The Meeting House Green
"Our Town" By James W. Tucker
Thursday, April 10, 1952
Having written about the first two meeting in our town, it seemed a good idea at least to begin a story about the Meeting House Green. The question was, how to begin. "The Meeting House Green" is an important subject, for in the early days of our town all of the community life was centered in this spot. Here was the Meeting House wherein both religious and governmental affairs were administered. here, eventually, a school was built and here was the parsonage. For those interested in botany, here was a wonderful flower garden filled with beautiful blossoms. The first burying ground was in Meeting House Green and all around were the homes of our town's forefathers. In a sense, it is a hallowed spot and one with which every resident of this beautiful New England community particularly the school children should become more fully acquainted.
We thought that the best way to begin a story would be to get reacquainted with the neighborhood, so on a beautiful spring-like Sunday morning we drove to the Landing -- the spot on the Hampton River where the settlers came ashore in the fall of 1638. From here to Memorial Park is only half a mile and this road probably covers, at least approximately, the first path which Rev. Stephen Bachiler and his sturdy pioneer followers made in the wilderness. While they probably prodded through a heavy forest of pine we drove through meadows with only an occasional group of small pines.
The little Common, which we will tell about in more detail later, and which is now called Memorial Park, is surrounded by boulders into which bronze memorial plaques have been set. The larger boulders memorialize the towns which have been set apart from the parent town, Winnacunnet, later called Hampton. The smaller boulders have been been placed in honor of the first families to settle in our town. In the center of this little park, which may or may not have been at one time wholly or in part connected with the original Meeting House Green, is the largest boulder. On the bronze plate, which has been set into the side of this boulder which faces the walk leading from Park Avenue, is the following inscription:
"A little band of Pioneers, under the leadership of Rev. Stephen Bachiler of Southampton, England, seeking a larger liberty, in October 1638 settled in the wilderness near this spot to plant a free church in a free town. They were joined in 1639 by others and in that year the town was incorporated. To do honor to the founders and fathers of Hampton, to exalt the ideals for which they strove and as an inspiration for posterity this memorial is dedicated, October 14, 1925."
Drive Around "The Ring"
Having found that it was half-a-mile from the Landing to the site of the original Meeting House Green, about which most of the homes in the original Hampton were clustered, we decided to ascertain how far it was around the Green. At some time or other in the very early history of our town, the low marshy land which made up the greater part of the center of that section which eventually was to become the Meeting House Green, was known as "Ring Swamp", or merely as "The Ring". So, starting on Park Avenue at a point near entrance to Memorial Park we began our drive over the streets and roads which now bound "The Ring". We went in a westerly direction on Park Avenue and kept to the right until we reached Lafayette road, thence north to Winnacunnet road where we turned right. We drove easterly and southeasterly on Winnacunnet road until we got to Park Avenue where we again turned to the right and proceeded in a westerly direction to the point of beginning.
Sentiments That Should Inspire
It was a mile and a half around "The Ring". And we were back at the big boulder which states that the settlers came originally to Hampton "to plant a free church in a free town." and that the memorial had been dedicated "to do honor to the founders ... to exalt the ideals for which they strove and as an inspiration for posterity." This sentiment was formally inscribed in bronze on October 14, 1925. Was it also indelibly inscribed in our hearts, or did we walk away from that ceremony of dedication and promptly forgot the whole business? If it happens that these fundamental sentiments based on honor for the founding fathers and an exaltation of the principles of freedom for which they strove, no longer properly inspire us, then it is vitally important that we be rededicated now -- in this season just before Easter in the year 1952 -- three centuries after the settlers of our town began to use Meeting House Green.
Forces Opposed To Freedom
It is vitally important for many, many reasons. First, there is abroad in the world a mighty and an evil communistic force that is diametrically opposed to free men, to free churches and to free towns. As a nation, we try frantically to arm ourselves and the other democracies of the West at a cost of billions upon billions of dollars to arm ourselves and our allies time to dissuade communist Russia and her captive nations from starting a third world war, a conflict in which the use of atomic weapons might end civilization as we have come to know civilization in the world of today. And this terrible conspiracy against the freedoms which our forefathers cherished, is already testing the strength of our arms in Korea and threatens further tests by war along borderline states in the Near and in the Far East.
Inflation May Become Disaster
Secondly, the equanimity with which we regard the spiralling inflation and our laxness in endeavoring to apply a remedy before our entire economy is enveloped in a whirlwind of disaster which will make the panic of 1930 appear no more than a gentle zephyr, may be an indication that we no longer exalt such ideals of the pioneers as honesty, integrity and freedom from indebtedness. It is most probable that the forefathers of our town who are memorialized in that little, boulder-strewn Green on Park Avenue were the type of realists who would have seen right through the illusion of prosperity which the early cycles of an inflation create and would have recognized the terrible dangers which this generation blithely ignores in the hope that demand may always be kept one step ahead of supply by reason of wars and rumors of wars.
Keep Faith With Founders
And thirdly, do we honor the founders or exalt the ideals for which they strove when we stand apathetically on the sidelines and condone immorality and racketeering in high government circles or when we refuse to exercise even partial citizenship responsibilities, yet, feel entirely free destructively to criticise government on all levels? In the pioneer days, when our forefathers gathered annually to discuss town affairs, those who neglected to be present at Town Meeting were fined. The right of franchise was a rare privilege which no man was entitled to regard lightly. And out of the free discussions in the Meeting Houses on Greens in the first towns of our republic grew a mighty nation which has been entrusted to our care and to our protection. We must prove worthy of this important heritage if we are to keep full faith with the founding fathers.
Ten-Rod Road Around "Ring"
This started out as a story of Meeting House Green and became a discussion of a pertinent inscription in bronze, set into a big boulder to mark Memorial Park. We had intended to tell how, on June 9th. 1697 the selectmen of our town had ordered that a road, ten rods (165 feet) wide be laid around this Ring and to relate that the road was built as ordered and remained ten rods wide for practically a full century. On March 19, 1765, it was voted to allow the selectmen to take some part of the ten-rod road into the "Burying yard, if they think proper", although fifteen years previously on June 11, 1750, a committee had been appointed to prosecute any person who should fence in any part of the Ten-rod road around the 'Ring'." On April 11, 1786 the town voted to reduce the width of the road on the north side of Ring Swamp to five rods in width. In some future column we will tell more about the Meeting House Green; about the dedication of the Meeting House Green Memorial Park on October 14, 1925 and about the 91 year old retired minister (Rev. Ira S. Jones) whose vision and persistence were responsible for it, and will relate the circumstances which made possible the Tuck Athletic Field and its formal dedication on June 4, 1930.