Hampton History Matters, the book!

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

Hampton’s Old Town Hall

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Engineering sketch of the old Hampton Town Hall, 1892.

For nearly two centuries, New Hampshire towns had taxed their citizens to support the Congregational ministry. Each town hired its pastor and paid his salary, and it owned and maintained the meeting house where both church services and town meetings were held. A growing revolt by non-Congregationalists and others against this taxation led to the passage in 1819 of the so-called Toleration Act, a contentious amendment to the 1791 law that regulated how towns chose their officers. The new law essentially ended mandatory religious taxation, except to fulfill existing contracts. Anyone who didn’t want to pay the tax could serve notice to the town clerk, and, according to town historian Joseph Dow, the first instance of this in Hampton occurred in 1823, “when some 30 persons refused to be taxed.” Initially feared and despised, the new law acknowledged the growing diversity of religious sects (and their sometimes overly zealous adherents—in 1808, Hampton was the scene of a potato-throwing riot when a Baptist minister showed up to preach), as well as those citizens with no religious affiliation. Instead, religious societies were given the power to raise money by taxing their members.

A productive disagreement

Long before the Toleration Act was enacted, a disagreement over the choice of minister led to a split between the Presbyterian-inclined town and the Congregationalists who wished to remain independent from an outside presbytery. With the Presbyterians in the majority, the Congregationalists gave up the meeting house and kept church in a private dwelling until 1797, when they built their own meeting house. This turned out to be a good thing in the long run, as it was this structure that would be refitted—some sixty years later—for its new life as the Hampton Town Hall.

In 1808 the factions reunited and hired Josiah Webster as pastor of their combined flocks. They knocked down the old meeting house and made the 1797 meeting house their single house of worship, for which the town paid the Congregationalists four thousand dollars. To make things fair for the Presbyterians, the pews were ordered relinquished and reauctioned.

The town ended its ministerial tax upon Webster’s death in 1838, when the terms of the 1819 Toleration Act barred any further expenditures of public money for religious purposes. In 1840, then, the town divided the parsonage lands and other ministerial assets among the established Congregational, Baptist, and Methodist churches. In 1843 the Congregationalists moved into their new-built church (which still stands in use today), just across the road from their old meeting house.

c. 1830 Hampton map, showing meeting house.

Mapmaker’s representation of the Hampton meeting house, from the c. 1830 town map. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

 You own it, you fix it

With the town now solely in charge of the old meeting house, it was voted to pay Edmund W. Toppan $400 for the land on which the meeting house stood. Funds were allotted to deal with petty vandalism, broken windows and the like, and by 1855 the town was wrangling over the cost of repairs to the aging structure and wondering what to do with the privately owned pews, still in place for more than a decade. Five years later, an outside committee was appointed to appraise the pews and determine how much to pay owners for their interest.

As the year 1860 came into being, the long custom of referring to the building as the “Old Congregational Meetinghouse” was dropped in the records in favor of the simpler, secular “town house.” In that year, Jonathan N. Dow presented a resolution to determine the cost of moving the town house to a lot near the new (High Street) cemetery, to repair the building, or, failing approval of the move, to turn the building so that the front faced the road “where it now stands.” The town voted $1,200 to repair and turn the building, to move it to the east side of the lot, and to purchase 20 feet of land on each side of the property. Later that year they voted to buy a new bell (cost $441), to fence the lot, and to insure the building against loss. To accommodate the new, heavier bell, the original steeple was replaced with a belfry.

In 1870 the town voted to add a piece of property to the town house yard, one that had been formerly occupied by the house of Betsy Blake. By 1883 the town house had fallen into such a state of disrepair that the selectmen were directed to examine the structure and determine what repairs were needed, after which $200 was voted to effect the repairs. The following year, however, the issue of repairs was again brought to the voters. This article was indefinitely postponed, the voters approving only the removal of the fence that fronted the town house.

 The 1888 makeover

As expected, the postponements did not fix the problem of repairs. In 1885, voters were asked to appropriate a sum of money “sufficient to thoroughly repair the town house and to build an addition on the North end as per plan.” They again voted that the article be indefinitely postponed.

In 1886 the issue of repairs was once more brought before the voters. Committees were appointed, conclusions drawn, and it was decided that a committee should “draw plans and specifications and estimate what it will cost to repair the town house.” The committee’s report must have been sobering, as the town voted to lay the issue “on the table” for one year.

In 1888 the town was asked to appropriate the sum of $3,000 to makeover the town house. With nine very specific requirements, it was resolved to tackle the project in a major way. The requirements called for a two-story tower with a belfry, not less than 12 feet square, at the front of the building, with interior stairs that would give access to the second floor. It was also ordered that the second floor be remodeled, a new hardwood floor laid down, the ceiling replastered, the woodwork painted, and the window frames repaired. The floor of the lower hall was to be leveled, new petitions installed, walls and ceilings replastered and painted, and a chimney “to give a good draft” added. The exterior was to be painted with two coats of paint “in two colors.” The selectmen were authorized to issue town notes for the repairs, with rates of interest not to exceed five per cent.

