A Sign Survives

Official Souvenir Program Book

January 1 - December 31, 1988

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(1797 - Hampton Town Hall - 1949)

By John M. Holman, Former Tuck Museum Curator

The Hampton Town Hall, though not as old as many other buildings in Hampton, was built in May 1797, when the Congregational Society ceased to worship in the log meeting house on what is now the Meeting House Green near the Tuck Memorial Museum. This church (which would later become the Town Hall) had box pews, a high pulpit, a sounding board and galleries. This building was used as a church until around 1843, when the present Congregational Church was erected.

Rev. Roland D. Sawyer had the following to say in his column, "Views and Reviews of Old Rockingham," in a 1948 edition of Hampton Union: "After the old church was vacated, the town began to use it for town purposes, and continued to do so without any alterations up to 1860. The Old Meeting House, as it was then called, stood sidewise of, and mainly in the street, with a tall steeple at the west end, which contained Grandsir Hardin's favorite bet (the bell) and its apex crowned with a quaint weather vane that many still remember.

"During this year, however, land was purchased, the steeple taken down, and the old building was swung around and moved back, end to the street. The gallery which occupied three sides, and most of the box pews were removed; the upper story floored over and other alterations and repairs made until it became quite a respectable building.

"Notwithstanding, as time wore on, it became apparent that a more commodious and modern structure was needed, and as the massive framework of the old building was found to be in a good state of preservation, the town decided four years ago to thoroughly renovate the same and build an addition to the front, which was accordingly done."


Town Hall after the fire
Hampton Town Hall after the fire of
March 1949

Fifteen months after the foregoing article was written, in March 1949, the Hampton Town Hall burned and was never rebuilt. The original Town Hall sign is on permanent display at the Tuck Memorial Museum at 40 Park Avenue. The present Town of Hampton office building is situated on the site of the old Town Hall, and was built around the Town Vault, which survived the fire, also.

When the Town Hall ruins were removed from the fire site and transported to the Municipal Town Dump, the sign itself was among the debris. My father, Marshall S. Holman, was taking some trash to the dump on the same day and noticing the Town Hall sign inches away from flames (they used to burn the dump in those days), retrieved it before it was engulfed in flames and put it in his barn for safe keeping. Years later, when the sign was found in the barn, it was ultimately removed to the Tuck Museum for permanent display, where it can be seen today.

Another historic relic from the past which was "rescued" from the fire, was the $80,000 trolley clock, which originally hung in the Office of the Exeter, Hampton & Amesbury Street Railway office on Exeter road when the town purchased the streetcar company for $80,000 in 1921. The town operated it until complete abandonment in 1926, at which time the clock was removed to the Town Clerk's office in the "old" Town Hall. After the fire in March 1949, the clock was removed from the ruins, refurbished and eventually was hung in the Selectmen's Meeting Room, where it can be seen today (It still can be seen today in 2000, in the Selectmen's Meeting Room, in the new Town Office Building at 100 Winnacunnet Road). It still keeps good time.

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