Sharing Memories Of A Younger Town
1638 -- 1988
Rockingham County Newspaper -- July 8, 1988
Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Growing Up With The Town of Hampton
By Vern Colby, Contributing Writer
To write a report of the lives of Hampton's people over the past "eight decades and eight," it seemed wise enough to select memory-segments from talks with a woman and a man who have lived here long and remember some of the ways of the 1900s — particularly of the early decades. From that time's ending until now, many of our readers know the way that it used to be, so there was no need, concentrating on that span of years, to search for oldest citizens. To find kind and helpful people of some maturity, willing to share recollections generously, has proven quite good enough. Special thanks for contribution go to Clara Gale and to Ansell Palmer. Appreciation need go also to old and new friends; their comments have added to insight.
"Much of Hampton was rural then. From 1914 through 1917, from May 20 to Oct. 20, I used to drive five cows every morning from a Lafayette Road farm, south to another farm — at Lamie's location — up over the bridge and a mile or more on the Exeter Road for the day's pasturing. Sometimes on a Sunday afternoon then, my brother and I would perch on an embankment on Route 1, and count the cars going by. They averaged one car per fifteen minutes — and it was a thrill to see a car with New York plates. That was from far away, indeed. Not many horse-drawn vehicles on a Sunday afternoon either. Folks went to church Sundays, had a big dinner, and rested around home in the afternoon."
"When I was fourteen," she recalls, "my father bought a beach cottage for our weekend use. We'd come from Exeter with our suitcases by train or streetcar. The center of town was a regular travel terminal. The depot, streetcar waiting rooms and ticket office. changing point for the streetcars for Hampton Beach . . . This point was popular for eating while waiting. I remember a restaurant, where Colt's News stand is now; sometimes we'd walk over there for fish or clam chowder.
"Being at the beach during childhood summers provided opportunity for summer employment. At 16 or 17, I began working at the Pelham Hotel, waiting on tables. Those were carefree days for your people. There were dormitories, upstairs for girls and downstairs for boys — and, of course, a housemother. From that summer, until I married in 1921, I danced a good many summer nights away.
"Dancing was the one thing you could do at Hampton Beach -- except for the silent movies at the Olympia and the Casino theaters. There were about a dozen of us who became close friends — some of the boys had cars — and we'd dance at different spots, not just in the summer. North Hampton's Centennial Hall was one off-beach favorite. At the beach, there were the old Casino's beautifully grand ballroom, the Ferncroft Ballroom on "A" Street that later became a bowling alley, and the open-air ballroom at Great Boar's Head's Rocky Bend.
"What fun we had. When the dancing stopped -- say about midnight — often we'd stop at the restaurant run by the three Downer brothers for a western omelet, and perhaps a piece of their famous blueberry pie. Sometimes, we'd stroll along Ocean Boulevard and then perch on the platform for the bandstand. One of the girls played the mandolin, feet dangling over that stage, we'd sing and harmonize the old songs and the new.
"During those years, the band players for most part summered on off-hours in tents near our cottage area — sort of behind where Dave's Garage is now. The dances then were the waltz, the fox trot, the one- step... some of the music: 'Let the Rest of the World go By' — 'Piano Roll Blues' — 'Indiana' — 'Trail of the Lonesome Pine' —. 'The Gabe Glide' — 'It's a Sin to Tell a Lie.'
"The Hampton Beach I remember from long ago was a gentle and genteel place. People, often of middle years with their families, would dress well, wear robes as they walked to the beach, and it was hats and gloves for the ladies — and suits for the men, as folks walked to church on a Sunday morning-
It's close enough to be true to say that Ansell Palmer may claim Hampton residency as a royal right. After all, he lives on land that was given to his Hampton settling ancestor by the town's Land Apportionment of 1639, and the rights of property for that rests on a King's Grant. Only fifteen families received that double blessing, and to Mr. Palmer's best knowledge he is the only one of the fifteen families, directly descended, living on family-grant land — and he is of the 11th generation.
Now in his 68th year, Ansell went to the old Hampton Academy, saw World War II navy service and earned a cum laude University of New Hampshire degree in mechanical engineering. His professional career was with General Electric plants in Lynn, Mass.; Schenectady, N.Y.; and Somersworth. For more than twenty years his work concerned the the development of electrical energy measuring equipment, and due to successes, he holds twenty-five U.S. patents. Currently in his fourth consecutive year as a selectman, he has also served in a variety of town government roles.
His sharpest memories of a younger Hampton reflect the late Twenties and early Thirties. "When I was a boy, Hampton held about 1,200 people. Now over twelve thousand live here. It seems to me in retrospect that I knew everybody then — and everyone else knew my family and me. Certainly that was a controlling factor on a boy's behavior — or misbehavior.
"There was much freedom for a boy though. On many summer days the kids would swim at the Tide Mill. A group from my neighborhood, from three to a dozen, would ride our bikes there for a cooling swim, and the style was skinny-dipping. In later years, when the Hampton-Exeter Expressway was building to the beach, construction crews were going to bury the old gristmill grinding stones, but Homer Johnson, Sr. trucked them here, and they've made attractive doorsteps.
"When children are known to everyone, there's a built-in protection. From boyhood, I remember exciting storm clouds gathering and a bunch of us walked from Boar's Head to the Ashworth Hotel. Then the storm broke. We ran for shelter to what's now Dave's Garage then owned by Mr. Ken Ross. There was no sea wall then, and large waves were tumbling rocks over the road. Mr. Ross called every one of our parents to advise that we were safe — and would remain so.
"A great excitement for several years was Carnival Week at Hampton Beach. One event stands out, clear as crystal in today's memory. I would stand in awe by the bandshell, eyes wide looking up at a ladder reaching to the sky. On narrow, platform a distant figure stood, poised to dive down into a tiny tank. There were always agonizing waits, while more popcorn was sold. Finally, there was the death-defying dive. I could not believe the wonder and the bravery of it."
So time has passed during the eighty-eight years of this quarterly report. The sands of Hampton Beach have measured that like a gigantic hour-glass. A woman who summered here as a child in the 1940s says: "It seems to me beyond a doubt that some of the log-piling breakwaters that I played beside as a child, towered above me. Now the tops are much lower to the sand." Time has marched — usually with steady-step — and older and gentler ways diminish, but slowly.