Controversy Resurfaces on Fishhouses

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Neighbors Upset with Demolition

By Jason Schreiber

Hampton Union, Friday, September 14, 2007

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

The 'new' "Doggett Fish House" at North Beach

HAMPTON -- Dave Cropper says he wanted to preserve history when he tore down and rebuilt an old, dilapidated fish house along North Beach that was once a symbol of the town's thriving fishing industry.

But some residents insist a historic building is lost forever.

"I know Mr. Cropper's intentions were good, but demolishing a piece of history wasn't the right thing to do," said Judy Curtis, whose husband's grandparents owned a fish house in the 1950s.

Cropper, 39, grew up in Hampton and owns Cinnamon Rainbows surf shop on the beach. He bought the weathered fish house in Ruth Stimson Park in 2003 after being approached by Barbara Doggett, who owned the house known as the Doggett Fish House.

Cropper said she worried about its deteriorating condition, and figured that since his surf shop was across the street he might be interested in preserving it. Cropper's great-grandfather, John Churchill, once fished out of the house with owner Arthur Doggett.

"I was watching the place fall apart," Cropper said.

But his preservation plan came under attack. Town officials were told Cropper planned to restore the building, not tear it down and rebuild it. Town Manager Fred Welch said Cropper received permits from the town only for restoration work.

Selectmen are now deciding whether the building will be allowed to stay or whether voters in March should decide its fate. Cropper said he invested $40,000 in rebuilding the house and is willing to sell it to the town.

"I want the contents preserved as much as anyone else does," Cropper said.

Doggett fishing gear
in the 'new' Fish House.

The Doggett Fish House was one of 13 fish houses that stood along North Beach from 1805 to 1950, all originally serving as storage facilities for gear and bait of commercial fishermen. Some of the houses were turned into summer cottages.

The fish houses have long been a contentious issue that landed in court in the 1950s when a dispute arose over who owned the land on which the houses sat. The court determined the town was the owner. In addition, the court ordered that unless the fish houses were used for commercial fishing, they had to be removed or destroyed. Only two houses — one owned by Doggett and another owned by Harold Mace — were allowed to stay because they were still being used for fishing. In 1960, the town voted to preserve the fish house area as a public park.

The houses stood side by side and in 1988 the Mace Fish House was donated to the town, which continues to maintain it because of its historic value.

When he began looking to preserve the Doggett Fish House, Cropper said he met with all the right officials, among them the building inspector, selectmen, members of the Conservation Commission, and the state Department of Environmental Services. He said everyone was supportive of his effort to restore the building.

Some residents now complain he missed one step: He never got a demolition permit from the town's Heritage Commission. Cropper said such a permit was never brought up during his discussions, but the town manager said no one thought he was going to tear the original building down.

Curtis told selectmen this week she would like to see Cropper's fish house removed since the original building is now gone and he's not a commercial fisherman who would have a legal right to keep the house on town property.

Cropper insisted he had no choice but to demolish the original house because it had rotted beyond repair. His builder tried to create a building that resembled the original fish house, with a few differences. The old house had asphalt shingles, while the new one has wooden ones that match the Mace Fish House next to it. Three small windows were added to help ventilate the building and the doors aren't exactly like the original. While the exterior wood looks new, Cropper said it won't be long before it's weathered and looks more like the original wood.

Some of the original fishing gear belonging to Arthur Doggett is still stored in the rebuilt fish house, including an oyster rake, nets, old wooden paddles and a bamboo fishing rod.

Resident Karen Langley Current, whose family once summered in a fish house, isn't happy with the rebuilt house. "It doesn't look like the fish house. It's not historical," she said.

While some residents accuse Cropper of using the house to store surfing equipment, he insists that's not true. "I have no intentions of financial gain," Cropper said.

Some residents said they're pleased with the new building. Larry Rooney, who lives across the street and volunteers to help take care of the Ruth Stimson Park, described the old building as "unsightly."

"I was delighted when he did do it," he said. "It certainly is a very close replica."

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