Hampton History Matters, the book!


The famous sandy beaches and first-class boardwalk of Hampton, New Hampshire often overshadow its long and robust history. In this eclectic collection of stories, historian and columnist Cheryl Lassiter invites readers behind the scenes for a fascinating look at some of its lesser known residents and surprising events.

“The town [of Hampton] is a fascinating mix of history and economics peopled by a lively cast of characters, and so is Cheryl Lassiter’s book. She is an entertaining and very well-informed writer.” —Jeanne Ryder, editor, Leavitt Family Association newsletter.













Heartfelt thanks to Karen Raynes, a former newspaper correspondent and former Hampton Historical Society board member, and to the Board of Trustees of the Tuck Museum of Hampton History and Betty Moore, Tuck Museum Executive Director emeritus, for generously allowing access to the museum’s archives and for reprint permissions.




Goody Cole & the Enchanted Oven


By any measure, Goodwife Eunice Cole of Hampton was a dreadful person. She was argumentative, foul-mouthed, and generally impossible to get along with. Even with the threat of physical punishment, she refused to change her behavior. Unfortunately, she lived at a time—the 17th century—and in a culture—Puritan—where being a cantankerous old shrew was not in a woman’s best interests.

Eunice and her husband William Cole came to America in 1636, near the end of the so-called Great Migration, the period between 1620-1640 when an estimated 20,000 English men and women crossed the Atlantic to settle in New England. When the Coles first arrived they spent a short time in Boston and at Mount Wollaston with the antinomian minister, John Wheelwright, and were still with him in 1638 for the founding of Exeter. But when he left for Maine a few years later the Coles moved Hampton, where William had been granted a house lot and land. While Exeter seems to have paid no attention to Eunice, Hampton was another story. Almost immediately, from the time they settled in 1643, Eunice was in constant trouble with her neighbors. She was so foreign and disagreeable that it wasn’t long before they began to suspect her of being a witch.

In 1656, suspicion became conviction when witch-marks were discovered on her naked body as she was being whipped for an unnamed offense. Anxious to be rid of her, the magistrates swore out charges of witchcraft and delivered her to Boston to stand trial. Eventually convicted of a lesser charge, she spent the next four years in prison. Upon her release, she returned to Hampton, but a year later was whipped for cursing at her neighbors and sent back to prison.

After eight long years, Goodwife Cole was released from the lock-up on Boston’s Prison Lane, a place that was called “the nearest resemblance to hell on earth,” with its iron-spiked doors and passageways that were like “ the dark valley of the shadow of death.” But the ink had barely dried on her release when she was once more accused of agitating her neighbors with witchcraft. The victims this time were the town constable Robert Smith and his wife Susanna.

One day in late summer, while the Smiths were taking their grain to the mill for grinding, they happened to meet Goodwife Cole on the road, who stepped to the cart and peered inquisitively at the plump sacks and baskets of grain inside.

“Do you grind rye?” she asked.

It seemed like an innocuous, neighborly remark, but knowing that she had been implicated in the strange death, some years ago, of their neighbor John Wedgwood, the Smiths were wary of anything having to do with old Goodwife Cole. Besides, it wouldn’t be prudent to be seen conversing with a reputed witch while their son was courting Reverend Seaborn Cotton’s daughter.

In what must have been the seventeenth century version of “well, duh!”—Susanna answered, “We do usually grind our English with our Indian in the summertime.”

“Indian” was the colonists’ word for the native corn. “English” was their term for any cereal grain that required grinding. The Smiths had grown rye, a hardy grain that fared better than barley or wheat in the short summers and often poor soil of New England.

Later, after the grain had been milled, the Smiths discovered that the bread baked from the English meal “would stink and prove loathsome before it was 24 hours old.” Spots formed like “rotten cheese” on the loaves. Re-baking them only made the problem worse.

Rather than conclude that the rye was at fault, the Smiths suspected that Eunice had bewitched their oven. In an attempt to prove it, they carried on what turned out to be the only documented case of methodical inquiry into the nature of enchanted objects in the town of Hampton. It was an undertaking that would have made the Elizabethan scientist Sir Francis Bacon proud.

They went first to the house of John Wedgwood’s widow, who lived just across the road. She baked bread in her oven using both the Smiths’ English rye and their Indian corn meal. The bread made from the Indian “proved good,” but the English bread stank just as it had for Robert and Susanna. This did not convince them, however, that their rye was spoiled. Instead, they took the suspicious meal up the road to their daughter Meribah Page and asked her to bake bread from it. Meribah’s bread turned out to be “sweet and good” and lasted at least a week. Supposing that her house fell outside the area of Eunice’s baleful spell, they went back to their original suspicion—that their oven was under an enchantment.

Once more, Susanna tried to bake the rye in her oven. The resulting loaves were so bad that she and her husband were “faint” to give them to the swine and dogs. One night after they had gone to bed, the stink in the house grew so unbearable that Susanna swore it would poison her.

“Go to prayer, Rob,” she implored her husband. “We must drive away the Devil!”

Robert got up and lit a candle from the banked fire. Clasping his hands in supplication, he began to pray. Susanna joined him, and after a time the gross smell went away.

Having nothing further to do with the English meal, they turned to the Indian for their bread. But when they baked with that flour, the loaves stunk up the place just like the rye bread. Again they went to their daughter, this time to test the Indian. To their horror, the area of enchantment had grown! Even baked in Meribah’s oven the bread smelled bad. The Smiths were now in “such great straits,” they dared not bake with anybody “for fear of spoiling their bread,” too.

Robert and Susanna Smith had recounted the story of the bewitched flour and enchanted oven in a court deposition, as a part of Eunice’s 1673 trial for “enticing” a nine-year-old orphan named Ann Smith. Like so many other real life stories about this strange woman, it’s a fascinating glimpse into the cognitive orientation, or worldview, of typical 17th century Western minds, especially as it concerns the Smiths’ ordered approach to sorting out what was happening to their grain. It would be interesting to know how they solved the supernatural problem for which their prayers proved only a partial fix. Unfortunately, the existing records don’t tell us how the story turned out, which leaves it to the imagination to suppose that, even though they risked admonishment from their future in-law Reverend Cotton, they had resorted to some sort of counter-magic to unhex their oven.