Postcard view of Hampton Town Hall. postmarked May 1907.

Postcard view of Hampton Town Hall, ca. 1907.

The contract for the project was to be let to the lowest bidder, who was required to complete the work no later than July 25, 1888. Lawrence, Massachusetts architect George G. Adams was hired to draw the plans for the alterations and Samuel W. Dearborn of Hampton was awarded the construction contract. Things didn’t go quite as planned, and the date of completion was moved to October 30. The delay upset some persons, who wanted contracts annulled and a new town house built from scratch, at a cost of $8,000. Eventually, however, the problems were resolved and the town house was rebuilt to its final appearance—a typical New England structure, but with a strangely squashed, domed bell tower that seems to have been ordered up by a (perhaps deranged) Russian oligarch. Unlike in appearance to Adams’s other known works, it remains one of the most unique public buildings ever erected in New England.

While the selectmen had ultimate charge of the town house, the tradition of yearly electing an agent for the town house began in 1861 when Loring Dunbar was chosen to oversee the care of the building. In later years the job fell sometimes to the bell ringer and sometimes to the janitor.

A community resource

As a natural extension of the meeting house ethos, for nearly 90 years Hampton’s town hall had served as the community’s civic center. In 1861, the town allowed the Winnacunnet Guards, Hampton’s militia company that would soon be heading off to fight in the Civil War, the use of the town house one evening per week. In 1862 the Debating Society, “to aid the volunteers,” was also allowed one free evening per week. In 1871 the town permitted the Hampton Library Association to use the “lockup room” in the town house for a library (with the lockup moving to another room, of course). Also in that year, the voters left to the selectmen the matter of allowing the Adventists to use the town house for religious services (the selectmen apparently said no, as the Adventists soon leased from Simon Towle land on which to erect their church). Schools, churches, and community groups used the hall for their benefits, dramas, and minstrel shows. Movies were shown and dances and concerts held, with music provided by any number of professional and amateur groups. The Superintendent of Schools kept an office in the town hall, and when police courts were established in New Hampshire (1913), a room adjacent to the lockup was provided for that purpose. Before the ratification of the suffrage amendment in 1920, town meetings had been held in the lower hall, but afterwards, with the increase in voters, the meetings were held in the larger upper hall—which is why it was voted in 1924 to build a fire escape and to buy settees for the hall.

The town hall burns

Nearly a half-century had passed since the makeover of 1888, and the country was now in the midst of an economic depression. Still, warrants presented at the 1933 town meeting asked voters to approve spending some $20,000 to enlarge and renovate the town hall. The proposed article, as you might guess, was indefinitely postponed. But—to everyone’s credit—in 1935 the town installed a fireproof vault to protect its valuable and historic records (a measure last proposed in 1891).

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Fire fighters battle the blaze that destroyed the town hall, March 19, 1949. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Fourteen years later, in the frigid, early morning hours of March 19, 1949, a loud explosion jolted the vicinity of the town hall. A roused neighbor, seeing the front doors on the town hall blown open and flames pouring out of the windows, put in a call to the beach fire station (the town station, standing next door to the town hall, wasn’t connected to the “regular telephone system,” nor did its on-duty fireman hear the blast). The 14-degree temperatures hampered efforts to save the 152-year-old landmark, and in the end only the bell tower remained unscathed. The vault had done its job, the records were saved, and with the $10,000 insurance payout, a new town hall was built around the spot where the vault stood. Even with later additions, this structure was not much larger than an average house, but it served as the town offices until 1999, when they were moved to their current location, a concrete and glass fortress built originally as a bank. It’s predecessor stood abandoned until it was demolished in 2011.

1949-1999 Town offices. Sept 29, 2011. Lane library.

Demolition day for the old town offices building, Sept. 29, 2011. Courtesy of the Lane Memorial Library.

Some mementos still remain

In Hampton, the era of the community-centered town house, with its large hall, dining room, and kitchen ably suited for gatherings and entertainments, is long past. Yet a few mementos of the old town hall still exist. The “$80,000” clock—a reminder of the time when the town owned a money-bleeding street railway—resides in the present town offices; the 1861 bell that rang from the deranged oligarch’s tower is now a permanent fixture in the dooryard of the Congregational Church on Winnacunnet Road; and the Hampton Town Hall sign that once hung two stories above the front entrance, rescued from the dump, is on display at the Tuck Museum.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, December 27, 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.

Goody Cole & the Enchanted Oven

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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

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

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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.

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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).

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(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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.