Burning of the Leonia

The Exeter News-Letter, Friday, July 20, 1900

The Leonia at Hampton's North Beach, one of the handsomest, most elegantly appointed and best conducted hotels in this section, was latterly burned to the ground last Friday night. The cause of the fire is not definitely known, but it was discovered in a toilet room on the third floor, and it is generally attributed to carelessness in the use of matches or in smoking.

The proprietor of the hotel, Mr. F.M. Crosby, had spent the evening at Salisbury Beach, where he attended a dinner party, prolonging his stay beyond first intentions, upon receipt of a telephone message from his mother to the effect that all was well at the Leonia. Upon arrival at Hampton village about twelve o'clock he noted a glare of light which he at once surmised could come only from his premises, and drove home post haste to find his fears realized.

The fire was discovered about 12:50. Mrs. Crosby was in conference with the clerk preparatory to closing the house for the night, when she noted a smell of smoke. They immediately began an investigation, and, proceeding to the third floor, opened a door, from which burst an overpowering cloud of fire and smoke. The entire floor was almost instantly ablaze, and the rapidity with which the great structure was consumed seems incredible. In barely an hour it was reduced to ashes.

The hotel employees and assistants went promptly and intelligently about their arduous task, but were powerless to avert the hotel's destruction. Upon discovery of the fire, message was telephoned to the street railway power station, which caused the sounding of alarms in Hampton and informed the Exeter office of the disastrous event. The alarm and the glare of the flames attracted spectators from a wide radius, and their number included many willing volunteers.

Mr. Crosby had believed the hotel amply protected against serious fire loss, and not long ago a fire was easily checked in its incipiency. Behind the hotel proper was an engine room, with stationary engine and powerful pump, adequate length of hose and an ample water supply in the large tank and the adjoining pond, from which pipes for use in emergency had just been laid. Two streams of water were quickly brought into play, but were of no avail as regarded the hotel.

But for their protection, however, the outbuildings and the great stable must inevitably have spared the hotel's fate. Separated from the rear of the hotel by a driveway only, was the engine house, surmounted by the water tower and tank, and then came a long two-story building, devoted to various hotel needs and at its rear adjoining the stable.

These buildings were all in imminent peril, and were saved only by covering the most exposed points with matting and keeping them thoroughly drenched. The intensity of the heat generated by the burning hotel took the life out of the foundation stones, which can now be readily crumbled in one's hand, and the same can be said of ornamental stone work several feet distant. Trees before the estate were scorched or killed.

There were fortunately but 12 guests at the Leonia over Friday night, mainly St. Louis and Canadian people. All escaped uninjured and saved the greater part of their effects. Next morning the majority found new quarters at the Farragut. In one respect the fire came at an opportune time. Over the preceding Sunday guests numbered 40, the majority remaining well into the week. There were many departures Friday, but new arrivals would have filled the house over last Sunday. For late July and all August, it would not have had a vacant room.

The score or more of servants has scant time to escape, but did so all in safety. Many acts of courage were performed by hotel attaches and others, and the bell boy, William Waters, was overcome by smoke, but quickly rallied. There was no serious casualty. The greater part of the hotel furnishings was consumed, and many articles removed, notably two pianos, were badly damaged.

Mr. Crosby estimates his loss at $30,000 or more. There is available insurance of $20,000, of which $9,000 was placed through Abbott L. Norris, Esq., of Hampton, in the Granite state. Mr. Crosby will not rebuild, and the town of Hampton therefore loses heavily.

The older portion of the hotel was originally the Edmund Mason house, a large three-story structure, long a favorite resort of summer visitors. Mr. Crosby, who had been identified with the hotel business in Melrose, Mass., and is also present proprietor of the Tulleries in Boston, purchased the property in 1895, and at once began a series of enlargements and improvements out of which had been evolved a unique hotel, in which this section has taken pardonable pride.

It contained 60 guest rooms, and many and spacious apartments and halls for dining, dancing, and the various uses of a perfectly appointed hotel. It was lighted by electricity, and no up to date convenience was lacking. As stated, its appointments were perfect, and thw cuisine and the service was in every respect admirable. It catered to patrons of wealth, who dislike the bustle of huge caravansaries, and its proprietor had ample ground for his declaration that the Leinia was in a class by itself - the best small hotel in the country.

Mr. Crosby's horses and equipages were nodded throughout a wide area, and from his decision not to rebuild he has inaugurated a dispersion sale, which has already been quite successful. Many visitors at Rye have availed themselves of the opportunity is offers.

Friday, July 27, 1900

The Exeter News-Letter, July 25, 1900

The work of clearing the refuse from the Leonia cellar is nearly completed. Mr. Crosby will soon rebuild the hotel somewhat larger and on a different plan.