As for Goodwife Cole, according to the partially decoded journal of fellow townsman Henry Dow, she died on October 24, 1680…just weeks after being accused of witchcraft one last time.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on October 25, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Read the true story of Goody Cole’s life in “Marked: The Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole,” available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

Heyday of the Hampton Players


Above: The Hampton Players cast of “Harvey,” 1957.
Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society

If the early history of amateur dramatics on the Seacoast proves anything, it’s that Shakespeare was right: all the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players. Literally. It’s hard to imagine that the region in the early 20th century could have accommodated one more amateur theatrical company without bursting its dramatic seams. Granges, fraternal organizations, and women’s church societies—all in plentiful supply—were the primary providers of plays, held at the town and grange halls and often paired with oyster suppers and dancing. These entertainments grew in popularity as, beginning in 1897, the street railway’s daisy chain of horseless transportation made them easily available to a wider audience. In Hampton, the stage in the old town hall was ground zero for theatricals put on by local residents, while at Hampton Beach hundreds of amateur citizen-thespians treaded the sand instead of the boards by participating in the elaborate historical pageants held there.

This was also the era of the “by-gosh drama,” an immensely popular subspecies of theatre notorious for its caricatures of country people as bumpkins and rubes. Fast forward a couple of decades, and the tables were turned as rural but educated people, like a young Dartmouth graduate named Henry Bailey Stevens, began to take offense. For his part, Stevens wrote plays lampooning the “city rubes” who ventured into the country. He also nurtured the idea of encouraging the “self-entertainment potentialities” of rural communities, and in 1929, as the executive secretary of the University of New Hampshire Extension Service, he introduced a state-wide one-act play competition for amateur groups in towns of less than 5,000 population. The farm bureaus in each county sponsored preliminary contests, whose winners went on to compete for the state title during Farmers’ and Homemakers’ Week, a farm life extravaganza held every August in Durham. Over the life of the contest, which ended in the latter years of the Depression, Rockingham County averaged 10 entries per year, mainly from the local granges. The town of Hampton, although qualified under the rules, never fielded an entry, but the lack of a locally-organized amateur group, dedicated solely to theatre, was nearing an end.

Players 03

Helen LaRoux and Paul Harris in the Hampton Players production of “Another Language,” Hampton High School auditorium, November 4, 1949. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

During World War II, the massive mobilization of men and resources, and gas and food rationing, had put a halt to most “am-dram” productions. Then in 1946, a group of amateur players performed Ayn Rand’s three-act comedy-drama, The Night of January 16th, in the auditorium of the Hampton Academy and High School. Presented under the auspices of The Men’s Club of the First Congregational Church and directed by newcomer Foster L. Greene, the play was deemed a great success, literally “fostering” the idea of putting together a group to perform on a regular basis.

Foster and his wife Betsy, transplants from Vermont, where they had been active in a theatre group known as the Fletcher Farm Players, are credited with organizing the first meeting of the Hampton Players in 1947. With eleven members in attendance, Foster was named chairman, John Creighton treasurer, and Ruth Nelson secretary. Betsy Greene, Chester “Chet” Grady (a former professional stage actor and singer), Eva and Wiear Rowell, John Brooks, Ada Perkins, Priscilla MacCallum, and Dr. Harold Pierson filled out the roster of original members. In time, familiar names like Lawrence Hackett, Clara and Floyd Gale, Russ and Ada Merrill, and many others, would be added to the list. The Players were a diverse group, with business owners, homemakers, writers, servicemen, a lawyer, a dentist, a psychic, a selectman, Harvard grads, married couples and families, all drawn together by their shared passion for playacting. With a formal structure now in place, the Players held monthly meetings and, in 1951, legally incorporated.

Their first play under the Hampton Players name was Ghost Train, directed by Foster Greene, sponsored by the Hampton Kiwanis, and presented at the high school auditorium in March 1948. While the auditorium was their home stage, over the years they also gave performances at the Hotel Wentworth, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth Air Force Base, and the Hampton Playhouse. During the height of their activities in the 1950s and 1960s, the Players staged from two to four plays each season, mainly as benefit shows for the Kiwanis and other local organizations like the Lions Club, PTA, and Hampton Monday Club. To further their internal interests, monthly meetings included stagecraft seminars, skits, and readings, and, at an annual picnic, they awarded “Oscars” to their most talented members. Lamie’s Tavern on Lafayette Road and Chet Grady’s home on High Street became their favorite group hangouts.

Players 02

Behind-the-scenes crew on the set of the Hampton Players production of “Champagne Complex,” Portsmouth Air Force Base, 1957. (L-r) Earl Anthony (director), Betsy Greene (set designer), Foster Greene (stage manager), George Leoutsakos (lighting), Marge Pierson (props). Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Seacoast one-act play competition

In 1950, the amateur theatre group from Rye spearheaded the creation of the Seacoast One-Act Play Competition, which for years was held in the Rye Town Hall—since the 1880s, the grand dame of the local theatrical venues—with later competitions held at the Hampton Playhouse and Exeter Town Hall. Along with Rye and Hampton, groups from Hampton Falls, Exeter, Portsmouth, Amesbury, Dover, and Berwick, Maine participated.

In 1955 the Hampton Players won Best Play with their production of Beams of Our House. Members garnered the Best Actor award six times: Foster Greene (1951), Ken Ryan (1954), Chester Grady (1955 and 1956), Alex Finan (1957 and 1958); and Best Actress three times: Aloyse Doyle in 1952 and Betsy Greene and Ada Simmons in 1955.

Players in the big time

 Robert Duggan

A native of Newburyport, Massachusetts, Robert Duggan appeared in the Players’ 1955-1956 productions of My Three Angels and The Youngest Shall Ask, and he directed their 1956 production of the hit Broadway play Male Animal. The following year he was in Hollywood, with a small role on the Jack Benny Show. He went on to work in other tv series, such as The Twilight Zone, The Fugitive, All In The Family, and The Jeffersons, and in a number of films, including The Invaders (1967), Cruising (1980), and The Dogs of Hell (1983).

