Hampton History Matters, the book ;-)

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Those who follow this blog know that for a number of years I’ve been writing History Matters, a column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, which is published monthly in the Hampton Union newspaper and republished on my social media sites at Facebook, Twitter, and lassitergang.com.

In 2017 I combined this collection of columns, plus extra photos and a few bonus articles, into a book titled (big surprise!) Hampton History Matters. The book is available on Amazon.com and at Marelli’s Market in Hampton, New Hampshire.

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HHM BOOK COVER

HHM BOOK COVER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Heartfelt thanks to Karen Raynes, a former newspaper correspondent and current vice president of the Hampton Historical Society, for getting me into this newspaper gig to begin with, and to Betty Moore, Executive Director of the Tuck Museum of Hampton History, for generously allowing access to the museum’s archives and for reprint permissions.

 

 

 

More Than a Poet’s Fancy

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John Greenleaf Whittier, 1852. Library of Congress.

John Greenleaf Whittier, 1852 (Library of Congress)

The poet John Greenleaf Whittier of Haverhill and Amesbury, Massachusetts, spent many a summer on the New Hampshire seacoast. Well-acquainted with its natural beauty, history, and local legends, he penned a number of ballads set in the Hampton area. His visits to the shore gave us “Hampton Beach” (1843) and “The Tent on the Beach” (1867), and the legend of Hampton’s witch Goody Cole was the supernatural inspiration for “The Wreck of Rivermouth” (1864) and “The Changling” (1867).

Another tale of the supernatural was “The New Wife and the Old,” published in 1843. It was, he wrote, “founded upon one of the marvelous legends connected with the famous General Moulton of Hampton, New Hampshire, who was regarded by his neighbors as a Yankee Faust, in league with the adversary.” The ballad recounts a visit to Moulton’s new wife on her wedding night by the ghost of his dead wife, who had come to reclaim the jewelry—her jewelry—that the new wife now wore.

“I give the story as I heard it when a child, from a venerable family visitant,” Whittier wrote in his preface to the ballad. As he was born in 1807, just 20 years after Moulton’s death, the original story could almost qualify as news, and his “venerable” visitor had likely known Moulton in the flesh. Equally fascinating, the story has a basis in discoverable fact, thanks in part to Winnacunnet High School history teacher Harold Fernald, who generously donated to the Hampton Historical Society his storehouse of local history, including several Moulton family letters.

The Story Behind the Story

In 1775, Moulton’s first wife Abigail died of smallpox. She left behind eight children, six under the age of fifteen. A year later Moulton married Sarah, the daughter of local doctor Anthony Emery. His choice, it seems, was not popular with his children, as one of Moulton’s sons, likely Josiah, a Harvard graduate who had assumed ownership of his father’s store, complained in writing that Sarah had wrongfully appropriated his mother’s belongings, “which of right belonged” to the oldest daughter, Nancy.

Sarah, he said, had taken Abigail’s gold necklace, had added to it more gold given to her by her husband, and had “worked [it] up to make herself a larger one.” She also took Abigail’s gemstone ring, monogrammed china, linens, and several items of costly clothing. She cut up the linens and clothing to disguise having taken them, and “at every opportunity” had robbed the house and conveyed items, including money, to her mother and others. Along with the list of items taken, the writer filled the page with his stepmother animus, saying that “Intermixed with lying deceit, backbiting, misrepresentations, every evil practice to answer her interest, and malevolent temper against the true heirs and children of the family and estate and their friends, [all] to such a degree that nothing short of a representation of images of Hell can represent her true conduct and character on Earth.”

In 1777, then-Colonel Jonathan Moulton of the 3rd New Hampshire militia was busy preparing his citizen soldiers for war, yet found time to engage in several ink-and-paper wars with his kinfolk. In a letter dated March 1, Moulton accused his father in law of reneging on Sarah’s dowry, and, with Sarah, of “Schem[ing] to defraud me by deed.” He implied that he might bring these actions into public should Emery not pay him what was due. Two days later he received Dr. Emery’s reply. “If you go into publick,” Emery warned, “I shall divulge those things which you never will wipe off, nor yours after you.” He closed by saying, “God forbid there should be such another on the face of the Earth as you are.”

That same day, Moulton wrote to his son regarding a situation that was just then “disturbing the Peace & Tranquility” of the family. His son replied on March 10, scolding him for his “evasive denials” and “indecent and malevolent reflections,” and warned that he would pursue “a more publick way for satisfaction” if the problem was not resolved. He signed the letter, “Your much injured, yet in all due respects, your Dutiful Son.”

These letters, of course, are only hints to a much larger story. But the accusations leveled by father and son against Dr. Emery and his daughter Sarah—the haunted heroine of Whittier’s ballad—make it plain that the Emerys were profoundly at odds with the Moultons, who, in turn, were at odds with each other. In consequence, their bitter, real-life family drama had fashioned for Whittier the perfect cauldron of greed and resentment in which the poet could brew his fanciful tale of ghostly (and righteous) retribution.

And the tenderest ones and weakest,
Who their wrongs have borne the meekest,
Lifting from those dark, still places,
Sweet and sad-remembered faces,
O’er the guilty hearts behind
An unwitting triumph find.
—from The New Wife and the Old by John Greenleaf Whittier

 

In grateful remembrance of Harold Fernald (May 18, 1931 – May 21, 2018), who in his day created a few legends of his own.

