Winnacunnet Remembered

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Winicowett, Winnicummet, Winnacunnet. However you spell it, this Abenaki place name has a skeleton in its wigwam. Although variously translated as “beautiful place of pines,” “pleasant place of pines,” and “beautiful long place,” no one really knows what the word signifies, or—judging by the variant spellings—how it was pronounced by the Native Americans who passed it along to the English colonists. All we can be sure of is that it was the original, untamed-wilderness appellation of Hampton, New Hampshire, which the town’s founders very soon replaced with a name more in harmony with their English heritage.

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Top: Winnicummet Road sign, Lafayette Road intersection, c. 1930; Lucy Dow’s Beautiful Place of Pines, 1888. Center: Hampton Town Seal and artwork, Tercentenary souvenir program cover, 1938. Bottom: Winnacunnet Plantation Restoration buildings, 1970. All images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Winnacunnet remembered

Although Winnacunnet was short-lived, the memory of it was not, and it has been used with some frequency and diversity over the years. In 1819 the name reentered town history when the Winnicumet House Hotel opened for business on Great Boar’s Head. In 1838 local historian Joseph Dow also spelled the name as “Winnicumet” (later adopting the original Massachusetts spelling of “Winnacunnet” in his History of Hampton). In 1860 the name was picked up by local militiamen who called themselves the Winnacunnet Guards. Perhaps to honor these men, most of whom fought in the Civil War, Winnacunnet does not appear in use again until the 1880s, when local chapters of the Daughters of Rebekah and the Junior Order of United American Mechanics established their lodges under the name. In 1888 Joseph Dow’s daughter Lucy wrote and published a historical sketch of the town titled “The Beautiful Place of Pines: Winnacunnet Shalbe Called Hampton.” Also from this decade comes the story of Winnicumet the turtle, an inhabitant of Meadow Pond who was found and marked by various men in 1840, 1857, and 1888 (in a continuation of the story, Winnicumet was found and marked again in 1905, 1910, and 1928).

In the late 1920s the town renamed Beach Road, which ran between the town center and the ocean, to Winnicummet Road. This arrangement of letters displeased members of the Historical Society, and in 1934 they petitioned to have the signposts at either end of the road changed to the “proper” spelling of Winnacunnet. Even so, for decades after newspapers continued to use both versions when referring to the road.

In 1938, Hampton’s tercentenary year, the name was etched on the town seal, was versified in Lucy Godfrey Marston’s “Winnacunnet: Beautiful Place of Pines,” and memorialized in Eloise Lane Smith’s “The Drama of Winnacunnet,” a historical pageant performed by local residents. In 1958 Winnacunnet lent its name to the new high school. In 1961 a restored 1853 fire engine, owned by the Hampton Firemen’s Relief Association, was named Winnacunnet No. 1 (now on display at the Tuck Museum).

 Winnacunnet Plantation Restoration

In the late 1960s a man named Cleon Ross had an idea to erect a privately-funded living history museum on Meeting House Green, which the project’s marketing brochure fancifully described as the site of an Abenaki village that had been “deserted since the smallpox epidemic of 1616.” The broad mandate of this “Winnacunnet Plantation Restoration” was to demonstrate daily life on the seacoast during the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. Ross convinced the Historical Society’s board of directors, along with the town clerk, tax collector, a newspaper publisher, and two high school history teachers, to put their stamp of approval on his plan. To help finance the project Ross sold $10 non-stock certificates to the public.

building-collageWith help from the high school history club, Ross restored Ervin Philbrick’s old smithy, naming the renovated building Philbrick’s Blacksmith Shop. Retired Winnacunnet High School history teacher and former police officer Harold Fernald remembered escorting the building in his squad car as it was trucked to the site from Rye, New Hampshire.

From a building donated by the Toppan family, Ross created the colonial-themed Woodbury Print Shop. He added a General Store and a small replica of Hampton Academy that had been built in 1938 by then-82-year-old George F. Savage. The Historical Society’s 1850s-era one-room school house, the town’s three memorial stones, and a set of stocks and pillory were included in the site. Planned but never completed were a law office and a woodworking shop.

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Winnacunnet Plantation was opened to the public on July 11, 1970, with a parade from Hampton Academy to Tuck Field, lunch at the Ashworth Hotel, speeches by local dignitaries, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony with New Hampshire Governor Walter Peterson. From there the project went downhill rather quickly, a good idea executed poorly, received unfavorably by residents who felt that Meeting House Green, the site of Hampton’s first church, should remain forever free of buildings. Winnacunnet Plantation lost the support of the Hampton Historical Society and was permanently closed after the 1973 season.

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Winnacunnet’s future

Through the town seal, high school, and road to the beach, Hampton’s not-so-super-secret Indian name lives on in the everyday life of the town. But with the most recent tributes going back nearly 30 years—to a local reenactor group that called itself the Elkins Company Winnacunnet Guard Colonial Militia and “Winnacunnet,” the name of the town’s 350th anniversary souvenir program—it’s past time for a new homage. How would you like to see the name remembered? As for me, a tasty Winnacunnet brew—made at that other place of pleasant pines, Four Pines Brewery—sounds just about right.

Originally  published in the Hampton Union, December 30, 2016. All images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

queens-front-coverHistory Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book, “The Queens of Hampton Beach,” will be published in 2017. Her website is lassitergang.com.

2 thoughts on “Winnacunnet Remembered

  1. Jonathan Clark

    I really enjoyed the overview of the first remembered title for the area now Hampton. Is there anything to suggest how long the name Winnacunnet and its variations was used before the more English “Hampton” was decided on. Also, did that title encompass any of the surrounding areas i.e. Portsmouth and Rye and all the surrounding baby Hamptons?

    I love your articles! It is so much fun to see how you take the pieces and tidbits and order them with such easy intuition. As a reader I am drawn in every time. Thank you!

    Jonathan

  2. Hi Jonathan, good to hear from you again! And I’m glad you are enjoying my articles – reading that makes writing them so much more worthwhile. 🙂

    The name Winnacunnet was changed to Hampton by order of the Massachusetts General Court on September 4, 1639, less than one year after the settlement of the plantation. I’m one of those people who wishes they’d left the name as it was, but at least it’s still commemorated in so many ways around town. I hope the new Four Pines Brewery on Lafayette Road uses my suggestion to make a Winnacunnet-named beer!

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