Players 01

(L-r) Russell Merrill, Chester Grady, and Mary Fogarty of the Hampton Players rehearse at Grady’s High St. home, c. 1950. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Mary Fogarty

In 1946, twenty-four-year-old Mary Fogarty, formerly of Manchester, New Hampshire, began writing community interest articles and theatre reviews for the Beachcomber and Hampton Union newspapers. In 1949 she made her acting and directing debut with the Hampton Players in A Murder Has Been Arranged and Another Language. In 1950 she played the lead in the Players’ production of Kind Lady, directed their production of Fumed Oak, and moved into the professional ranks with a supporting role in the Hampton Playhouse production of Rain. By 1952 she had moved to New York City to pursue a fulltime acting career.  

During her 60 years as an actor, Fogarty worked on Broadway and off, in films, and on television. She played regional and summer theatres, returning to the Hampton Playhouse for the 1981 and 1983 seasons. She is remembered for originating the role of the cantankerous Ouiser Boudreaux in the 1987 off-Broadway production of Steel Magnolias. Her last role was in the 2009 thriller Sordid Things, two years before her death at age 90.


For decades, and always for a worthy cause, the Hampton Players had entertained Seacoast audiences with performances of some of the most popular contemporary plays—Anastasia, Harvey, Sabrina Fair, The Curious Savage, and Bell, Book and Candle—as well as children’s plays like Winnie the Pooh, Cinderella, and The Elves and the Shoemaker. But with the sparkly new medium of television drawing audiences, the lack of a dedicated, funded performance space, and the looming certainty of retirements, old age, and death to chip away their numbers, the organization didn’t last much past the mid-1970s. Yet none of those factors can diminish the short but sweet life of Hampton’s only amateur dramatic corporation. The Hampton Players had provided an artistic, creative outlet and training ground for a hundred or so stage-happy grownups and a few aspiring young actors, and had bonded the community together as only live amateur theatre can do.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on September 13, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

The short history of the Miss New England contest at Hampton Beach


1925 Miss New England Hazel Houghton of Lowell, Massachusetts (l) and second place winner Dorothy Dobbins of Methuen, Massachusetts (r). (Haverhill Gazette).

In 1924, more than two decades before the advent of the now-iconic Miss Hampton Beach beauty pageant, the Hampton Beach Board of Trade sponsored a photo contest to determine who was the “most beautiful bathing girl” at the beach. Stationed in front of the Casino, local photographer Dave Colt snapped photos (none of which seem to have survived) of a reported 150 girls and women, from ages “six to sixty.” After a local judging committee trimmed the field of contestants to twelve, the final judge, E. Wyatt Kimball of Concord, New Hampshire, an artist then employed restoring portraits in the New Hampshire State House, selected the winner, 17-year-old Bernice Rand of Exeter, New Hampshire. She was awarded the title of Miss New England and a silver “Neptune’s Loving Cup” at a parade event billed as the “August Festival of Mermaids.”

1925 Junior Miss New England Virginia Rose Calnan of Lowell, Massachusetts (Haverhill Gazette).

In 1925 the contest was part of the 11th annual Labor Day Carnival festivities. Kimball again judged the contest, awarding first prize to Hazel Houghton of Lowell, Massachusetts and second prize to Dorothy Dobbins of Methuen, Massachusetts. In the junior category, 8-year-old Virginia Rose Calnan of Lowell won the top prize.

These contests seemed an auspicious start to a new Beach tradition, but the idea of a Miss New England beauty contest, or of beauty contests in general, didn’t catch on right away, and after 1925 the contest was canceled. The first Miss Hampton Beach contest, called “Miss Cover Girl” for the first two years of its existence, debuted in 1946. Then in 1957, during the glamorous Golden Age of beauty pageants, the Hampton Beach Chamber of Commerce reintroduced the Miss New England contest, held in the Casino Ballroom as a prelude to the Miss Hampton Beach pageant (which was still held outside on the beach, but would join Miss New England in the Ballroom in 1959).  The judges’ favorite was Maureen Burke of Methuen, who also won first runner-up in the Miss Hampton Beach pageant that year. For local residents, a memorable event in the pageant occurred in 1963, when sixteen-year-old Frances Houlihan of Seabrook won the title. As it turned out, she was one of only nine girls to wear the Miss New England crown, as the pageant was permanently closed after the 1965 season.

1957 MHB Sally Ann Freedman, Peabody MA1950-59 MHB binder at CRC

1957 Miss New England Maureen Burke of Methuen, Mass. crowns the 1957 Miss Hampton Beach, Sally Ann Freeman of Peabody, Mass. (Hampton Historical Society)

1963 MNE Winner

1963 Miss New England Frances Houlihan of Seabrook, New Hampshire (Hampton Historical Society).

Originally published in the Hampton Union, July 26, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “The Queens of Hampton Beach,” a history of the Hampton Beach Carnival Queens and Miss Hampton Beach, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

Hampton’s History in Maps


The New England towns that dotted Captain John Smith’s 1616 map (above) didn’t really exist, but a sixteen-year-old English prince named Charles had taken the liberty of replacing Smith’s indigenous place names with English ones, most of which did not survive the era of Puritan migration. As to the future site of Hampton, located on the mainland just south of “Smiths Iles,” neither the young prince nor Smith had paid much attention—its place on the map was nameless and nearly hidden by Smith’s outsized portrait.

A decade later, William Alexander, the future viscount of Canada, divided New England north of Cape Cod into twenty feudal manors, each with its own named governor. Alexander’s plan met the same fate as Charles’s imaginary towns, but if it had been enacted as envisioned, a church historian named Sir Henry Spelman would have governed the still-unnamed area that one day would be called Hampton.

Local area placenames, “Strabery Banke” and “the boreshead,” from the 1634 map of New England by William Wood. NYPL Digital Collections.

Soon enough, place names that modern Hamptonians would recognize began to appear on maps. William Wood’s 1634 map identifies “Strabery Banke” and “the boreshead,” and Reverend William Hubbard’s 1677 map, drawn to illustrate his account of King Philip’s War, marks the town of “Hamton.” Then in 1689, a decade after King Charles II had ordered the separation of New Hampshire from Puritan Massachusetts (much like the Puritans had ordered the separation of his father’s head from its body 40 years earlier), the correctly spelled town of Hampton, with its coastal promontories of Great Boar’s Head and Little Boar’s Head, appeared on an English map.

Hampton as it appears on the 1737 map by George Mitchell, drawn to facilitate the 1741 Massachusetts-New Hampshire boundary decision.