Harold Fernald

Harold Fernald as Franklin Pierce, c. 1995.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, September 28, 2018.

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, Tuck Museum, and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com

The Cold Water Army

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Wine connoisseur Benjamin Franklin once said, “If God had intended man to drink water, He would not have made him with an elbow capable of raising a wine glass.” But for typical Americans of his era, drinking alcohol was more than a mere exercise of the joint between the humerus and ulna: it was becoming a national crisis. By the time of Franklin’s death in 1790, the annual consumption of distilled spirits by persons 15 and older was five gallons. By 1830, when solo and communal bingeing were common occurrences, it had exceeded nine gallons. Social and economic anxieties, cheap and plentiful rum, and the low-class, bland-tasting, and often polluted status of water were cited as reasons for Americans’ heavy consumption of alcohol. Whatever the causes, it led 19th century observers to conclude that the United States had become a nation of drunkards.

 Long before the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, mostly male groups such as the American Temperance Society, Washingtonian Total Abstinence Society, and Sons of Temperance had formed great armies of sober men to do battle with Demon Rum. All enthusiastically promoted the idea of cold water as a substitute for alcohol.

Most New Hampshire towns had a temperance movement. In Hampton, Rev. Josiah Webster spearheaded the anti-liquor crusade, scoring a temporary victory in 1830 when voters instructed the selectmen to stop issuing licenses for the sale of spirituous liquors. That vote was reversed the following month, but in 1833 selling liquor was again prohibited.

The temperance convention was the most popular method of delivering the anti-alcohol message to the masses. Like one big, catered camp meeting, it was a day long festival of marching, music, and speechifying by reformed drunkards. One of the first conventions in Hampton was held in 1841, for the purpose of organizing a Rockingham County chapter of the Washingtonian Total Abstinence Society, an early form of Alcoholics Anonymous, whose motto was “The Cold Water Army, conquering by love, the best mode of warfare.” The proprietor of the Railroad House carried the day to a roaring success by putting his stock of spirits “into the hands of the Washingtonians, who amused themselves by pouring them on the ground.” The most notable and well-attended conventions, however, were those held in 1844 and 1849.

1844 temperance convention

The local Washingtonians hosted Hampton’s first general temperance convention, held at Boar’s Head on July 4, 1844. The country’s birthday was favored by anti-alcohol forces of all stripes, because, they reasoned, by taking the “dry oath” on that day, participants would more strongly feel their abstinence as a virtuous act, akin to the Founding Fathers’ struggle for independence.

The day began with a march from Dearborn’s Inn at the center of Hampton to the beach, with Old Glory and the temperance banners unfurling in the breeze. The featured orator was future president Franklin Pierce, a man who struggled with hard drinking most of his life, eventually succumbing to cirrhosis of the liver in 1869. A choir sang such refrains as “The teetotalers are coming, the teetotalers are coming, the teetotalers are coming, with the Cold Water Pledge. We will stop the course of stilling, alcoholic drink for killing, and all fermented swilling, with the Cold Water Pledge.” To the objections by some temperance advocates that, since rum was sold there, Boar’s Head was the wrong place for the event, the Exeter News-Letter commented, “if anybody took rum or brandy [that day], they did it very slyly.”

1849 temperance convention

Hampton’s second and largest temperance convention, held on July 4, 1849, was hosted by the local branch of the Sons of Temperance. Led by a uniformed, mounted marshal and the Newburyport Brass Band, a parade of children with banners and flags, clergymen, and the Sons marched from the Congregational Church to the convention site on the Thomas Ward estate, just south of the main village. The featured speaker was John Hawkins of Baltimore, a rehabilitated drunkard and early member of the Washingtonian Society. The warriors were out that day, eliciting pledges of alcohol abstinence from among the estimated 2,000 attendees.

Cold Water Army

“Cold Water Army,” depicting temperance groups marching to Hampton, c. 1841 by unknown artist. The road sign reads “Hampton 2 mil.” The banners read “Cold Water Army,” “Hampton 1841,” and “Temperance Army.” Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

The hole in the dike

Cold Water armies not only encouraged abstinence, they agitated for mandatory prohibition, and in 1855 the New Hampshire legislature enacted a ban on the production and sale of most kinds of distilled spirits. The prohibition lasted until 1903, when it was replaced by local option. As it had in the 1830s, Hampton vacillated between yes and no on the liquor question.  New Hampshire had its share of flip-flopping problems, too, as pro- and anti-alcohol forces struggled for dominance in the state. In what would become the antis last big win, statewide prohibition was reinstated in 1918, two years ahead of national prohibition.

With the repeal of national prohibition in 1933, New Hampshire again allowed local option, but reserved the right to issue licenses to hotels in “dry towns” that wanted to serve liquor to their registered guests. Hampton voted to remain dry, and social pressure ensured that no hotel in town or at the beach would seek a liquor permit. That changed in 1957, when Lamie’s Tavern in Hampton Center sought and received a license. Worried residents feared that the license was the first “hole in the dike” that would eventually flood the beach with liquor. From some points of view, the dire prediction has come true. For others, water remains the wettest thing at Hampton Beach.

