The Great Boar’s Head bluff, rising prominently above the shoreline at the northern end of Hampton Beach, was once part of the Great Ox Common, an area of land that in 1641 the founders of Hampton reserved “to the world’s end” as common pasturage for their oxen. But times and traditions changed, the Common passed into private hands, and the bluff went under cultivation. When visitors from the inland cities began gravitating to this “invigorating and delightful spot” for fishing, fowling, and “the purpose of inhaling the country and sea air,” Boar’s Head farmers realized a new use for their land: cows and corn were out, vacation hotels were in, and so began the early hotel era at Hampton Beach.
The Winnicumet (1819-1854)
As in today’s world of business, it was the twenty-somethings who led the charge to exploit the new trend. In 1819, twenty-three-year-old Amos Towle and twenty-five-year-old Abraham Marston built a two-story, hip-roofed hotel on Towle’s Boar’s Head land. In 1822 Towle leased his “pleasant Stand” to tavernkeeper Richard Greenleaf of Hampton, and in 1828 he sold it to Thomas Leavitt, also of Hampton, for the mortgage plus $1,320. Thirty-four years old at the time, Leavitt enlarged the hotel with a three-story Greek Revival-style addition at the front of the original structure, and built his own home nearby. For the next two and a half decades the Winnicumet received visitors during the summer tourist and fall gunning seasons; then, in the early morning hours of July 21, 1854, a fire in a shed attached to the rear of the building burned the house to the ground. Some said it was a suspicious fire, but with the science of arson investigation still far into the future, no one would ever really know the cause.
Boar’s Head Hotel (1827-1893)
With the growth in tourism and the popularity of the Winnicumet, constructing a second hotel on Boar’s Head must have seemed like a sure thing to 45-year-old David Nudd, a man who was the embodiment of the young, fast-moving Republic—a merchant, moneylender, and prolific builder of ships, roads, salt works, a ship canal, and three hotels on the Boar’s Head bluff.
Nudd’s eagerly awaited Hampton Beach Hotel, which critics dubbed “Folly Castle,” opened for business on June 20, 1827. Built near the top of the promontory, the three-story hotel offered spectacular views of the Isles of Shoals, the summit of Agamenticus, Cape Ann, and, of course, the Atlantic Ocean. Nudd maintained ownership but hired a succession of managers to run the hotel: Nathaniel G. Tyler of Newburyport, followed by “Sleepy” David Brown of Hampton, then, in 1836, Levi Shaw of Dover. In 1840 George W. Cheney was managing the recently renovated, enlarged, and renamed Boar’s Head Hotel. In 1844, Nudd’s son Joseph and son in law Alfred J. Batchelder ran the hotel, followed in 1849 by Dudley S. Locke, another Nudd son in law. In the mid-1850s the manager was Henry T. Nichols of Manchester, New Hampshire.
In 1866 Stebbins H. Dumas of Concord, New Hampshire purchased the hotel. With enterprising flair—and twenty years’ prior experience at the Phenix Hotel in Concord—he “entirely disemboweled and remodeled” the hotel; adding piazzas, a three-story ell, and a 26-room, mansard-style fourth story, in addition to a private cottage, bowling alley, billiards hall, and expanded carriage house and stables. Dumas operated the hotel until October 23, 1893, when the structure was destroyed by a chimney fire.
Eagle House (c. 1830 – present)
In 1806, local farmer Daniel Lamprey built a one-story beach getaway on Boar’s Head. About 1810 his son Jeremiah and family moved into the house and kept the first public house in that part of the world. Years later, apparently unaware that “Uncle Jerry” was slipping into dementia, a Portsmouth newspaper writer complained about the “absence of all accommodation at the public houses” at Hampton Beach. Some weeks later the paper printed an apology to “Mr. L,” noting that his patrons were “fully aware of the difficulties under which he labours.” Jeremiah was eventually declared insane, and his property wound up in the hands of David Nudd, who built his second hotel, the Eagle House, on the property. Three generations of Nudds would own the hotel: David’s son Willard, Willard’s son Lewis, and Lewis’s daughter Caroline Belle. Of the seven hotels included in this article, only the Eagle has survived, still standing as part of the Century House Motel at the foot of Boar’s Head.
Granite House/New Boar’s Head (1847-1908)
In 1840 David Nudd closed his then-unprofitable Hampton River salt works, saving its timbers to build a third hotel on Boar’s Head, the 32-room Granite House. In 1848 he leased it to hoteliers Hoyt & Richardson, who boasted that their hotel was closest to the “best places for bathing” and featured a new bowling alley, a new “fine toned” piano, and a good stable. The following year Nudd’s daughter Martha and her husband Alfred J. Batchelder, previously of the Boar’s Head Hotel, took over the management.