1737-1741 Mitchell map

The establishment of the Province of New Hampshire renewed the question of the true location of the Massachusetts colony’s northern boundary—did it extend three miles north of the northernmost point of the Merrimack River as claimed by Massachusetts, or was it a straight westerly line three miles north of the river’s mouth as claimed by New Hampshire? The competing claims launched a dispute that would drag on for years, with both sides asserting taxing authority over the inhabitants of the disputed zones. King George II of Britain would have the final say, his decision guided by the map prepared by George Mitchell, a surveyor who had spent the previous five years mapping stands of mast trees in Nova Scotia. The town of Hampton and its harbor appear on his 1741 map, which plots the so-called Mitchell Line. Ultimately, the king chose a line similar to the boundary as it exists today.

1761 Blanchard Map

Hampton as it appears on the 1761 map by Col. Joseph Blanchard and Samuel Langdon. Boston Public Library.

1761 Blanchard-Langdon map

Colonel Joseph Blanchard of Dunstable, New Hampshire served in the New Hampshire militia and fought in the French and Indian War. Assisted by Samuel Langdon, a regimental chaplain from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he surveyed “An accurate map of His Majesty’s province of New-Hampshire in New England…which exhibits the theatre of this war in that part of the world.” Hampton, Great Boar’s Head, and “Hampton R. & Marshes” appear on this map, published three years after Blanchard’s death in 1758.

Thomas Leavitt’s 1806 map of Hampton. Hampton Historical Society.

1806 Leavitt map

In 1803 and 1805 the New Hampshire legislature directed that a state map be compiled, and to that end it required all New Hampshire towns to make plans of their territories. The plans were to show all principal roads, water features, mountains, hills, and the names of adjoining towns, and were to be transmitted to the office of Secretary of State Philip Carrigain by June 10, 1806. The resulting state map, published in 1816, features a pictorial vignette of Boar’s Head.

To produce Hampton’s contribution to the project, the town hired Thomas Leavitt of Hampton Falls. A selectmen’s record for 1806 shows that the town paid $64.85 for “surveying the town.” To engrave the map, Leavitt recruited his friend James Akin, an artist and political cartoonist then residing in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The selectmen evidently had not approved the expense beforehand, as the town voted “not to allow Thomas Leavitt Esq. [his] account for engraving the plan of the town of Hampton.” Leavitt’s map is the first to include a detailed portrayal of Hampton’s built environment: churches, schools, businesses, and the names and locations of property owners.

Portion of the c. 1830 map of Hampton. Hampton Historical Society.

1830 Hampton map

This rustic, color-coded map by an unknown maker was found in the North Hampton Library and donated to the Hampton Historical Society in 2008. The linen backing suggests that it may have been used as a wall map. Besides depicting the principal buildings and the names and locations of property owners, it identifies two roads by their names then in use, Sandy Lane (Winnacunnet Road) and Nook Lane (the eastern end of High Street).

Portion of the 1841 Marston-Dow map of Hampton. Hampton Historical Society.

1841 Marston-Dow map

At the 1837 annual meeting the town voted to hire former school teacher Josiah Marston to survey and draw a plan of the roads in town. Edmund W. Toppan assisted Marston by keeping the minutes of the survey. In 1840 the town authorized the selectmen to make any necessary corrections to the map and print 250 copies for the use of the legal voters. Former Hampton Academy principal Joseph Dow added the town’s boundaries and rivers, and, notably, the track of the Eastern Railroad that now cut through town. Like the 1806 and c. 1830 maps, the built environment was included, as was a commentary on the town’s history, the output of its fishing, farming, and salt industries, and a census of human and livestock populations. The Marston-Dow map is the only one known to have been proposed and carried out by the town itself.

Portion of the 1857 map of Hampton, Rockingham County, New Hampshire. Hampton Historical Society.

1857 Rockingham County map

The 1857 county map, published as a large color wall chart, was compiled from surveys by John Chace, Jr., a prolific surveyor of county maps in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. Property owners and structures are named, and pictorial vignettes of Hampton Academy and the residences of Aaron Coffin, Esq. and Dr. William T. Merrill are prominent among the illustrations that line the map’s border.


Map of Hampton from Hurd’s Town and City Atlas of the State of New Hampshire (1892).

1892 Town and City Atlas

From his publishing offices in Boston, Massachusetts, historian Duane Hamilton Hurd produced dozens of works on the histories of New York and New England, including the illustrated 1882 History of Rockingham and Strafford Counties. Maps of Hampton and Hampton Beach appear in Hurd’s 1892 Town and City Atlas of the State of New Hampshire, which is the last privately published map of this type to mark Hampton residents’ names and property locations.

Early Settlers Map

Map of the old town of Hampton from Joseph Dow’s “History of the Town of Hampton” (Lucy Dow copyright 1894).

1892 Dow’s early settlers map

This illustration, included in Joseph Dow’s History of Hampton, identifies the locations of the church and homesteads of the early settlers at the original center of town, the so-called “Ring” that encompassed the area now bounded by Park Avenue, Winnacunnet Road, and Lafayette Road.

Portion of the 1923 Sanborn fire insurance map of Hampton Beach, showing the Opera House and Convention Hall. Dartmouth College Digital Library Collection.

20th century Sanborn insurance maps

In 1867, Daniel Alfred Sanborn published his first fire insurance map for the city of Boston, Massachusetts. Realizing the lucrative market for this kind of map, Sanborn built his company into the country’s largest insurance mapper. The company’s near monopoly and premium prices spurred competitors to develop cheaper methods of assessing fire risks, and by the mid-20th century the Sanborn Map Company had diversified into more profitable mapping activities. From 1904 to 1942, Sanborn mapped the commercial, industrial, and adjacent residential sections of Hampton and Hampton Beach.

Guides to the past

More than just tools that point the way from here to there, maps reflect the interests of their audiences at the time they are produced. Early maps like those of Captain John Smith and William Wood helped would-be colonists see into the unknown by depicting the natural resources, wildlife, and native populations of what was then a vast wilderness. Maps like Colonel Blanchard’s, made during the wars of the 18th century, marked military forts and pointed out the trails where Indians were known to carry off their captives. Maps made during the relatively peaceful decades following the establishment of the United States paid marked attention to domestic matters—property owners are identified by name and buildings are drawn as they actually appear. Leisure activities, too, are often illustrated, as on the 1806 Leavitt map, which depicts gunners hunting on Boar’s Head while their horse and carriage await. From the 17th century to the 20th, the town of Hampton appeared on state, county, and town maps that were the product of both public and commercial interests. Today these maps serve as valuable guides to the past for historians, genealogists, and anyone interested in the history, growth, and urbanization of the town and its beach.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on July 5, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.