 The free water custom

Humans have to drink something, and in the mind of temperance advocates, that “something” should be water. To lure drinkers away from liquor, they worked to make cold, clean water widely available, and in doing so created a tradition that is still with us today. So the next time a restaurant server presents you with a free glass of ice water, whether you’ve requested it or not, be aware that this faintly peculiar custom had its beginnings in the great temperance crusades of the 19th century.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, August 24, 2018.

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, Tuck Museum, and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

The unusual life of Chester Grady

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Born in 1894, his life spanned the first three-quarters of the 20th century. His prime years were pillared by world wars, shotgunned by economic depression, and energized by a dynamic new culture of music, films, and radio. He was a gifted tenor, a stage and club performer who lived and worked in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco; traveled and studied internationally; and counted among his friends European royalty and Hollywood stars. He achieved minor fame in the early 1920s touring the country with Elsie Janis, a popular musical-comedy entertainer, with whom he remained friends until her death in 1956. His voice received the imprimatur of Ernestine Schumann-Heinke, a well-known German operatic contralto who encouraged him to study for the opera. And he was a psychic medium to boot.

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Chester Grady and Elsie Janis, 1922 (New York Herald).

Chester Michael Grady was born in Lakeport, New Hampshire and grew up in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where his mother died in 1903 during a bout of diphtheria that left her young son unscathed. His father remarried and the family eventually grew to eight children, the last born when Chester was 32 years old. In his youth Grady waited tables at Hampton Beach, sang in church, and at age 23 did his first acting stint in a Detroit, Michigan theatre. He performed at venues around the Seacoast and, in winter, St. Petersburg, Florida, often accompanied on the piano by his lifelong friend, John Creighton. After settling permanently in Hampton, he founded the Hampton Players theatrical group, joined the local Kiwanis, and enjoyed antique collecting, crewel embroidery, and cooking. He lectured on extrasensory perception in the Seacoast region, where his reputation was as an authority on the subject.

If anyone should have written their life story, it was Chester Grady. He must have thought so, too, as he said in a 1970 interview that he was working on his memoirs. But when he died two years later, his work-in-progress went missing.

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The Creighmore summer boarding house, Hampton NH, c. 1940. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

The Creighmore

Maude Morey, a wealthy widow from Lowell, Massachusetts who liked to entertain guests at her Hampton Beach cottage, took a shine to the two young musical talents Grady and Creighton and put them under her wing. In 1923 she bought the former High Street residence of Josiah Cate Palmer and converted it to a summer boarding house named Creighmore, a high-toned portmanteau of Creighton and Morey. That winter, while Grady donned a tux and sang for his supper around the Seacoast, he and Creighton got the 22-room house ready for the summer season. Grady purchased a small cottage from the Coast Guard and moved it to the rear of the property as his private sanctuary, which he expanded over the years by adding both new construction and existing structures. The old Little Boar’s Head post office became a dining room, the Creighmore ice house a bedroom. But it was not until his marriage to Rae Cannon in 1947 that he made the patchwork cottage his full-time home. Over the years, Maude conveyed pieces of her property to John and to Rae, who later conveyed them to Grady, so that by the late 1950s he was the sole owner of the Creighmore and its grounds.

A dead man and a flapper

Of all Grady’s interests, the most unusual was his involvement as a trance medium—communicating with the spirits of the dead. He was also interested in psychic research, and to that end joined the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) and participated in the psychic investigations of Duke University psychologist Joseph Banks Rhine and Columbia University psychologist Gardner Murphy.

His first published spirit encounter came in the spring of 1930, as he was attending an Easter Sunday service in New York City. While sitting in the balcony of the church, he was visited by a young man who had committed suicide and wanted Grady to tell his mother that he was doing fine in the spirit world. When the spirit showed Grady a vision of his mother, Grady recognized her as a woman who had sat with him a month earlier. Acknowledging his obligation, Grady wrote her a letter to tell her what her son wanted her to know.

His most famous instance of mediumship occurred in New York the following year, when he was contacted weekly throughout the spring and summer by the spirit of Olive Thomas, the original “flapper girl” and Hollywood silent film star who had accidentally ingested poison in a Paris hotel room and died four days later, on September 10, 1920. Fueled by her youth, fame, and the exotic setting of her demise, rumors swirled through the scandal sheets that she had committed suicide over her supposedly dissolute lifestyle and unhappy marriage to Jack Pickford, the younger brother of actress Mary Pickford. Like the young man at the church a year earlier, Olive wanted Grady to contact her mother; not only to reassure her, but to set the story straight about her death.

The story of their contact was told not by Grady, but a year after his death by J. Gay Stevens, a man who said he was present at the sittings and took notes of what the “golden-haired” Olive revealed through Grady. Armed with the intimate information provided by Olive’s spirit, Stevens contacted her mother and convinced the troubled woman of the reality of her daughter’s survival after death. Olive then came to Grady once last time, repeating loudly in his inner ear, “We did it! Now she knows the truth and she’s free. And thanks to you two, so am I.”

Early Stargate Project?

