The Hampton of Seventy Years Ago
"Our Town" By James W. Tucker
Thursday, January 9, 1958
Our town today is one of the fastest growing communities in the state. One can watch it grow. On Christmas eve we were driving up Winnacunnet Road toward the village. Just after passing the junction of Carlson Road we looked over to the north-west to the low hillside beyond Locke Road and it was covered with thousands of lights, hundreds of them twinkling in holiday colors of red, green, yellow and blue. These lights marked two hundred new homes -- homes built in the last five years on the bare fields of the Great Lots and in the areas east and north of Great Lots.
Watching Hampton Grow
In all of the past three hundred and twenty years since Hampton was founded, no other generation has been able to see so much evidence of growth and development in so short a period. Heretofore growth in our town has been at the proverbial pace of the snail, barely discernible only in lifetimes. As changes take place with kaleidescopic rapidity all around us, we like to keep firmly in mind just how the Beach looked when we first became acquainted with its beauty and charm forty-three years ago. "Furriners" in general and this "furriner" in particular, were not welcome in the uptown area back in those days so we have little recollection of the village section except that portion of it which could be seen from the electric cars. But some day we will set down our impressions of the beach section as it looked in 1915.
Miss Dow's Brochure
Back in 1888 on the occasion of Hampton's 250th anniversary, there was a great celebration. In honor of the occasion Miss Lucy E. Dow, daughter of the town historian, wrote and published an interesting brochure which contained a meager description of the village section of the Hampton of seventy years ago and considerable description of the beach of that period. We quote:
"Smooth Broad Roads"
"Two hours out from Boston towards the far 'Down East' lies the quiet old town… A long reach of salt marsh, a shrill whistle at the crossing, an abrupt turn into the village, and speed slackens -- the station is reached. But the Hampton of today bears little resemblance to the Winnacunnet of two and a half centuries ago. Now rich farms and comfortable dwellings on every hand; then an unbroken wilderness, trodden only by savages. Along these smooth, broad roads, traversed now by luxurious carriages, lumbering coaches and the humbler farm teams, forests of giant pines once rose…" Thus Miss Lucy began her brochure.
The Haunted House
Nowhere else in the 31 pages is there a description of our village as it looked 70 years ago. But there is a description of the "Haunted House" once the home of the famous General Moulton, then deserted, now moved to the west side of Lafayette Road just south of Drakeside Road, beautifully restored and presently the home of Mr. Harlan Little and his two sisters.
Miss Lucy also describes in great detail the Col. Christopher Toppan house which is located on Lafayette Road, at the head of Winnacunnet Road. She relates many interesting anecdotes in the life of the valiant Colonel including the mast-ship affair, the salt hay incident, and several stories which involve Col. Toppan's negro servant Neb Miller who apparently loved a practical joke even to extent of playing them on his master. The Toppan family and the ancestral home always have been and still are an integral part of our town's history.
Loved The Ocean
But it is of our Beach that Miss Lucy Dow writes mostly, for evidently she loved the ocean, the shore and the marshlands. The Hampton Beach she was acquainted with was accessible only by one narrow dirt road which ran south from the east end of what is now Winnacunnet Road past the base of Great Bear's Head to about Highland Avenue. From there a narrow cart path wound between the sand dunes, following the course of what is now Ashworth Avenue to the river The North Beach was accessible only by means of Nook Lane, now High Street.
"Bustle and Solitude"
Of our Beach Miss Lucy writes: "Hampton Beach has attained some celebrity as a watering place. It is not Newport or Long Branch -- it has not the aristocratic tone of its neighbor, Rye. It is 'sui generis' in its blending of fashion and rusticity, of bustle and solitude. About the hotels, it is distinct with the polish and parade of elegant society and gay with 'hops' and music; and at scarcely a stone's throw, it is commonplace, in the unconventional home life of the cottages. Along the driveways and promenades, it is a joyous life, in the stir of pulses quickened by the exhilarating sea breezes; while far down towards the river on the one hand, and midway between the two Boar's Heads on the other, it is absolute stillness, save for the eternal moaning of the sea. But everywhere and always the sea - restless, grand, solemn, inscrutable."
Sixty Feet High
There you have the Hampton Beach of seventy years ago -- our Beach in 1888. Miss Lucy describes the Boar's Head of her day in great detail, writing that it is a remarkable promontory, midway between the northeast boundary of the town and the river which forms the southern boundary. The name was given in early times, from a fancied resemblance to the animal; its snout, known as the Point, running far out among the breakers and sixty feet above them. The land gradually slopes back to the general level, but the whole promontory covers several acres, the top of which is a smooth, grassy lawn, commanding one of the finest sea views on our coast.
David Nudd's Sagacity
"An ample driveway leads up from the main road to Boar's Head Hotel which crowns its summit. This is the veteran hotel of Hampton Beach built by David Nudd and others in 1826. Mr. Nudd was the Gen. Moulton of the first half of the present century, a man in advance of his age for enterprise and business sagacity."
Miss Lucy Dow tells of how business was so good that eventually Mr. Nudd "found it necessary not only to enlarge his house, but to build another, the Granite House, at the foot of the bluff. For the past twenty years and more", continues Miss Lucy, "Col. S. H. Dumas, proprietor and landlord, has sumptuously entertained thousands who doubtless passed in review before the prophetic vision of David Nudd, long since gathered to his fathers."
Long Beach Season
In conclusion we would like to quote another passage from Miss Dow's brochure which will interest all Chamber of Commerce members; "Not alone for the summering, is the old town frequented by pleasure-seekers. After beauty and gallantry have vanished, the hotels are kept open for the fall gunning; the boats are in constant requisition, and the marshes take on the scent of power."
Next Seventy Years
Hampton of seventy years ago was much different from our town today and changes that are equally wonderful will be wrought during the next seventy years. We believe it possible to forecast many of them.