The ‘phew’ in the meeting house


Hampton, New Hampshire. Built in 1797, the fifth town-owned Congregational meeting house—where the ‘phew’ incident took place—was converted in 1844 to secular public use only. As the town hall (shown above), the building was altered a number of times and assumed its final appearance in 1888, when, according to town historian Joseph Dow, it was “radically made over.” Lawrence, Massachusetts architect George G. Adams designed the alterations, which included the unique belfry tower. The hall burned down in 1949. —Postcard image courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

The firing of Reverend Ward Cotton, a man known to sometimes lose control of himself while in the pulpit, had been years in coming. The complaints of certain female parishioners were becoming impossible to ignore, and in 1765 he was removed as pastor of the Hampton Church. No one disagreed that his behavior had been shocking, but on the subject of how the case should be handled there was a large divide between those who worked for his outright dismissal and those who took a more sympathetic approach, believing his mind had been damaged by “disease.”

The differences spilled over into the choice of Cotton’s replacement. Every plan put forward was met with opposition. When the town finally settled on 32-year-old Ebenezer Thayer of Boston, the vote was far from unanimous. Dissenters believed he had been chosen only to keep a more liberal candidate from taking the position, and they warned that if Thayer should become pastor, “the Town of Hampton is on the Verge of Ruin,” which they were “Determined to find out some way to remedy it.”

Some saw the deaths of Deacon Joshua Lane, a dissenter who had been killed by lightning as he stood at his doorstep, and the child of another malcontent, Simon Nudd, as “special providences” in favor of the new pastor. Others not swayed to his side went elsewhere for their religion, refusing to pay their minister’s tax. The town didn’t like it, but short of rounding up the dissenters and confiscating their property, there was little that the selectmen could do.

Adding to the strain of these religious troubles were the British Acts of the mid-1760s, which had been enacted to tax the colonists’ commerce. The Acts agitated Hampton as much as any town, and everywhere in the colonies efforts were made to encourage anti-British sentiment and to make life hard for the royal officers charged with enforcing the laws. It was a risky course of action, one that eventually exploded in the Boston Massacre of 1770.

It was within this atmosphere of dissent and dissatisfaction that the bizarre affair of Nathaniel Sheaf Griffith of Hampton, a 24-year-old clock and watch repairer, was carried on.

“Z.Z.” goes public

In a letter published in the July 1, 1768 issue of the New Hampshire Gazette, someone calling himself “Z.Z.” first brought the affair to the public’s attention. His purpose for writing was to expose the “abandoned character” of one “N—th—el S—fe G—fi—th of Hampton, who on the Night of [Saturday] the 11th of June…descended into some Sink for Human Excrements…and therewith freighting himself, proceeded to the Meeting-House in Hampton, and in a dirty, filthy and polluted Manner discharged the same upon the Linings and Cushions of a Gentleman’s Pew.”

The 12th of June being a Sunday, the deed was soon discovered, “to the Interruption of divine Service, and to the Discomposure of the whole Congregation.” According to Z.Z., “had the stinking Offender…Wit enough to have kept his own secret,” he would have gotten away with it, too.

Nathaniel responds

Two weeks later the Gazette published Nathaniel’s reply, in which he expressed “the greatest Surprize, Amazement and Astonishment”—not that he had been accused of smearing human excrement inside a church pew—but that such a “hard mouth’d scandalous Defamer, a Detractor…a most indelible Disgrace to the human Species, a Defamer of so black a Dye” actually existed in the world.

He did, however, “solemnly declare” his innocence, and he defied anyone to prove that he was guilty, because he knew that “only the circumstantial Evidence of a Girl…who for Ten Dollars more, and another green Gown, may be induced to swear” to his guilt. In short, the girl had been bribed to falsely accuse him, apparently at the behest of a person who had “found himself disappointed in all his former Attempts” to seize the property that was to be Nathaniel’s inheritance.

In response to Z.Z.’s impassioned outcries about defiling a house of God, Nathaniel shot back, “how dare you enter within the sacred Walls of that Meeting House where so many distress’d Persons, made so by your cruel Oppressions, present themselves to your View?” Clearly, Nathaniel believed that Z.Z., the briber, and the gentleman of the befouled pew were all the same person. Even if they were not, his revelatory remarks point, as we will see, to the one man in Hampton whose reputation fitted their blunt assessments.

A letter from “T.N.” and an apology

Several weeks later, a third writer calling himself “T.N.” (possibly Thomas Nudd, Esq., a Justice of the Peace in Hampton) entered the war of words. He chastised the editor for bothering to print such “personal, rude and indecent” missives, vouched for the reputations of both the girl and the gentleman whose pew had been fouled, and wholeheartedly agreed with the premise of Z.Z.’s letter. The “whole Neighborhood, if not the whole Town” of Hampton, he said, knew that Nathaniel was the one who had put the poo in the pew, and he likened the Griffiths to “lazy, idle People” who think they are “greatly abused if they are made to pay their debts.”

Mocking the “fine strain of Eloquence” that ran through Nathaniel’s letter, T.N. hinted that someone with more writing talent than young Mr. Griffith possessed had composed it. Like a well-aimed arrow shot, the allegation found its mark, and sure enough, toward the end of the year the Gazette published an apology from the anonymous scribe, who confessed that if he had known then what he knew now—notwithstanding Nathaniel’s claim of innocence—he “would sooner have cut off his right Hand, than have put Pen to Paper in behalf of the Author of that Piece.”

“Bitter cries and lamentable moans”

 If Nathaniel was the culprit, then surely revenge was his motivation. The clues lie in the words of his letter, which tell us that an “Oppressor” was attempting to get at his “Father’s Inheritance,” and in the county records—where a man’s secret failures and humiliations are unapologetically made public—which show that Nathaniel’s father, Hampton innkeeper Gershom Griffith, had gotten himself deeply into debt. By the summer of 1768 his creditors were closing in on his tavern and 26 acres of prime Hampton land. Unfortunately, Griffith’s principal creditor was his neighbor Jonathan Moulton, a prominent merchant and land dealer whose greed and deceitful financial dealings were the stuff of legend (and not a few tears). His takeover of Griffith’s property was imminent, and there was nothing that Gershom or Nathaniel could do—except perhaps take revenge on the heartless man (Moulton) said by Nathaniel to have caused the “bitter Cries and lamentable Moans of the distrest Widow and the helpless Orphan.”