Beyond the psychological aspect of a man, whose mother had tragically died when he was a child, attracting the spirits of tragically-dead young people reaching out to their still-living mothers, the fact is that Grady believed in his psychic abilities, even listing himself in Hartmann’s Directory of Psychic Science as a “Trance Medium.” And then there’s this interesting intersection of facts: in 1942—the year he cited the ASPR as his employer on his draft registration—Grady revealed to a local newspaper that he was in the employ of the “United States Intelligence Service,” or OSS. It seems far-fetched to suppose he had been involved in some sort of early Stargate Project, attempting to use his psychic talent to sniff out Nazi spies or break German codes, but Grady himself said that he was “at his best in research concerning identification of unseen objects.” Perhaps if another unseen object—the memoir he was writing in the years before his death—ever resurfaces, we might know for sure.

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Chester Grady, 1952. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

End note: they had me at bacon

For half of the 20th century, Marjorie Mills was a staple personality on the women’s page of the Boston Herald and on WBZ radio. Known as “Dame Boston,” she had interviewed such noted celebrities as Lionel Barrymore and first ladies Grace Coolidge and Jackie Kennedy. Chester Grady, it seems, was one of her local favorites—she had interviewed him on her radio show multiple times and was fond of quoting his witty remarks in her newspaper column. In 1966, when she stowed the typewriter and microphone after 50 years in media, he made the guest list at her retirement dinner.

In the spring of 1954, Mills invited Grady and John Creighton onto her radio show to talk about cooking. Dubbed by her the “inspired Comrades in Cuisine,” the foodies shared their recipes for crustless pecan pie and bacon-wrapped chicken, and, in true New England style, they recommended that cooks use grated cheese to punch up their favorite johnnycake recipes. Today we call these vintage dishes “comfort foods,” but in the ‘50s they were just delectable eating. To try them for yourself, no psychic awareness is required, just go online to https://lassitergang.com/comrades-in-cuisine.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, August 3, 2018.

Featured image (top) courtesy of Chester’s grandniece, Kate Norton Kelley.

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.

Horseless in Hampton

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An anecdote passed down in the early 20th century by Reverend Edgar Warren of Hampton, New Hampshire, says that the first horseless carriage to appear on the streets of town was brought in 1878 by Loring Dunbar Shaw, a fireman with the Boston Fire Department and the son of local residents Dearborn and Clarissa Shaw. Loring was an up-and-coming inventor of mechanical devices, having received several patents for an automatic steam relief valve which he licensed to the fire department for use in its horse-drawn fire engines. His patents became the foundation for the Boston-based Shaw Relief Valve Company, formed in 1882.

1869 Roper Steam Buggy & Velocipede

Sylvester H. Roper handbill advertising, 1869.

Loring’s interest in motorized vehicles may have been sparked by the pioneering work of Sylvester Roper of Roxbury, Massachusetts, an inventor who had exhibited a steam-propelled carriage and velocipede not far from Shaw’s engine house in South Boston. In any event, a steam carriage was a convenient way for Loring to demonstrate to prospective buyers and investors the effectiveness of his relief valves. He brought his carriage to Hampton by rail, and upon arrival at the depot “curious bystanders” helped him push it to a nearby water pump to fill the boiler. Once the steam was up, Loring started down the beach road “at the dizzy pace of five miles an hour.” He was seen jaunting around town for a few days in his “teapot on wheels,” until the selectmen deemed it a nuisance and ordered it off the road.

The Locomobile

The next horseless carriage of note in Hampton was an early Stanley steam car called the Locomobile, driven by its inventor and builder, Freelan O. Stanley of Newton, Massachusetts. As Stanley passed through town in August 1899, en route to the White Mountains to attempt the first-ever motorized ascent of the Mount Washington Carriage Road, he stopped to show off the Locomobile at the Whittier Hotel on Lafayette Road, where local resident Mary Toppan (Clark) photographed the man and his machine.

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Inventor Freelan O. Stanley with unknown woman and Locomobile in front of the Whittier Hotel, Hampton New Hampshire (August 1899). Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

Stanley and his twin brother and business partner Francis had been in the embryonic automobile industry for less than three years. They were better known for their photographic dry plates, which they manufactured through the Stanley Dry Plate Company of Lewiston, Maine. Miss Toppan must have been pleased to make Stanley’s latest invention the subject of her photographer’s lens, perhaps even using plates made by his own company.

 Hampton’s early auto laws

In 1904, a quarter century after the selectmen had banned Loring Shaw’s horseless buggy, the town posted its first ever automobile laws to combat the “reckless manner” in which the rapidly proliferating motor vehicles were running over the roads. The speed limit through town was set at 8 miles per hour and vehicles were required to stop when approaching a team of horses that seemed spooked (this was a serious problem, and some New Hampshire towns wisely arranged meet-and-greets at the town square where their horses could acclimate to the noisy contraptions before going under harness). For some years it appeared that the new speed limit law, while not always obeyed, was carefully enforced, with $400 in fines assessed in 1907 alone. But like the tramp laws of an earlier era, enforcement eventually fell by the wayside, and in 1910 and 1912 town meeting voters requested the selectmen to again enforce the speed limit laws.

Hampton’s first woman driver

Before Charles Kettering invented the electric starter in 1911, only a handful of women owned and operated cars. Kettering’s invention helped change all that by eliminating the need to hand crank, making cars much easier to operate. That is unless your car was a Ford, which didn’t begin installing electric starters until 1919.

