Hampton Beach of the Past
Hampton's 325th Anniversary
1638 - 1963
East of the grisly Head of the Boar,
And Agamenticus lifts its blue
Disk of a cloud the woodlands o'er;
And southerly when the tide is down,
'Twixt white sea-waves and sand-hills brown,
The beach-birds dance and the gray gulls wheel
Over a floor of burnished steel.
Once, in the old colonial days, Two hundred years ago and more,
A boat sailed down through the winding ways
Of Hampton River to the low shore,
Full of a goodly company
Sailing out on the summer sea,
Veering to catch the land-breeze light,
With the Boar to left and the rocks to right."
(John Greenleaf Whittier)
Hampton Beach of the past was closely connected with the welfare of the early settlers. They drew from ocean, the shore, and the marshes an important part of their food supplies: fish, clams, lobsters, and game birds of all descriptions. After the storms the seaweed cast up along the shores was eagerly sought to fertilize the broad acres of the uplands, where corn, rye, barley, oats and clover were grown. The great ox common, extending from what is now Nudd Avenue to the River, served as common pasture land for cattle and horses. And it was over a hundred years ago that someone thought of drawing on the beach for still further benefit and building the first public house in 1819, at the foot of Great Boar's Head.
(Extracts from letters written by Judge Thomas Leavitt of Exeter for the (Exeter) News-Letter in 1898):
"After the towns forming a part of the original Hampton were cut off, there was left to the town an area about 8000 acres, 1300 of which are salt marsh. The Legislature granted the people the right to lay out and dispose of the common lands as the lot layers, chosen by the people, might judge for the best interest of the whole. All records, so far as they go, show almost conclusively that the strip of land adjoining the ocean known as the "beach," was reserved for the use and benefit of the public. In one place, the record of granting of 60 lots proved expressly that shall the ocean ever encroach, the owners shall recede and never be nearer than ten rods from high water mark." -- Uri Lamprey, March 24, 1874.
That the ocean did encroach south of what is now the Carnival Dance Hall is known by the fact that a former generation remembered when a road beginning there was much straighter than the now curving boulevard.
"The great bluff making out into the sea, the ocean motionless and glittering beneath the sun, the low beach, stretching to the Merrimack, fringed with a narrow rim of white surf; the sand hills, the green marshes bordered with woods, the beautiful hills of Kensington and Hampton Falls forming the background, make a scene peaceful and lovely beyond description." (1841)
"In the latter part of October 1847, on my way from school, I met Mr. David Nudd between the Causeway and Great Boar's Head. His chin was dropped upon his breast, his breast heaved, great tears were coursing down his cheeks, and on his face was such a look of agony as I pray God I may never see again. As I turned the corner of the Winnicumet House, I saw my father and two other men talking. I told about Mr. Nudd, and my father said a dreadful thing had happened -- That the 'Northern Light' (Little Boar's Head Hotel's new boat) with Mr. Joseph Nudd and Hale Leavitt on board, had sunk near the 'Boiler Rock' in Hampton River, and both men were drowned. Joseph Nudd was a son of Mr. David Nudd, and one of the landlords of Boar's Head Hotel, 27 years old. After dark, a boat (which had gone to seek the bodies) arrived from the river with his body. The black darkness covering land and sea was in keeping with the gloom over all hearts as they bore him home." ("Hampton Long Ago" -- from a Hampton Beach Paper Printed in Haverhill in the Summers of 1880 and 1881)
"Back of the Ocean House on the 'Island' afterwards called 'The Willows,' was once a solitary dwelling. When the twilight hour had come, the cows all milked and the spinning wheel put away, the gay girls of the family used to row their little boat up the river to the Landing from whence they walked to town to find their young friends. They had to pass Witch Cole's home on their walk, and they remembered that by her wiles, she had once upset a boat in the river and drowned several persons.
"Below 'Leavitt's' (on the site of the Carnival Dance Hall) where is now the road, Squire Thomas Leavitt used to plant his corn, but each year the ocean steals away the land pushing the street further towards the marsh. The first visitors came to the beach on horseback, for there was no Causeway for the passage of wheeled vehicles. After the Causeway was built, the land below was a vast common so that a gate was built across about a quarter of a mile above to keep the cattle which fed there from encroaching on the tilled fields of the uplands. At his gate during the long summer days, barefooted girls and boys waited a chance to throw it wide open and to scramble for the silver pieces, (four pence, ha'penny, or nine-pence) which were thrown from the chaises or stages passing through." (1880 and 1881)
"It has been a gay week. Hops and parlor concerts at the hotels have been frequent for the crowd is here. Saturday night last was the gayest of the season, the hotels, boarding houses and cottages being filled with people on pleasure bent. The masquerade at Boar's Head Hotel was a brilliant affaire, many of the costumes being very effective. The Union House in the Village was having a good time in honor of the landlord's (Mr. Otis Whittier) birthday. The hotel was gaily illuminated, while fine music, elocution, dancing and a supper made a pleasant programme. At the Ocean House and Leavitts', the hops were pleasant affaires and were repeated other evenings during the week. At the Boar's Head Hotel, everyone in the parlor at the evening dances and concerts, is in full dress; and no one outside is permitted to be present unless especially invited by a guest of the house. The music: piano, violin and cornet, is not only fine for dancing, but the skilled performers play each afternoon for an hour. The other hotel mentioned extended a welcome to the cottages and their guests, when there is special dancing or music."