“Devilish envy and revenge”

Had the vile prank satisfied Nathaniel’s need to get even, or was he planning more acts of revenge? As it happened, for some time Moulton had been the target of arsonists who had burned down three of his barns in Hampton Falls. He opined that his antagonists were “persons of bad character and shattered circumstances, who…when they cannot be discharged from their just debts in a course of law [will] give full scope to their devilish envy and revenge.” He brought charges against Capt. Jonathan Swett, a man of similar social rank whom he had bested in a contentious court case, and who was jailed for failing to pay a judgment levied against him in the arson case. But while Moulton was focusing his attention on Swett, he may have missed the fact that it’s not always the most obvious or strongest enemy who does the greatest damage. Swett seems to have left the area by early 1768, but a few months after the pew incident an arsonist struck again, torching Moulton’s home barn and hitting him right where he lived. Of course, anyone could have done it, but we could ask the question—since Nathaniel had the means, opportunity, and enough motive to fill a barn—had the “phew in the pew” been his gateway crime to arson? We may never know for sure.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, June 7, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.



Leora Philbrick Bristol of Hampton, New Hampshire


Leora Philbrick Bristol, c.1910. Courtesy of Julie Bristol Mortlock.

Leora Philbrick Bristol, c.1910. Courtesy of Julie Bristol Mortlock.

Leora Philbrick Bristol of Hampton, New Hampshire had a reputation in her family as “no shrinking violet.” Born in 1887, with bloodlines that stretched back to the town’s earliest years, on her 18th birthday she married Frank Bristol, a divorced man 12 years her senior. It was an act that most parents of the time would have found appalling. She had been one of the first women to conquer the complexities of the automobile in her hometown, and as early as 1916 had bought and sold real estate in her own name. In 1912, when Frank turned from house painting to cars and opened Bristol’s Garage at Hampton Beach, no doubt she was right there, involved in its operation. But the auto business, still in its infancy, was by no means a sure thing, at least in the minds of some folks—when Frank Brooks decided to open the Hampton Center Garage in 1915, his parents advised him to “get a decent job.” The World War took a toll on the auto industry as production was devoted to the war effort, with sales and repair shops inevitably taking a hit. Then came the deadly Spanish flu pandemic that killed 675,000 persons in the United States and some 50 million people worldwide. During the years 1918-1919, Leora’s grit was sorely tested as first Frank succumbed to the flu, leaving her with four small children and a business to run, and then Millard, her 13-year-old son, died of pneumonia.

The Bristol Garage

Bristol Garage and Wilbert Hotel, c. 1920

Bristol’s Garage and The Wilbert Hotel, c. 1920. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Shortly after Frank’s death Leora assumed sole ownership of the garage by buying her children’s inherited interest in the property. The family continued to live in their Marsh Avenue cottage, adjacent to the garage, and Leora continued to run the business with help from Walter Goss, a former chauffeur who managed the day-to-day operations of the garage. But she evidently had other plans for her life, as in early 1922 she put the garage up for sale and bought an undeveloped lot at the corner of Lafayette Road and Ann’s Lane on which she would build a house. The garage went unsold that year, and in March 1923 she once again advertised that it was for sale, and could be bought with or without the two adjacent cottages. Unfortunately, on a windless night in June the garage took fire and burned to the ground, two years to the day of the last great beach fire.

1923 Boston Globe front page

Front page of the Boston Globe, June 23, 1923.

Explosions rocked the garage as the fire spread from car to car, the night watchman making his escape from the burning building by breaking a window. While a “roaring mass of flames” shot high into the night sky, Leora and her family, and the pajama-clad guests at the Wilbert Hotel next door to the garage, fled for their lives as the fire quickly ignited the surrounding buildings. The Bristol cottages were utterly destroyed, two others badly scorched, but the Wilbert, by virtue of its fireproof shingles, was saved from total destruction, and was credited with helping to check the fire’s spread. Various culprits were assigned to the cause of the blaze; a short circuit in one of the 22 cars parked inside the garage, an unextinguished cigarette butt, an overheated engine. The following day the fire made the front page of the Boston Globe, which reported, somewhat fantastically, that some 100,000 people had arrived during the day to inspect the calamity.

Bristol's Garage in ruins, from Boston Globe image, June 25, 1923.

Bristol’s Garage in ruins. Boston Globe image, June 25, 1923.

Leora’s Bristol Cafe

Put out of her home by the fire, Leora rented an apartment in one of John Janvrin’s new houses across from the Odd Fellows Hall at the center of town. She and her family resided there until July 1925 when the Ann’s Lane house became ready for occupancy. Here she opened a cafe and rooming house (later known as the Lafayette Inn), which she ran until selling the property in late 1926. This house was later moved to the adjoining lot to make way for the Town and Beach Motel, and is still standing there today.

Later Years

Unlike many women of her time, Leora never remarried. After selling the Ann’s Lane house she turned to housekeeping, advertising for situations “in refined gentlemen’s homes.” Over the years she worked at a number of private homes in places like Kittery and Portsmouth, and later, until her death in 1956, she lived in Exeter with her daughter Charlotte Bristol Doyle, a former Carnival Queen (1927) who owned a real estate agency in Hampton for many years.

According to Leora’s great granddaughter, Julie Bristol Mortlock of Exeter, who is currently writing her family’s history and who contributed to this article, Leora loved cats, and kept many in her home. Not surprising, really, since I have it on good authority that “cat ladies” the world over are and have always been nonconformists who love challenging traditional roles. Leora Bristol certainly fit the description.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, May 3, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

When tea rooms were a thing


By the early 1920s, America’s tea room craze was on. A triad of cultural forces—women’s rights, automobiles, and Prohibition—had combined to make tea rooms as ubiquitous then as Starbucks is today. The first establishments were cozy little restaurants opened by women for women. They were socially acceptable for a woman to own, and at a time when ladies could be barred from entering a restaurant alone, they were places for unescorted females to dine. Department stores also capitalized on the trend. Filene’s in Boston invited women shoppers to sit a spell in their elegant tea rooms, blissfully apart from the “men’s” restaurants where cigars were sold and smoking was permitted. In the days before the 19th amendment was passed in Congress and ratified by the states, suffrage groups used tea rooms as safe places to gain signers for their petitions. 