In 1854, four months after the Winnicumet burned, the Granite survived a fire, with only its stable destroyed in the blaze. The Batchelders, however, were not as lucky in their financial affairs. Martha inherited the hotel when her father died in 1858, but in 1880, with Alfred sick with cancer, they lost it all to a creditor.
In 1883 Stebbins H. Dumas of the Boar’s Head Hotel bought the hotel, naming it The Rockingham. After his first hotel burned in 1893, he set up shop here, renaming it the New Boar’s Head Hotel. As he neared retirement in 1901, he made plans to subdivide and sell his Boar’s Head properties, but died before the plans could be realized. The hotel went into the hands of a Boston firm and was managed by James Fuller of Amesbury, Massachusetts. In 1908 it burned down, on the same day (October 23) and under the same circumstances (chimney fire) that had destroyed the old Boar’s Head Hotel fifteen years earlier.
Ocean House (1844-1885)
Built by David Nudd’s oldest son Stacy, the Ocean was the first hotel south of Boar’s Head. Even though it was favorably situated “in front of the broad, smooth and hard Beach,” Nudd assured potential guests that his prices “shall be as low as at any other boarding house on the seaboard anywhere.” Because alcohol was banned on the premises, the Ocean was popular with temperance types. When Nudd died in 1866, the hotel was sold to Philip Yeaton of Lawrence, Massachusetts, who catered to an upscale clientele, some who paid a daily rate of $25 (about $500 today). With a reputation for lavish food and services, the Ocean House was considered one of the best summer resort hotels in New England.
When the hotel burned in the early morning hours of May 7,1885, it was a sprawling four-story with 170 rooms, several detached cottages, a bowling alley, and stables with carriages and horses for let. The wind-blown fire, which started to the north in the unoccupied, 50-room Atlantic House, consumed John G. Cutler’s Sea View Cottage and several smaller dwellings before reaching the Ocean House.
Leavitt’s Hampton Beach Hotel (1871-1921)
In a minor correction to the historical record, the year was 1871, not 1872, when the Leavitt brothers, Joseph, 33, and Thomas, Jr., 39, built the four-story, 40-room Hampton Beach Hotel on the site of their deceased father’s Winnicumet House. With Joseph as its principal proprietor and the patronage of Judge Thomas Leavitt’s political friends, the hotel became one of the most popular on the beach. Five years after Joseph’s death in 1914 the Leavitt family sold the hotel, and in 1921 it was torn down to make way for Armas Guyon’s Dance Carnival.
Cutler’s Sea View/Hotel Allen (1875-1985)
In 1875 former Exeter businessman John G. Cutler bought the Sea View Cottages at Hampton Beach. He improved the property and operated a small hotel and billiard hall until 1885, when the buildings were destroyed in the fire that burned Yeaton’s Ocean House. Less than a month later a second, larger Sea View rose like a phoenix from the ashes to become one of the most well-known hotel and dining establishments on the seacoast. Like Leavitt’s, it was frequented by the political class, led by Cutler’s good friend, Congressman Cyrus A. Sulloway.
After Cutler’s death in 1913, his wife Hattie continued as proprietor, with John B. Rich as manager. When Hattie died in 1921, Rich inherited a life interest in the hotel, which he sold in 1924. That same year it was acquired by Dance Carnival owner Armas Guyon. When Edgar Lessard of Hampton bought the hotel in 1945, he renamed it the Constance. In 1949 Herbert and Helen Allen of Amesbury, Massachusetts bought Lessard’s hotel, and, for the next 35 years and under six different owners, it was known as the Hotel Allen. In October 1985, the now 100-year-old hotel, recently sold and renamed Rock Harbor Inn, burned and was never rebuilt.
The end of the early hotel era
The summer of 1884 marked the high tide of the pioneer hotels at Hampton Beach. After the demise of the Ocean House in 1885 and the Boar’s Head Hotel in 1893, wealthy tourists moved on to more exclusive resorts on the Maine coast and the White Mountains. It could be argued that the moneyed class had been moving on anyway, which (along with a lack of organized fire protection) might explain why these lovely old hotels were never rebuilt. Yet with smaller, cheaper hotels, boarding houses, and private cottages cropping up each year, and a turn-of-the-century railway link to the cities of the Merrimack Valley, it was all but inevitable that Hampton Beach would become a favorite summer resort of the working- and middle-classes.
Not very surprising, really
Readers of Coastal Living Magazine recently voted Hampton Beach the Best Boardwalk in America.
Originally published in the Hampton Union, June 23, 2017. Images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society and the author.
History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book, with co-author Karen Raynes, is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015.” Her website is lassitergang.com.