Billy and Gertrude: Two Lambs Who Served Our Beach
" Our Town " By James W. Tucker
Thursday, June 9, 1955
Over in Notch Hall at the University last Saturday, a fine looking young man with the numerals ’35 on his alumni cap greeted us most cordially. His name is Hall and he is now a successful attorney in Lowell, Mass. But for many years he delivered newspapers during the summer season to the many retail outlets on the beach for the local distributor, Dave Colt.
He Knew Billy
We chatted about mutual friends, including the original Casino Associates, Fred Lorenz, Jimmy Garland, Armas Guyon and Billy Lamb. Yes, he knew Billy and Gertrude and he had read in the papers about Billy’s death recently. And as we stood there thinking of Lamb’s Store, a hundred memories of that institution and its proprietors flashed through our mind in the twinkling of an eye. For Lamb’s Store was a beach “institution” in those early days – an institution in every sense of the word and Billy and Gertrude were responsible for its prominence.
Started Store in 1907
The Lambs started their general store business at Hampton Beach in the early 1900’s -- probably 1907, in a building on the south side of the north junction of Ocean Boulevard and Marsh Avenue. We believe the location, just south of the Ashworth, was called the Jenkins building and we remember that it was necessary to mount a low flight of steps to enter the store. The Lambs conducted a year ‘round business carrying the usual staple lines of groceries and always featuring the daily newspapers. In those days of the trolley era, Lamb’s Store was as well known as the Bandstand or the Casino.
Unusual Beach Season
We became acquainted with Billy and Gertrude when we arrived for our first summer in 1915. That season was note-worthy for three compelling reasons: (1) It was the coldest, rainiest season ever recorded up to that time; (2) It marked the birth of the Labor Day Week Carnival and (3) after the close of the season in mid-September, the entire beach from B Street to Highland Avenue was wiped out by a half million dollar conflagration. The Lambs lost everything, but they were open as usual for business when their new store, in virtually the same location, was ready for occupancy the following summer.
Six years afterwards, in June of 1921, another great conflagration burned the business section of Hampton Beach from B St. to the Ashworth. Once again the Lambs lost their store, their fixtures and their stock. But thanks to the new-fangled asphalt shingles with which their home, “U and I,” at the north end of Marsh Avenue, was covered, it escaped destruction. But we shall never forget how that house looked. While the fire raged across the street on the south side of Marsh Avenue, just west of the Boulevard, the heat was so intense that the shingles on the Lamb home melted and the side of the house closest to the blaze looked as though it had been sprayed an inch thick with black tar.
Billy and Gertrude bounced back from that catastrophe with the same indomitable courage they had displayed in 1915, and after their home had been cleaned up, but even before it had been reshingled, they reopened their grocery store in the basement. And here they were located during the summer, fall and winter of 1921. Here they did business as usual until they moved into a new store in the Garland Hotel block which had been built by James Garland on the north side of the junction of ‘A’ Street and Ocean Boulevard. And there they remained until Billy retired from business in 1946. During this quarter of a century, they gained thousands of new friends and solidified their reputation as the beach institution: “Where U Bot Your Papers!”
Lining Up For Papers
Here, on weekdays and Sundays, we all foregathered at an early hour to get our daily paper, leaning indolently against the counter and gossiping with Billy about any one of a hundred subjects which were chewed over in those days in general stores all over New England. Then Dave Colt or one of his helpers would drive up and bring in wrapped rolls of the morning papers, whereupon we would all line up at the counter in the order of our arrival. Billy would open each roll mechanically and distribute the Heralds, Posts, Globes and Manchester Unions to their appointed places on the county. He would then accept our payment pennies and the early morning gabfest was over for another twenty-four hours.
Line Up Governor!
We best remember one Sunday in season when more of us were lined up for our papers and Alvan Fuller walked in. He didn’t dally at the foot of the waiting line but walked blithely up to the head of it where Gertrude was sort of supervising matters that Sunday morning. She spied him immediately and with an imperious sweep of her arm said, “You get right back to the end of this line, Governor, and take your turn with the other customers.” And that was exactly what the Governor did. They were a remarkable couple, Billy and Gertrude Lamb. One complemented the other. Billy was a little more quiet – a little less forceful.
Everybody loved and respected this quiet gentleman, small in stature with a benign countenance, a ready smile which crinkled his keen eyes framed in spectacles, and a rare sense of humor. The boys who sold papers for Billy, and they included our two boys, looked upon him as a kindly friend and counselor – a man they could trust, even as he trusted them. As a generous member of the beach Chamber of Commerce and as clerk and treasurer for many years of the Precinct, he carefully fulfilled all of his citizenship responsibilities.
Billy Lamb earned for himself a special niche in that valiant company of the Founders of Hampton Beach. He played his full part in making this great recreational center famous for its physical cleanliness and for its high tone of morality-standards which the present generation should make certain are always maintained.
Informal Civic Center
For 39 formative years at Happy Hampton Beach, Lamb’s Store, its genial proprietor, Billy, and his helpmate, Gertrude, provided a sort of informal civic center, out of which hundreds of permanent residents and thousands of summer patrons obtained helpful service and much enjoyment, Billy probably never did and Gertrude perhaps never will, fully appreciate just how much they contributed to the welfare of our town. In this way we are glad to acknowledge our personal indebtedness to both of them.