On the New Hampshire seacoast, the first tea rooms were located in Portsmouth and Newcastle. In 1909 the Portsmouth Herald informed its readers that “Tea rooms are now quite the thing.” Familiar names in Portsmouth were The Colonial, Gray Gables, and The Jarvis, and in Newcastle, the White Cat and Wayside Inn. Farther down the coast in Rye was Virginia’s Tea Room, and at Little Boar’s Head, the exotically named Blue Dragon Tea Room.

Hampton was not far behind, and over the next four decades tea rooms were a common sight at the beach. In 1910 the Hampton Beach Casino opened one of the first tea rooms for which there is a record. Located in a former laughing gallery, the room had been “prettily fitted with Japanese hangings” in the latest fashion, and, just in case the tea thing didn’t pan out, it doubled as an ice cream parlor. Over the next half century at least 14 other tea rooms would operate at the beach, and at least two uptown, in the “village.” Some lasted only a few seasons, while a few survived until the beginning of the fast food era in the 1950s.

-tea rooms in the village-

 Stevens Tea Room

Around 1920 Phoebe Campbell Stevens and her husband Charles O. Stevens bought the site of the former Whittier Hotel, just west of their Hotel Echo, at the junction of Lafayette and Winnacunnet roads. In 1922 Phoebe opened a tea room in the building that Charles had built on the site. How long she welcomed patrons to her tea room with her soft Irish brogue is unknown. As a widow in 1934 she leased the property for use as a gas station, and after her death in 1939 the land was purchased by her nephew, Herbert Patterson of Lynn, Massachusetts.

East End School (1873-1922)

East End School, c 1910. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

East End Tea Room

In 1925 Eva Kamett Mason, originally from Madison, New Hampshire, opened a tea room in the former school house located at the corner of Locke and Winnacunnet roads, which from 1873 to 1922 had been the East End grammar school. Sitting in desks now redeployed as dining furniture, Eva’s patrons were served a menu of “salads, chicken fried or broiled, clams in all styles, sandwiches, and coffee par excellence,” and, of course, an English Tea from 3-5 p.m.

About 1930 Eva closed the tea room and did business at a dry goods store on Lafayette Road. By 1940 she had relocated to Portsmouth, where she worked as the manager of the Women’s Exchange in that city.

 -tea rooms at north beach-


the Palmers

c. 1920 photo post card of Charles Henry and Ruth (Leavitt) Palmer. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

 Palmer’s Tea Room

In 1923 the small restaurant known as Palmer’s Clam Shell began life as a tea room under the ownership of Charles and Ruth (Leavitt) Palmer, both descendants of Hampton’s earliest families. That same year The Hamptons Union reported that “Mrs. Ruth Leavitt Palmer is doing a very thriving business at her tea room at North Beach.” Located opposite the fish houses where Charles was often employed as a fisherman, and renowned for its “home cooking and seafood specialties,” Palmer’s remained in business until 1944.


1925 Elsa Marie Aitken

Elsa Marie Aitken, proprietor of the Acorn Tea Room (Boston Globe, June 4, 1925).


Acorn Tea Room

In 1926 Helene Pabst Aitken and her husband Eli, a classically trained musician who for 16 summers had played the trombone and bass viol at Hampton Beach with the Charles Higgins Concert Band, bought three house lots on Acorn Road, in Frank Leavitt’s new Greenlands subdivision near Plaice Cove. Although their deed prohibited commercial enterprise on the premises for 20 years, that same year the Aitkens opened the Acorn Tea Room in a cottage on the lot nearest the beach road. No one seems to have minded.

 The Aitken’s daughter Elsa Marie, who had served in World War I as a U.S. Navy “Yeomanette,” was the Acorn’s proprietor. Her advertising slogan, “An Artistic Touch to the Surroundings as Well as the Food,” said that this might just be the kind of cozy tea room that ladies read about in magazines.

By 1930, the year Elsa married local milkman Homer Johnson, the Acorn Tea Room was called simply “The Acorn.” On the menu were chicken, steaks, and lobsters, with “tea and bridge parties a specialty.” In later years the Acorn morphed into the Acorn Village and Motel, and although Elsa’s main residence was the Johnson’s Park Avenue homestead, she continued to run the business with her parents.

B1 - 1926Jul27 HBNG Acorn Tea RoomBoth Eli and Elsa died in 1959. He was 93, she was 67. The motel, including the original “Acorn Teahouse” cottage, went on under other management until the 1980s when it was torn down and replaced by the Harbour Pointe condominiums.


-tea rooms at hampton beach-

Delta building Hampton Beach

Cozy Corner Tea Room in the Delta Building, corner of Ashworth Avenue and Ocean Boulevard, c. 1925. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

 Cozy Corner Tea Room

For years Thomas and Minnie (Brown) Hobbs of Manchester, New Hampshire had spent their summers at Hampton Beach. In 1908 they made the move permanent, and by 1920 Minnie was the proprietor of the Cozy Corner Tea Room, located on the boulevard between A and B streets. She was admired for her beauty and praised as a “wonderful cook” whose chicken dinners were “famous” with the social clubs that frequented her tea room. She earned a reputation for “endurance and ambition” when she worked out of a tent on the beach after her tea room was destroyed in the fire of 1921. And, as tea rooms were often venues for local women to sell their handcrafted items, Minnie did her part by selling preserved foods and homemade items for the Rockingham County Farm Bureau Women’s Exchange.

In 1922 the Cozy Corner reopened in the new Delta Apartments building at the junction of Ocean Boulevard and Marsh (Ashworth) Avenue.

In 1926 tragedy struck the Hobbs family when Minnie suddenly died. Although the newspapers reported that the culprit was food poisoning, the official cause of death was a cerebral abscess caused by an infection in the 56-year-old woman’s mouth. Thomas ran the tea room for a time, but later acquired other management. The tea room continued under the Cozy Corner name until 1946, when it became the William James Dining Room.

