By Peter E. Randall

Hampton: A Century of Town and Beach, 1888-1988


Published for the
Town of Hampton, New Hampshire - 1989

This history is based on the columns of the Hampton Union, with additional information taken from the pages of the Exeter News-Letterand various Portsmouth newspapers. Town and school reports have provided much data as well, but the newspapers have been the primary source.

Certainly it has made my work easier to write from newspapers rather than to pore through thousands of documents in the town office or at county and state archives. Often those archives contain nothing more than brief records of meetings, lists of figures, or deed descriptions. Joseph Dow had to rely on such records when he wrote his fine History of the Town of Hampton. He had few newspapers or other records available to provide him with anecdotes, comments, and reasons why earlier residents acted in a certain way at a certain time. I acknowledge that what appears in the newspaper may as often as not reflect the opinion of the editor and perhaps not the population in general. As a former editor of the Hampton Union and a lifelong journalist, I know that reporters generally strive for accuracy. Often writers rely on others for their facts, and sometimes those facts are wrong, but they are unknowingly printed anyway. Sometimes valuable pieces of a story are simply missed by the paper, creating an unknown gap in the sequence of events. And some facts can never be verified because the information exists only as comments told to other writers and historians. Such anecdotes and stories add color to a work when used carefully.

Academic historians may well question the lack of footnotes in this work. Virtually everything I have written comes from the sources listed in the first paragraph above, and, whenever I found it necessary, I have given the exact source in the text. It seemed pointless, however, to include many pages of notes listing dates and volume numbers of the Hampton Union. Microfilm editions of the Hampton, Exeter, and Portsmouth newspapers are available in the library in each town. Using microfilm reader-printers, I made thousands of copies of articles, organized them into subject categories, and wrote in chronological order from those sources. All of this material has been placed in the Lane Memorial Library for use by others. With a little effort, anyone can consult these files or the microfilm itself for more information or detail.

I am responsible for any errors that may exist in this work, and, while every effort has been made to clarify or correct stories of past events, I may well have continued some incorrect information. The difficulty and the excitement of writing history come from the knowledge that, as a writer, one cannot know everything about a subject. Eventually, however, what one knows has to be written. The next day, perhaps, some new facts or documents may turn up that amplify, correct, or change what was written earlier. History is not a dead subject, and historians welcome the efforts of those who come after, people who may have greater skills and access to materials that we lacked.

A quartet of earlier writers and historians must share credit with me for this book: Charles Francis Adams, William D. Cram, Reverend Roland D. Sawyer, and James W. Tucker, Sr. Adams founded the Hampton Union in 1899, and without his effort to maintain the struggling newspaper, providing the base for today's expanded publication, this book would be much shorter and less interesting. William Cram was a longtime newspaper man who contributed many historical columns, especially related to the Beach, to various editions of the Union. He obtained much of his information directly from Hampton Beach pioneers or their immediate families. James W. Tucker was well known to Union readers through his column "Our Town," a weekly report begun in 1950 that covered historical and contemporary Hampton events. From 1915, when he came to town, until his death in 1961, Tucker was an active participant in, and observer of, town affairs. He wrote about the first half of this century from firsthand knowledge, giving us all facts about our past that many people knew but only he wrote about in detail. He often devoted several columns to a single subject, producing a wealth of information that has saved hundreds of hours of research. That Tucker was given the freedom to write more than 500 columns is a tribute to Edward Seavey, editor of the Union, who realized the value of Tucker's research and viewpoint even if he, Seavey, didn't always agree with the columnist.

I only met one member of this quartet, the Reverend Roland D. Sawyer -- a minister, a Massachusetts legislator and once a socialist candidate for governor in that state, a native of Kensington and author of its town history, and a lifelong historian of eastern Rockingham County. He wrote two history columns for the Union for many years, often repeating some columns numerous times. In his later years (he still wrote when he was over 90 years old), he would make errors or change the facts from what he had written earlier. Some people question the accuracy of his writing, but I have relied primarily on those columns in which he wrote about his personal experiences and those in which he related anecdotes directly from participants involved in those stories. His memories of salt-marsh haying are poignant reminders of that lost industry.

The Rev. Roland D. Sawyer

The Reverend Roland D. Sawyer,
about age 93.
[Peter E. Randall photograph.]

While I was editor of the Union, from July 1964 through March 1966, the Reverend Sawyer, then about 90, would arrive weekly at the office with one or two columns and photographs. Usually the columns were badly typed and sometimes unreadable, yet I was always amazed when I realized that in 1900 he was only 30 years old, older than I was in the mid-1960s. I never had time to talk with him at length and only visited his house once -- to take the photograph that accompanies this piece. Had I known what lay before me in the late 1980s, I would have talked with him more and would have copied his old, often irreplaceable, photographs. Sawyer was a packrat; he collected items from everywhere, and they lay scattered on shelves and on the floor of his small house on Trundlebed Road in Kensington. In a loss that historians can only surmise, Sawyer's house burned a few years before his death, destroying almost everything he had collected during decades of searching for documents and photographs.

