Excerpt from "HAMPTON: A CENTURY OF TOWN AND BEACH, 1888-1988"
Chapter 15 -- Part 12
By Peter E. Randall, publisher
[Updated by John M. Holman, Hampton History Volunteer]
In 1959, the First National supermarket opened adjacent to Lamie's at 500 Lafayette Road. The largest new building in the community since the construction of the Casino at the turn of the century, the First National Store had been operated for the previous 24 years from a store at 438 Lafayette Road, in a building constructed by Thomas Cogger in the 1920s. In recent years this former location has been occupied by the Bib and Crib, Gordon's Shoe store, Vanity Case and most recently in 2003, became the annex to the Caffé Fresco & Gourmet Foods. The First National closed in 1969, when its lease with the Dunfeys ended and the building was converted to Dunfey offices. Years later, the building became the offices of Lily Software. [On June 30, 1975, a new FINAST opened in Stratham and closed in 1979. Demoulas Market Basket supermarket now occupies the building as of 2002.]
In 1967, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A & P) opened a new store in the Edgewood Shopping Center, south of the Village. The A & P had originally been in the Merrill Block on High Street and in the mid-1940s moved into a new building at 447 Lafayette Road, currently McDormand's. The A & P lasted until 1980, when, as the town's only large supermarket, it closed, to be replaced by S & R Supermarket. It too closed in the mid-1980s (to be replaced by a Brooks Pharmacy), and Hampton was without a major market for the first time in about 100 years -- until 1987, when Super Shop and Save opened on Lafayette Road. This super store, supposedly a new concept in marketing, combines a diverse offering of groceries, greeting cards, small appliances, and video rentals with a pharmacy, bakery, florist, and fish market. While this diversity seems novel today, it is a concept that closely resembles the old general stores of Lane and Cole. In 2002, the name was changed and became Hannaford Food and Drug.
In other 1967 store changes, the Exeter & Hampton Electric Company moved adjacent to the A & P, and their old store in Marelli Square became the House of Joy, a religious bookstore operated by the Reverend and Mrs. Howard Danner.
Another central commercial property in Hampton was the Boston & Maine Railroad depot. As described earlier, the [Eastern] railroad came through Hampton in 1840 and immediately changed the community. The commercial center of town, which had been at the Landing on the river, moved to the center of the Village, and people began to set their watches by the numerous trains passing north and south. People had quick and inexpensive transportation on the train, and the freight cars, bringing grain and coal, soon replaced the old coastal schooners. Most of Hampton's business activity eventually centered on buildings constructed adjacent to the Exeter Road crossing, where the railroad placed its passenger and freight depots and a large water tank. This arrangement remained for some 60 years, until 1900, when the various overpasses were built, the line was double-tracked, and the stores were relocated along Lafayette Road.
As part of that overpass project, and instead of building a new depot, the railroad moved the old passenger depot about 50 yards south of the Exeter Road bridge, facing an empty lot on Lafayette Road. This muddy lot owned by the railroad, combined with the ramshackle old depot and no landscaping, was soon considered an eyesore. In 1901, railroad officials visited Hampton and announced plans to create an ornamental park near the depot, but nothing was done. The newspaper and various civic groups, including the Village Improvement Society, continually urged the railroad to make changes, but their efforts were rebuffed until 1916.
In April of that year, the Union's "Good Things" column recommended some civic improvements, many of which were being contemplated at that time. First mentioned was widening Main Street (Lafayette Road) from the Odd Fellows Block to the junction with High Street, "which will remove a curve out of the street and eliminate the dangerous situation with the intersection at High Street." The plan hinged on the B&M Railroad providing gravel.
Part of this rebuilding included the improvement of Depot Square, where the new Brooks automobile garage was being staked out on land acquired from the railroad. A drive circled the square, and in the center were a lawn and a garden. A month later, the Union reported that the railroad supported the square improvement and would assist in any way it could. The paper also hoped the railroad would reclapboard and paint the station. Under the direction of Selectman Joseph B. Brown, the square project was completed quickly.
A 1925 fund-raising campaign led by barber Chester Marston, who provided Hampton haircuts for some 45 years, resulted in the construction of a bandstand in the square [see photo at right]. Concerts were held on Monday nights from 7 until 8:30 P.M., ending in time for the 8:40 P.M. electric car back to the Beach. Eventually the bandstand was moved to the southern side of the tennis courts at Tuck Field and used for concerts there. In the 1960s it fell into disrepair. Around 1963 Town Recreation Director Bob Carroll had it hauled to the dump, which angered many people in town. He did this without permission, and it was reportedly one of the reasons he was eventually fired.
In 1942, the railroad completely rebuilt the depot, installing modern toilets, laying new floors, and painting it inside and out. The Town finally acquired the railroad lot, known then as Depot Square, for $8,500 in 1955. For more than 100 years the square was the center of transportation activity in the town. Business actually increased after World War II, when the railroad operated a daily "Beachcomber" train that brought vacationers north from Massachusetts (although it didn't stop in Hampton), and in 1954 a new sleeping car was named "Miss Hampton Beach." New, self-powered diesel Budd cars replaced the regular passenger trains in 1953, but, even with all this activity, the railroad was closing small stations and cutting back on the number of daily trains.
The Hampton depot closed in 1960, opening only during the summer for the sale of tickets, although the trains continued to stop here and many people continued to commute by train to Boston and elsewhere. Railroad passenger service ended in 1965. Earlier, the depot property had been sold in 1962 to Stanwood Brown and Daniel C. Woodbury. Adjacent to the former depot, Woodbury constructed an office building in 1963, the first floor of which was his Woodbury Press. The building currently is the office of the Hampton Union. In 1964, Brown moved his Western Auto store to the remodeled depot, and later he began one of the first Honda motorcycle dealerships. Freight trains still run occasionally through Hampton, coming from Portsmouth, since the railroad bridge over the Merrimack River at Newburyport is not open.