to Windham, and later to Derry Village, for the winter. When Helen married [Leonard] Jack Hayden, they first lived with her parents, but it was during the Depression and the young couple, not wanting to be a burden on her parents, asked to live year round in the small apartment in one end of the Windham cottage. Only a few other families lived on the Head at the time, although the inexpensive housing at the Beach attracted other winter residents who were having financial difficulties. For the Haydens and their young son [John], it meant three cold, depressing winters marked by some of the worst storms recorded in Hampton. Because the house had no foundation, the pipes were wrapped with cloth and newspapers were placed under the rungs to keep out the wind and cold. She recalls that the last year, the winter of 1934, was very cold and stormy; it was the year that the boulevard on North Beach was destroyed by a major storm. The Haydens watched cottages being smashed and automobiles being picked up by waves and deposited on cottage porches.
"We survived it," Helen says, "but I will say this, it cured me of my enthusiasm for the Beach which I had loved and loved to swim in ..... But I have never wanted to be where I had to watch that ocean all winter again."
Adjacent to Lewis Nudd's Eagle House was his nephew Eugene Nudd's house, field, and barn. Fishermen and gunners used to store their gear in Nudd's barn. About 1920, he turned the field into one of the Beach's first formal campgrounds, complete with toilets. Here campers returned year after year, pitching tents and sleeping on cots. The building used for the toilets and as rental property had been David Nudd's old office, moved to that spot from the Landing. After Eugene's death, the old building was moved two more times and now sits on Landing Road again, near the entrance to the town dump.
In 1921, the Dance Carnival was built at the base of the Head on the south side, and when it burned in 1929, it was replaced with another Beach landmark, the Rocky Bend, a store and dining room. That was in turn replaced in the late 1970s by the Rocky Bend Condominiums.
When the State acquired most of the shoreline from the Town in 1933, pledging to build breakwaters, Boar's Head was not included. The residents had to provide their own protection, and the Greenman family continued to work on its own breakwater and to seed the slope to prevent erosion.
The 1953 bill that authorized state funding for the breakwater from the end of the North Beach breakwater to the Head and from the Head south (the existing breakwater) did not allow for funds for Boar's Head. In 1955, the Boar's Head residents, who at this numbered 60 families with property valued at some $300,000, convinced State Representative Douglass Hunter to file a bill seeking $30,000 in funds that were left over from the 1953 breakwater project. The House Public Works Committee held a hearing on the matter at the fire station, at the conclusion of which, as usual, Deputy Fire Chief Perley George served lobster stew. Some work was done as a result, but not until 1957 did the State place tons of rock around the sides of the Head. Some $45,000 in state aid was finally expended, but, in 1958, Greenman's concrete breakwater, on which he had spent some $40,000 over the years, was badly damaged by winter storms. Again residents protested that the landmark was being eroded away. Federal money was not available because the land was privately owned, but the 1961 legislature finally voted funds to rebuild this breakwater.