I have also benefited from the direct assistance of a great many people who have shared memories, documents, photographs, and their time. Many people, too numerous to mention here, have responded to my telephone calls, sometimes at odd hours, as I sought the answers to various questions. I will always be grateful to them all, and, especially, to the following people for their extraordinary assistance:

Fellow journalist and historian Ray Brighton copied hundreds of Hampton articles from Portsmouth newspapers and made suggestions for many chapters; Margaret Montgomery compiled the list of town officers and typed many of the oral-history interviews; Richard N. Livingstone authored the chapter on schools; Phyllis Tucker conducted oral-history interviews and transcribed many tapes, provided a long run of her father's Hampton Beach News, which has been microfilmed and placed in the Lane Memorial Library, read several chapters, and offered tips, facts, suggestions, and support; Constance Adams Billings, daughter of Union founder Charles Francis Adams, donated many missing back issues of the newspaper which also have been microfilmed; Melody Dahl-Gabriel, reporter and editor of the Union from 1969 until 1987, edited several parts of the manuscript; Melanie Lovering conducted oral-history interviews; Roland W. Paige, James Hunt, and other officers of the Meeting House Green Memorial and Historical Association allowed me to copy many photographs and documents, and loaned old town reports; Cheryl Young copied newspaper articles from microfilm; Helen and Stillman Hobbs shared their knowledge of Hampton events and people and read many sections of this book; Arthur J. Moody and Irene Palmer read many chapters and made valuable suggestions; Gardner Macintosh gathered photographs and documents relating to the fish-house area and the Beach north of Plaice Cove; and Carl and Doris Bragg, Jewel and Stanwood Brown, Helen W. Hayden, Harold Fernald, Gertrude Palmer, David Goodman, and Maurice Brown all shared suggestions and materials and provided support. Thanks also to librarian William Teschek, who wrote the library history, and his staff at the Lane Memorial Library; historian Nancy Merrill, who, while researching her own history of Exeter, shared many documents; Exeter librarian Pamela Gjettum and her staff; Town Manager Philip Richards and his staff; Town Clerk Jane Kelley and her staff; and of course Hampton's selectmen, especially former board member Ansell Palmer. The selectmen allowed me to work at my own pace, never questioned my research activities, and offered continual support. Finally, I appreciate the attention given to the manuscript by Kathleen Brandes, who gave the text a careful final editing.

A special note of thanks is extended to street railway historian O. R. Cummings of Manchester, who loaned photographs and gave permission to use his booklet Trolleys to the Casino: The Exeter, Hampton & Amesbury Street Railway, now out of print. The most detailed account of the line's three decades of operation, this booklet forms the basis of my chapter on the trolley era at Hampton. Cummings collected material on the subject for years, combing the offices of transportation companies, the State, and several towns to uncover material about this important era.

As important to the book as the text are the photographs and other illustrations. In the course of my research, former and present Hampton residents, and other people from throughout the seacoast, offered photographs for use in the book. Credits for these contributions are listed elsewhere. I have copied more than 1,300 old and more recent Hampton pictures, and a large portion appears in this book. The collection of negatives and contact sheets has been placed in the Lane Memorial Library, where it will remain for future research. Louis DuBois made many prints from my negatives, and Gary Samson and his staff at the Department of Media Services at the University of New Hampshire provided special photographic assistance, copying paintings and making hundred of prints from glass plates and my copy negatives. Without the assistance of these friends, there would have been far fewer illustrations in the book. Because so many old photographs have been collected -- many of them never before published -- it was decided to concentrate on older photographs for illustrating this volume, even though the subject matter extends to the present day.

Of special importance is the collection of photographs and paintings of the Beach and Great Boar's Head gathered by longtime Hampton physician Dr. Wayne P. Bryer. While he graciously allowed all of his collection to be copied for use in the book, his most important feat was creating the collection in the first place. He pursued some paintings through several owners until he was able to acquire them. Once, after leaving a home after a house call, he saw a painting in a trash can and received the gift of it; it proved to be an early Hampton Beach painting.

The marketing of this new book, another new volume edited by James Hunt, and the accompanying reprint of Joseph Dow's two- volume history, was ably handled by a committee consisting of Tracy Emrick, chair; Alfred Carlson, treasurer; Charles Forbes; Gerry McConnell; Wilfred Cunningham; Robert Gabriel; James Hunt; Glen French; and Ansell Palmer.

I don't know how Joseph Dow and his daughter Lucy compiled the first two volumes of their History of the Town of Hampton. We do know that Joseph did not live long enough to finish the work; it was completed by Lucy. When I began researching material for this book, one of the first things I found was a comment by Lucy's friend, Lucy Marston. She said that Lucy Dow's life was shortened considerably by the amount of work she had had to do to finish the history. Without my trusty Macintosh computer, I doubt whether I could have finished this book. Never in this age should one attempt to write anything of more than a couple of pages in length without a word processor/computer. For the historical record, this book was produced with Macintosh computers using Microsoft Word, Factfinder, and Quark Xpress pagemaking software. Pages were proofed on an Apple LaserWriter printer and the camera-ready text was created on a Linotronic 300 printer. While writing this book, I was also producing the history of Exeter, which was composed using IBM computers. The text was then converted to Macintosh, and the rest of the book was produced entirely by computer. Also in the works at this time were histories of Ossipee and Sandown, produced using Macintosh computers. To my knowledge, these are the first New Hampshire town histories to be completely produced electronically, using state-of-the-art hardware and software. Two or three years earlier, this process could not have been done, and a year or two from now every publisher will be doing it. With all of the advances that have occurred since Joseph Dow died in 1889, one wonders if the development of the computer as a writing tool would not have been the most amazing and valuable to him, and to Lucy.

As Dow and I both learned, computers cannot replace the support and assistance given by one's family. All three of my children, Deidre, Davis and Katelyn, have helped in this project, and my wife, Judy, has copied documents, read proofs, taken messages, and, perhaps most important, helped to free my work schedule so that time could be devoted to the completion of the book. I am most grateful to them all for their love and help.