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Hampton’s first woman driver Bernice Glidden (Palmer) and grandmother Anna Victoria Glidden in a sporty Ford Model T Roadster (1915). Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

With that in mind, it was at the wheel of a hand cranked Ford Model T Roadster that 26-year-old Bernice Glidden took to the road in 1915, giving her the distinction of being the first woman in Hampton to drive a car. Bernice had been born in Medford, Massachusetts, grew up in Hampton, graduated cum laude from Tufts University in 1910, and worked as a designer in Boston before marrying Charles D. Palmer of Hampton. She was an artist, and a collection of her hand-drawn notecards depicting familiar Hampton scenes is owned by the Hampton Historical Society, of which she was a longtime member.

Get a decent job

Also in 1915—the year the one-millionth Tin Lizzie rolled off Henry Ford’s assembly line—a 24-year-old former chauffeur named Frank E. Brooks opened the Hampton Center Garage, near the train depot, on land purchased from the Boston & Maine Railroad. The garage was one of the earliest service stations in Hampton, and, as Brooks Motor Sales, one of the first Ford dealerships in New England.

To Frank’s parents the horseless carriage was a passing fad, and they had urged him to get a “decent job.” But he knew automobiles were the future of transportation. The following year he expanded to Portsmouth, where, from the barn of his father in law’s residence, he started out as a sub-dealer for pioneering auto dealer and blacksmith Hiram Wever. “Your best friends in those days, if you owned a car, was the blacksmith,” Frank said in a 1966 interview. “They had the mechanical ability to replace broken springs and make other repairs in the days before there were garage service stations.”

Within a year Frank moved his operation to the old Portsmouth Forge building and became a direct dealer of Ford automobiles. At least four brothers and a brother in law found employment in the growing Brooks auto empire, with Frank’s brother John, who served as Hampton’s town moderator from 1937 until his death in 1952, as a sales manager. In 1961 Frank parted with the Hampton Center Garage, which reopened that same year as C&B Ford Village. In 1966 he sold Brooks Motor Sales, which reopened under the name Brady Auto Sales and is today Portsmouth Ford.

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Top: John Brooks on right, in front of Hampton Center Garage (c 1930 Ford Model A). Bottom: Hampton Center Garage with a Model T at front of building (c. 1925). Photos courtesy of Hampton Historical Society.

Going, going, gone

In 1900, Hampton’s annual valuation included 270 horses—almost one for every four residents in town. By 1920 the number had dropped to 157, and by 1940, when a car could be found in most driveways, the number of horses had fallen nearly 90 per cent. By mid-century Hampton was truly horseless, with only 4 equines among the resident livestock counted in 1963, the last year they appeared in the records.

Early Horseless Humor

“Horseless vehicles may do well for long distance excursions on the road, but it is plain they will never answer for making neigh-borly calls.”

Originally published in the Hampton Union, June 22, 2018.

Featured (public domain) photograph: Sylvester Roper and his steam carriage, c. 1870.

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 Hampton Beach Secessionists

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Hampton Beach in the 1890s was still enjoying its classic Hotel Era, with hats and gloves and German cotillions and everybody in bed and asleep by 10 p.m. Separated from the main village by three miles of farms, woodlands, and bumpy roads, the beach was usually left to its own devices, unless threatened by squatters, seaweed-stealers, or even another state. It then became the most important and most jealously guarded part of town. So even though Hampton was no stranger to its parishes going off to form new towns—she had nine daughter towns to her credit—no one at the time would have imagined that in less than 40 years Hampton Beach would be trying to form a tenth.

But everything changed with the coming of the electric railway. By the turn of the century, its trolleys were carrying thousands of day trippers from the inland cities of the Merrimack Valley to the New Hampshire seashore. Seemingly overnight, Hampton Beach had been transformed from a gently-used summer resort and fall gunning haven into a bustling tourist town operated mainly by out-of-towners, people with no sense of the ancient and unspoken ties between town and beach. Yet the town was happy to accommodate the newcomers, and those who wanted a more permanent relationship with the beach could sublease a 50’ x 100’ lot from the town or the Hampton Beach Improvement Company and build themselves a cottage. Rooming houses sprang up as businesses thronged the still-unpaved beach boulevard.

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Trolleys bring a convention of Shriners to Hampton Beach, 1901. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

 Hampton didn’t know exactly what its old Ox Common would become in the new century, but it had definite ideas about what it would not become. As James Tucker liked to remind the readers of his Hampton Beach News-Guide, “There are no rattling rides, whirling whips, swirling swings, dizzy drones, silly side-shows or vociferous bally-hoo men” at Hampton Beach. Instead, “a splendid class of [strictly tee totaling] vacationists has been attracted to this resort.”

The beach became a victim of its own popularity. The protective sand dunes were destroyed to make room for more leased lots, roads, and automobile parking, and storm erosion became a serious problem. The town built a series of breakwaters using railroad ties and granite blocks, but they might as well have used matchsticks. The leased lots at White Island, a notoriously unstable section of land south of the main beach, were always hit the worst.

