HAMPTON: A CENTURY OF TOWN AND BEACH, 1888-1988
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Chapter 13 -- Part 2
The News-Letter said eight new houses had been built in 1890, and others were under construction. However, "Although our town is steadily growing, yet the greatest detriment in year's past ... has been the high price demanded for real estate. This has only retarded our greater growth and prosperity. But we are inclined to think that this hindrance in a measure has been obviated by the opening of a new street in the center of town by two of our enterprising citizens, S. W. Dearborn and H. M. Lane, who propose to sell house lots at a reasonable rate." The new street was Highland (later called Dearborn) Avenue. It was a dead-end road, extending from High Street to the top of the hill. This street was finally extended through to Ann's Lane in 1931. The 1890 paper also suggested that a new laundry was in the offing, "as two of the Mongol Tartar race have been prospecting of late."
This building boom produced a shortage of workers as the News-Letter lamented in June 1890, ". . . in Hampton there is a great scarcity of day laborers, housemaids and washerwomen. Most of our carpenters, too, though they are numerous, are in the employ of contractors, and not to be had for odd jobs; and many a household waits long for the little convenience or the needed repair." About the same time, Edward Mason built a house next to his brother John, and farther east on High Street, Myron Cole built his new house. In December 1899, contractor Abbott Joplin was building his own new large house at "Hampton Heights," now 105 Mill Road.
This type of slow, steady development continued in the Village for the next 40 years. New homes were built along existing roads, using empty lots or new lots created when farmers sold off frontage. Then in 1937, Towle Avenue was extended south from High Street; a year later, Moulton Road connected Winnacunnet Road and High Street. Both new roads opened up a number of house lots. Perhaps the success of these new streets prompted the 1941 effort to build a road through the back fields of the late Warren Hobbs's farm, connecting High Street with Mace Road. This trend might have continued and would have given the town a different architectural face had not World War II intruded, but building supplies were needed for the war effort and housing and other local construction were curtailed.
One of the many benefits made available to veterans after the war was the so-called GI loan, a low-interest loan with a low down payment that made it possible for young men just starting families to buy new homes. One of the first large-scale developers to take advantage of the federal loan programs was J. Walter Hollis. He came from the Albany (New York) area to Hampton Beach with his family in 1943, bought a rooming house, and soon began to sell real estate. In those days, Hollis recalled, the Beach had the three H's selling real estate: (Ralph) Harris, Henry (Dupuis), and Hollis. With town water and plenty of land for development, Hollis thought Hampton was ripe for development. In 1948, he was the agent for Ann's Terrace, a development owned by Douglass Hunter and built by contractor Eugene Trenholm. That year, some 75 new houses were under construction, including William Thompson's project west of Locke Road, Belmont Circle, the Hackett Lane section, Elmer King's development (which became Tuck Road), and Rice Terrace. The following year, with his friend William Flynn, Hollis began Hampton's first large residential development, the 35-house Fairfield Park. Portsmouth architect Lucian Geoffrion planned the development and designed the little Cape Cod dwelling that Hollis sold as a two-bedroom house, with a full basement and an unfinished upstairs, for $5,700. Hollis was one of the few developers to use the 4 percent GI loan or 4.5 percent Federal Housing Administration (EHA) funds. By his own estimation, "We sold dozens" of the little Capes. Hollis also developed Rye Crest in Rye and the large Country Club Estates off Jady Hill Road in Exeter. Those were his last developments; instead, he concentrated on sales of individual houses and acted as an agent for other developers.
The building boom continued in 1950, especially along Mace, Norton, Locke, and Moulton roads, and the Willard Emery development of Emery Lane and George Avenue. Helping to spur home sales was the new seacoast turnpike, which made this area an easy commute for people who worked in Massachusetts but wanted to live in New Hampshire to escape what many thought were higher taxes in the former state. Ironically, Hampton merchants fought the new turnpike, fearing it would cause traffic to bypass Hampton Center and hurt their businesses. In 1951, Hollis was selling 30 new Capes in the "Great Lots," east of Moulton Road, a section that had been part of the original Hampton Airport. A year later, George Sumner was selling prefabricated houses in a 20-lot development along Leavitt Road. Up to this time, there had been few complaints about development, although many of these new housing projects would ultimately cost Hampton thousands of dollars because zoning regulations did not require such things as storm drains, sewers, or standard road construction, which years later had to be installed or improved at Town expense. But in 1952, residents were shocked to hear from Hollis that Joseph Kelly was planning 150 two-family rental units in the Great Lots.
