By Dorothy Dean Holman, Free-Lance Writer
The Shoreliner Magazine, September 1952
[Photo by Dorothy D. Holman]
Twenty-three years ago, Irving W. Marston sat down at his desk in the County Commissioners' office, Portsmouth, N. H., to assume the duties of administering to the needs of Rockingham County's poor. It was a position that called for keen judgment of human nature, the faculty of making wise decisions, and an understanding heart; -- Mr. Marston had all of these.
A native son of Hampton, he was born in that section of town known as 'Five Corners', but his family moved just over the line on Post Road into North Hampton when he was only a year old. Here, he and his sister grew up, attending the first eight grades in a district school-house which stood on the Hampton side of Brown's bridge. This schoolhouse, when abandoned, was moved across the street to serve as a shop on the Henderson property [this district school house is now on Meeting House Green adjacent to the Tuck Memorial Museum at 40 Park Avenue].
His father was a deacon of the church and his mother a devout Christian woman, so Mr. Marston had the best of backgrounds.
After his graduation from grammar school, he attended the old Hampton Academy, but a serious illness in April of his fourth year prevented his graduating and receiving his diploma. Aside from himself, only one other member of that class of 1889 is now living (in 1952).
"I've had what you might call a varied career," Mr. Marston says, "I've worked on all kinds of jobs. My first was as a clerk at Mildon and Littlefield's, a variety store on Congress Street in Portsmouth, and I boarded with the Littlefields."
When the firm sold out and moved to North Conway, to establish a plumbing and hardware business, Mr. Marston went with them, and received the unbelievably small sum of one dollar a week, with board.
"I was supposed to be learning the plumbing business," Mr. Marston reminisces, "but the nearest I ever got to it was to dig ditches, lay pipes and shovel coal." It was hard work, so in the spring he gave his notice, and even the proffered raise of a dollar didn't deter him in his determination to seek other and better paid work elsewhere.
Other types of jobs followed, in shoe factories in Wolfeboro and Exeter, N. H., and Newburyport, Mass., and making carriage lamps (later, automobile lamps) at the Atwood Manufacturing Company in Amesbury, Mass. Here he remained for a few years, working evenings in a barber shop, learning the trade. But the lamp business became poor, especially in the summer time, so he took a position driving horse cars on the old H. M. and A. —- the Haverhill, Merrimac and Amesbury Street Railway. Only one other driver of that line is now living, Elmer D. Frost of Exeter. Mr. Marston's route took him from Salisbury Square through Newburyport to Plum Island, driving two horses and sometimes four.
"Intoxication was a common occurrence in those days," Mr. Marston recalls, "and we had quite a bit of excitement at times. Often refusing to pay their fares, we stopped the car and put them off. They took their revenge by throwing rocks and breaking car windows, but were made to pay a fine when hailed into court the next day."
About this time, while living in Amesbury, he met and married Bertha E. Fogg of North Hampton, and has one son, Norman 0. Marston, who lives on Mill Road of that town.
Giving up the business of driving horse cars, he returned to Hampton, living in the old Mary Sanborn place on Lafayette Road for a time, later building the house in which he now lives, on Mill Road in North Hampton. He also built a barber shop across the street, and went into the barbering business, later moving to a location near the railroad depot.
For twenty years he carried on this business, at the same time holding one or more town offices. He was moderator for twenty-six years, and Selectman for thirty-five. Other town offices he has held are Fire Chief, Chief of Police, School moderator, and Overseer of the Poor. He also serves the public as Justice of the Peace and Notary Public.
Mr. Marston is perhaps best known as County Commissioner, a position from which he is resigning at the end of the current term, after serving the county's poor capably and conscientiously for many years. He has tried always to be fair, to weed out the undeserving from those truly in need.
"This is done," Mr.. Marston says, "by sending out an investigator as soon as a relief call comes into the office, to find out the reason for the request, and the extent to which relief is needed. Some cases are pitiful and almost unbelievable."
"I recall one in particular," Mr. Marston goes on to say, of a home I visited with my investigator, where there was no food in the house, and three small children, scantily clothed, huddled in the corner of a room, suffering from the cold and malnutrition. The father had deserted his family, and the mother, unable to provide for them, had appealed to us for help. Boards from the kitchen floor had been taken up and used for firewood."
The County Home in Brentwood has had many additions during Mr. Marston's term of office, chief among them being the building of the Mitchell Memorial Hospital, the laundry, a new boiler room and an up-to-date cook house, all constructed of brick.
One of the great sorrows of Mr. Marston's life was the passing of his wife, Bertha. After a time, finding life lonely, he married Louise Vogel Knowles of North Hampton. A charming, attractive person with a pleasant manner, she has filled the position of Charges des Affaires of the Marston household most capably. Their dog, "Tobey", completes the family circle.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Marston are prominent in church and club affairs, but in spite of his busy routine, Mr. Marston finds time to indulge in his favorite pursuit of gardening.
Every spare minute of his time in summer is devoted to his vegetables and flowers. It is time well spent, to judge from the healthy garden resulting, with neat rows of vegetables, and colorful plots of pansies, gladioli and dahlias. He has worked the same garden area for fifty-six years, with each year's crops seeming better than the preceding one. "Last year, a hundred hills of potatoes yielded six bushels," he says. Any nice day in summer, late afternoon will find him hard at work, weeding, hoeing, or cultivating.
Asked what he plans to do when he retires, Mr. Marston says, "I hope to take life a little easier. I've worked hard the most of my eighty years, and will have more time to enjoy my grandchildren. (He has five.) "And then," he adds with a smile, "there'll be my garden. I can make it a full time job."
When Mr. Marston puts his desk in order next April, and closes it for the last time, Rockingham County will lose an efficient, conscientious member of its Board of Commissioners, and an understanding friend of the County's poor.