Winter nor’easters be damned, by 1912 the town had expanded the lots at White Island and added hundreds of new ones at Plaice Cove, North Beach, and along the Hampton River. The rent money flowed into the treasury, along with fees from licensing, parking, and the comfort station at the beach. Town reports from the time seem to confirm the common complaint that the mainly non-resident property owners of Hampton Beach were paying the freight for the rest of the town, yet were not receiving benefits commensurate with their tax burden. Certainly, the benefits were not equal to what was needed, especially where fire protection was concerned. After years of wrangling unsuccessfully with the uptown “farmer types,” in 1907 the beach communities formed a separate precinct to fund their own fire protection services. It was the first step toward what would ultimately become a move to secede from the mother town.

 While the new precinct solved the problem of hydrants and firetrucks, the town still controlled the money needed to maintain every other amenity at the beach. And so the dispute over adequate municipal services continued.

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Hotel owner George Ashworth (l) and Hampton Beach News-Guide editor James Tucker, c. 1925. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

“Hampton Beach Wants Self Government”

 With this dramatic front page headline in the August 24, 1926 issue of the News-Guide, James Tucker ripped the scab off a long-festering rift between the new guard at the beach and the old guard of the town. The subheading “Town Officials At Odds With All The Beach Organizations” made it perfectly clear whence the pus had oozed—an elected board of selectmen that harbored “narrow, restricted, and even bigoted” viewpoints and “high-handed and arrogant” attitudes toward the beach and its needs.

Tucker set before the public a list of grievances against the selectmen, starting with their failure to attend a reception given for the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture as part of Grange Day at the beach. They had refused to allow the town-funded band to play at an event, had dragged their feet on the hiring of a much-needed lifeguard, had declined to lay a sidewalk in front of the Chamber of Commerce building while laying other sidewalks nearby, and were unconcerned about the discourtesy and lax patrolling of the police force. And when the Chamber asked for permission to display its Carnival Week prize automobile in a location other than at the rear of the beach toilets, the selectmen had issued an emphatic no.

“A crying disgrace”

According to Tucker, residents and visitors alike were disgusted by the uncleanliness of the beach, and, when the wind was right, the odor of rotting swill and seaweed (alleged Town response: “Move if you don’t like it.”). Potholes were a regular feature of the North Beach road, and the dark and dangerous “Death Corner” (the accident-ridden intersection at Winnacunnet Road and Ocean Boulevard) was in dire need of proper lighting and signage. In a scene that might have inspired Li’l Abner’s creator, a motley collection of used peach crates and barrels had been tied to the utility poles along Ocean Boulevard as trash receptacles. Tucker said the appearance of the beach was a crying disgrace, and not at all in keeping with the sentiment of the in-town sign that read “Hampton, Cleanest Beach on the Coast.”

“White Rocks situation dangerous”

But the most conspicuous evidence of the town’s neglect was its lack of concern for the endangered White Rocks (White Island) section of the beach. Schley, Sampson, and Dewey avenues, named after heroes of the Spanish-American War, had completely disappeared and some 30 houses had been either washed away or moved. With winter’s destructive storms still fresh in his mind, Tucker hailed the town’s breakwaters as “monuments to waste, inefficiency and extravagance.”

White Island House

Storm-damaged house in the White Rocks (also known as White Island) section of Hampton Beach, 1926. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

“A legal and lasting separation”

The upshot was that by 1926 relations between the town and beach were “strained almost to the breaking point,” with a number of frustrated Hampton Beach businessmen calling for the Precinct to completely separate from the mother town. It would take another nine years—during which time Hampton made the heartbreaking decision to cede its beachfront to the State in exchange for a State-funded breakwater—but in 1935 Precinct chairman George Ashworth stepped forward to champion the creation of the new town of Hampton Beach. In a report to the State, Ashworth said that most of the uptown residents held “archaic ideas of recreational development” and were only interested in the beach’s revenue producing possibilities (the Town might have replied: “And we cut off a limb to please you, too.”). In a notice to property owners, the Precinct commissioners said that “in no other way is it possible to have complete control over the tax situation,” while failing to mention that non-resident owners without legal voting rights would remain non-resident owners without legal voting rights in the new town. It was a fiefdom disguised as a democracy. 

A tenth daughter town?

On January 22, House Bill No. 160, an act to divide the Town of Hampton, was introduced into the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Proponents had high hopes that Hampton Beach was about to become the State’s first new town since 1876 and its 234th municipality. The House referred the bill to a committee of Rockingham County delegates, which after public deliberations resolved that the proposal was “inexpedient to legislate.” The bill was defeated on March 7 when the House unanimously accepted their recommendation.

The Precinct never again mounted a serious attempt to divorce itself from the mother town. In fact, the use of tax money to promote the beach had caused an about-face in the move to separate. In the 1950s, James Tucker, who once supported an independent Hampton Beach, called for the Precinct to be disbanded. In 1979, the state legislature exempted single-family homeowners from paying the Precinct’s promotional expenses. In 1988, the North Beach and Boar’s Head neighborhoods returned to Hampton. In 2002, the Town of Hampton resumed responsibility for fire protection at the beach, and in 2012 the White Island neighborhood asked to be returned to Hampton (but was denied).  It seems a tenth daughter town will just have to wait.

 Originally published in the Hampton Union, March 31, 2018.

Images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

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.

 

A very good business, while it lasted

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“Now for a while we shall buy & sell to get gain instead of trying to teach the young.”