Chat Room staff

Waitstaff of the Chat Tea Room, c. 1930. Courtesy of Carole Wheeler Walles, granddaughter of Joseph S. and Clara Libby Dudley.

The Chat Tea Room

Opened in 1926, this tearoom was located in Joseph and Clara Dudley’s Hotel and Gift Shop building at the corner of C Street and Ocean Boulevard. Said to have been “one of the Dudley family’s great hobbies,” it became “a business second to none on the beach.” Then in 1931 Clara died and The Chat ceased to be a family hobby. The following year it opened under new management. A 1938 advertising supplement informs us that diners came from places as far away as Fitchburg and Hanover in Massachusetts “to enjoy the special attention of their favorite waitress”—picked from a stock of girls who had been “specially selected for their personality and appearance.” Oh, and the food was really good, too.

In 1947 George and Lea Downer of Southbridge, Massachusetts bought The Chat from George Fostie of Lawrence, and it may be this café that was later known as Lea’s Tea Room. Lucky for the Downers, the tea room survived the 1950 fire—which started in a shed at the rear of the building and eventually destroyed 19 businesses—and was still in business in 1958.

Colonial Inn

Postcard view of the Colonial Inn and Tea Room, c. 1930. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Colonial Inn Tea Room

After 20 years of managing the Hampton Beach Casino and Ocean House Hotel, in 1926 Frank Nason purchased and renovated the Central House on F Street. He fancified the exterior of the new but austere-looking building and rechristened it the Colonial Inn. The Central’s Surfside Café became the Colonial Inn Tea Room, which operated under the name into the 1930s. The Colonial Inn remained in business until 2005, when it became the Boardwalk Inn & Café.

Fairview Tea Room

Postcard view of Garland’s Ice Cream Shop, Fairview Hotel, and Tea Room. c. 1940. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Fairview Tea Room

Around the turn of the 20th century, Lemuel and Abbie Ring of Haverhill, Massachusetts built the Fairview House, a smallish hotel with an attached café. In 1908 they sold it to James and Lucy Garland of Manchester, New Hampshire. The Fairview burned in 1915 and again in 1921, and, like other beach hotels of the era, each time a more substantial building arose from the ashes of its predecessor.

In 1922 Charles F. Butler, the Garland’s son in law, opened the Fairview Tea Room on the north side of the new building (located at the corner of B Street and Ocean Boulevard, this structure is still standing, unfortunately with none of its former charm). As postcards will attest, the tea room was still in business in the 1940s.

Boar's Head Inn

Hylas and Almeria Wheeler’s rebuilt Boar’s Head Inn, 1929. Hampton Beach News-Guide, August 28, 1929.

Ye Boar’s Head Inn and Tea House

Located on Dumas Avenue on the north side of Boar’s Head, this inn and tea room—the former “Seldom Inn”—opened in 1927 under the ownership of Hylas and Almeria Wheeler. Before coming to Hampton Beach, Hylas had managed the St. James Hotel, his father’s venerable Washington, D.C. hotel, whose golden age had turned to rust by the 1920s and was demolished in 1928 to make way for the construction of Constitution Avenue.

In the early morning hours of January 23, 1929, the Wheeler’s Boar’s Head hotel was also demolished, not by the wrecking ball of progress but by fire. No one was hurt in the conflagration, and fortunately for the rest of the neighborhood, the wind was blowing offshore at the time, sending the flaming embers harmlessly out to sea.

Almost immediately the Wheelers built a larger inn, expanding from four bedrooms to fifteen, and from one dining room to two. “Tea House” was dropped from the name, but English Tea was still a specialty of the inn. Unfortunately, the fire and the Wheelers’ hopes for the future came at the worst possible time. The Wall Street crash and the economic depression that followed meant fewer paying guests, and in 1934 the inn was foreclosed and put to auction. Under new owners the Boar’s Head Inn became one of the most popular eating spots at the beach, but its days were numbered. In 1986 the inn was demolished.

-other beach tea rooms-

Williams Coffee and Tea Room—run by Mary Young Williams of Exeter, New Hampshire, this tea room had been in business on Nudd Avenue, perhaps as early as 1916.

Cutler’s Tea Room—started in 1923 at Cutler’s Sea View on Ocean Boulevard, this tea room seems to have been discontinued after only a few seasons.

Bobbie and Freckles Tea Room—just north of Cutler’s, this was another mid-1920s venture that seems to have had a short life span. Besides tea and “home cooking,” Bobbie and Freckles sold candy, gifts, and embroideries.

Martha’s Tea Room—located near the Dance Carnival at the foot of Boar’s Head, another mid-1920s tea room with a run of only a few seasons.  

Mahoney’s Lunch and Tea Room—this venerable boulevard eatery, “As Famous as the Beach Itself,” seems to have come late to the tea room party, advertising its tea room as late at 1948.

The Coffeecupinn Tea Room—opened in 1922 by Canadian immigrant Florence Munsey in her new Janvrin Building, after the fire of 1921 destroyed its predecessor. This tea room seems to have lasted only a few seasons.

The Renwod Tea Room—started in 1932 by brothers Frank and John Downer of Amesbury, Massachusetts. For nearly three decades they had run Downer’s Lunch on Hampton Beach, and their experience surely contributed to this tea room’s relatively long life, as the Renwod was still serving customers when it was destroyed by fire in 1948. (If you haven’t guessed, Renwod is Downer spelled backwards.)

White’s Tea Room Cafe—opened about 1927 by John C. White, the former partner of Joseph Dudley. This tea room was still doing business as of 1932, but the name may have been shortened to White’s Cafe shortly thereafter.

Looking back over the half century in which tea rooms were a common enough dining choice in Hampton and Hampton Beach, it’s clear that these eateries were more about exploiting a fad to turn a profit than immersing customers in a cozy, semi-exclusive, getaway atmosphere. Those that lasted long enough eventually dropped “tea room” from their names and became what they had been all along—small cafes and restaurants that served cheap comfort food. But the idea of the tea room has never exactly gone away, and with today’s fast casual cafés that feature “fully immersive experiences,” the tea room might be poised to make a comeback. Just last year a pink-on-pink Hello Kitty café—a bellwether of the changing food culture if ever there was one—opened in California. And it offers an afternoon tea.

Portions of this article were originally published in the Hampton Union on April 5, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Hampton History Matters, a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market in downtown Hampton. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.