Brave words for a young woman with no previous business experience in any era, but they were written in 1859, a time when the doorway to employment opportunities for women was as narrow as it had ever been. So it was with a risky leap of faith that the writer, Mary Page of Hampton, New Hampshire, and her sister Susan, gave up their jobs as school teachers to buy Elizabeth Odlin’s millinery and fancy goods shop in the nearby town of Exeter for $2,300 and reopen it in their own names.

 An independent income seemed an imperative for these two as yet unmarried women. Susan was 29 years old and Mary was 26, and by virtue of their ages, their chances of ever finding husbands were rapidly diminishing. Rather than panic at the prospect of becoming bothersome maiden aunts, they chose their path well, the decision to purchase shooting them right to the top of the custom millinery and dressmaking profession. Even in a small town like Exeter, they could now count themselves among the aristocrats of female needleworkers, able to enjoy a certain prestige and command the highest wages.

At the time, thirty-one of Exeter’s 3,309 residents worked in the needletrades, 28 women and 3 men. As tailors and hatters, the men occupied the top tier and were among the well-to-do of Exeter. The tailor Robert Thompson and the hatter Jeremiah Merrill had families and live-in domestics, with assets of $6,000 and $7,500 respectively. Women like Mary and Susan worked as lower-class seamstresses, dressmakers, and milliners; they were mostly single, lived in boarding houses, with assets that averaged $500. They could only dream of making the kind of money their male counterparts enjoyed.

Advert_01The Page sisters’ younger brother John approved of their venture. “I believe the girls will do well,” he wrote from Illinois to their mother in Hampton. “The millinery business is a very good business because the fashions change so very often. They are stepping into an extensive trade which will be of great service to them. I should advise them to expend a good sum each year in advertising. It will always be a profitable investment for them.”

The sisters generally followed John’s advice. Their first advertisement posted in the Exeter News-Letter in April 1860 and ran regularly for the ten years their shop was in operation.

S.L. and M.A. Page in Illinois

“Little transpired that was out of the daily routine of buying and selling and gathering gain, until August 21 [1860], when I diverged from the regular line and landed in the great west,” Mary confided in her diary while on a visit to John, who was teaching school in the Illinois town of Polo (named for the adventurer Marco Polo), some 110 miles west of Chicago.

 

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The Polo Weekly Advertiser, April 8, 1861. Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

“Only a few years ago I was a teacher with 50 little children, all looking to me for direction and guidance, and watching my every action by which they would be influenced to either good or evil. Now here I am—and well may this land be called the Great West, for it has produced in me a desire to expand and enlarge my idea of things.”

Acting on that desire, and perhaps to “hunt a husband,” as John in his letters to their mother had hinted was eminently possible in the rapidly growing town, Mary decided to extend her visit into a residency. With Susan managing the Exeter shop, Mary opened a second shop, one that her brother believed would meet with success.

“There is not such a store within a dozen miles of Polo, one of the best business points in the State,” he told their mother, adding, “Mary is doing well for a stranger. I am inclined to think that bye and bye she will have as much as she can do.”

Soon after, Virginia “Jennie” Perkins, another young Hampton woman with a hankering for a little western adventure, joined her as a partner.

 

MAPage&Cos

M.A. Page and Company

Two years later, Susan announced that she was “a-going to give up her single blessedness” and marry William Cole of Portsmouth, a widower with three small children. As marriage for women generally precluded work outside the home, Mary reluctantly sold her share in the Polo shop to Jennie and returned to Exeter. The partnership firm of S.L. and M.A. Page dissolved and Mary became a sole proprietor under the name M.A. Page.

Without Susan in the shop, Mary struggled to find and keep skilled employees willing to work for what she could pay them. To promising young ladies she traded her knowledge of the millinery and dressmaking trades for their unpaid work. But as often happened, once they were trained the good ones “got the fever” and struck out on their own. With so many new competitors entering the field of female fashion, profits were getting harder to come by.

Mary economized by living above the shop in a frugal flat she christened the “Old Maid’s Hall,” and scrupulously tracked every penny spent. She found working partners willing to invest in her firm, which became known as M.A. Page and Company.

MAPage&RATiltonAt some point, Mary became the object of attention of one Joshua Getchell, a wealthy but aging dry goods merchant whose nosing around the subject of her living arrangements she found offensive. But her opinion of him changed when his wife died, and, after observing a proper mourning period, they were united in marriage on August 3, 1869, thus ending her career as an independent tradeswoman.

Mary sold her share of the business to her partners and joined her husband, his daughter, and a servant in the Getchell home on High Street, only steps away from the Old Maid’s Hall. While nearly twice her age, acquired in the secondhand-husband market, he was a glorious catch for a woman whose parents fretted that she was too homely to get a man (foreseeing that Mary’s own single blessedness might accompany her to the grave, they had bequeathed her one-half of their Hampton homestead). 

The New Mrs. Getchell

For the new Mrs. Getchell, the timing couldn’t have been better. Small, female-owned millinery and dressmaking shops would provide women with employment for years to come, but the future was in ready-made garments, churned out in factories that competed directly with the independent, highly-skilled artisans. And marketers of the new “scientific” methods of garment making sold women on the idea that they could create their own fashionable clothing at home, using their own sewing machines and modest skills. Just one year after her marriage, many of Mary’s former partners and competitors were selling Singer sewing machines as their primary product offering. The victim of post-war industrial expansion, the “very good business” that Mary and Susan had entered a decade earlier was now teetering toward its deathbed.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, April 27, 2017.

A Page Out of History, based on the personal papers of Mary Page Getchell, is available for $10 through the Tuck Museum of Hampton History.

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.

Featured image (top): Susan Leavitt Page (left) and Mary Anna Page, c. 1860. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

Images (below): Jennie Perkins c. 1860. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society. Her advertisement in the Polo Press, May 16, 1863. Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

 

 

 

First women officeholders in Hampton NH

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In 1872 the adult male citizens of New Hampshire received from their government the right to vote for women candidates in local school board elections. It wasn’t an earth-shattering development, and the measure passed by with little attention paid to it. A few eyebrows were raised the following year when several citizens’ petitions for the right of women themselves to vote in school elections appeared before the legislature, but in 1878 this, too, passed into law. Between these two milestone years, women were elected to school committees in over twenty New Hampshire towns, a small but reassuring start to the larger woman’s suffrage movement.

Lucy Ellen Dow (1840-1896)

Lucy Ellen Dow

At the 1877 town meeting, Lucy received the majority vote as Superintendent of the School Committee. She was elected to a second term the following year, but the new suffrage law giving women the right to vote in school elections was not enacted until August, five months too late for Lucy to cast a vote for herself.

 In 1888, while helping her father with his History, Lucy wrote and published The Beautiful Place of Pines, a historical monograph of the town. Said to have been very popular at the time, it remains a fine piece of writing. After Joseph’s decease the following year, she finalized his work and in 1893 arranged for it to be published. But the undertaking had left her exhausted. Her friend Lucy Godfrey Marston once remarked that her life had been considerably shortened by the effort of completing the two-volume work.

At the time of publication, Lucy and her sister Maria, both single women, were living in Warren, Massachusetts. They sold the Dow family house in Hampton and traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to live with their brother Joseph Henry, a minor inventor and father of Herbert Henry, the young, soon-to-be founder of the Dow Chemical Company. Unfortunately, Lucy died before her entrepreneurial nephew became an icon in the chemical industry.

Shortly before her death on January 21, 1896, Lucy conveyed to Maria her interest in their remaining Hampton properties. Both she and Maria, who went on to live with the Herbert Dow family in Midland, Michigan until her own passing, are buried in the Dow plot in Hampton’s High Street cemetery.

Elizabeth Butler Norris (1864-1939)

Elizabeth Norris 03

Nottingham, New Hampshire native Lizzie Norris was the second woman elected to office in Hampton, and the first to sit on the High School Board. She was the namesake of her great-grandmother Elizabeth Butler, the daughter of Revolutionary-era General Henry Butler, one of the “Four Generals” memorialized by the 16-foot-tall Minuteman monument in her hometown square. She lived with her family in Texas and North Hampton, and in 1882 graduated from Putnam Free School in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Four Generals MonumentIn 1885, the year before the Norrises took up residence in Hampton with Lizzie’s aunt Laura Norris, a school teacher, the State replaced the local school districts and their superintending committees with a single, town-wide district overseen by a three-member School Board. Also that year the privately-held Hampton Academy merged with the public high school, giving Hampton an additional three-member board.

In 1887 Lizzie began her career as a Hampton grammar school teacher, and soon became the highest paid teacher in the district. Pretty, popular, and smart, she made quite an impression on School Board Chairman Dr. William T. Merrill, who paid homage to her almost magical teaching abilities. “The degree of excellence our Grammar School has attained,” he declaimed, “is due to the experience, zeal, and ability of Miss Norris. Her earnest study had been to enlarge and make her work more fruitful. A systematic, thorough teacher, with dignity that commands love as well as respect, every word has a meaning which is perfectly understood and appreciated. We can but express our individual wishes that she may be induced to remain the teacher of the Grammar school for a long time.”

In 1891 Elizabeth was voted to the high school board. Unlike Lucy, who had served the local schools for just two years before retiring to concentrate on other pursuits, she remained a board member for the next quarter century, and from 1911 until her retirement in 1915, served on both high school and school boards.

Elizabeth never married. After her retirement she traveled and spent time with her brother William’s family, becoming a director of his lumber company in Houston, Texas. She died in Portsmouth Hospital on November 22, 1939 and is buried in the High Street Cemetery.

Other Hampton ‘first’ ladies

1921—Library trustee, Sarah Hobbs Lane

Sarah Hobbs Lane

Sarah Hobbs Lane

1952—Town auditor, Wilma Toppan White

1953—Town clerk, Helen W. Hayden

Helen Hayden 1940s Blackout Warden

Helen Hayden

1962—Tax collector, Hazel B. Coffin

1972—Selectman, Helen W. Hayden; State Representative, Ednapearl Flores Parr

Ednapearl Parr c1979

Ednapearl Parr

1988—Town Moderator, Louisa K. Woodman

Louisa Woodman 1987

Louisa K. Woodman

(Thanks to Hampton Historical Society vice president Karen Raynes for research assistance.)

Originally published in the Hampton Union, March 30, 2018.

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 nh.historymatters@gmail.com or through her website lassitergang.com.