The "cold war" was underway, and locally it resulted in the construction of Pease Air Force Base and expansion at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Private contractors were given the first opportunity to build housing for the expected increase in workers. James Tucker, in his Union columns, supported the Kelly proposal, citing its advantages over non-taxed, substandard, and architecturally bland federal housing projects that had been built in Portsmouth. Tucker believed the Kelly proposal would provide federal money to help pay for needed school expansion, would bring in families earning an average of $3,500 yearly to help stimulate the local economy, and would add $1.25 million in valuation to the town. As originally proposed, the Kelly project provided for three ranch-style, two-family houses per acre, with each single unit rented for $75 per month. The one-, two-, and three-bedroom houses would be built on concrete slabs and would be radiant heated through copper tubes placed in the slabs.
Many Hampton residents, especially those who lived in the area, opposed the plan. Some believed that since Kelly could sell the houses after two years as rental units, few people would be able to afford the expected cost of about $18,000 per duplex. In an effort to stop Kelly, the Planning Board in May adopted subdivision regulations, and, in September 1952, a special town meeting voted 154-52 to restrict Residence A dwellings to single-family units, except for existing buildings. Kelly responded by changing his project to 53 single-family houses, increasing his lot sizes to 10,000 square feet, and agreeing to install storm drainage.
While the Kelly homes were under construction in May 1953, one meeting of the Planning Board was greeted with a proposal for five new developments, including what became the first one on Exeter Road, then called Wingate Acres. Union editor Edward Seavey and columnist Tucker began to advocate more zoning regulations and preparation of a master plan. The 1949 zoning ordinance, Tucker said, was a watered-down attempt to get something palatable on the books, something the voters would approve, but it had many loop holes. One, Tucker pointed out, made it possible to build a house 20 feet square and up to three stories high. The 1954 town meeting voted to begin a master plan, and a January special town meeting in 1956 made major revisions to the zoning ordinance.
Still the growth continued. Between 1952 and 1958, 25 subdivisions were approved, and the Village section of Hampton was transformed from a collection of older homes and farms to mostly smaller houses, many of them Capes with some ranch-style single-story houses. It was economical for a developer to select a single architectural design, such as a Cape Cod style, and build that same house over and over again in the same subdivision. Concerned with the visual impact of this architectural uniformity, the 1958 town meeting approved a zoning amendment prohibiting the construction of new houses within 200 feet of existing houses with similar designs. By 1960, Hampton's population was 5,379, a figure the master plan had predicted Hampton would not reach before 1970.
To keep up with this residential growth, the fastest in the state, Hampton was forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on sewers and drains, and new schools.
In 1959, new developments included Lambritt Acres off Locke Road, Ridgeview Terrace, and the beginnings of Glen Hill, the Exeter Road development that has become Hampton's best-known subdivision and one that escalated the Hampton new-homes market from economical and middle-class housing to executive dwellings. In 1957, new ranch houses on Tower Drive were offered at $18,500, but by 1962, Glen Hill houses were offered at prices ranging from $24,000 to $37,000.
A large, 150-lot development of small houses and cottages adjacent to North Shore Road was begun in 1960, and a year later, Harry Tufts received approval for Hampton's first trailer park at the corner of Mary Batchelder and Timber Swamp roads. The next large residential development was a 72-lot subdivision proposed by Robert Brindamour on Exeter Road in 1967. Just a year earlier, the Planning Board had received $5,000 from town meeting to update the master plan. Certainly no one could have foreseen in 1954, when the plan was first begun, the explosive growth that transformed Hampton in the following decade. By 1968, when Walter Biery began his Bride's Hill development, the Exeter & Hampton Electric Company was trying to keep up with town growth. General Manager John Robinson said the electric company had tripled its capacity in the previous six years because of commercial and residential growth. In 1952, the company had 2,334 Beach customers and 990 Town customers; by 1968, there were 3,402 Beach customers and 2,121 in Town.
By the end of the 1960s, the residential growth seemed to be slowing. In 1970, there were 39 single-family-house building permits awarded, and 41 in 1971, but that same year the Town granted permits for 256 multifamily units, and Hampton's growth entered a new phase. These new apartments were the Ross Colony Court, a 24-unit elderly housing complex on Winnacunnet Road; the "Olde Hampton Village," 132 units on the Lafayette Road site of the Toppan Farm; and the 132-unit Landing Road apartments. Another developer was ready to proceed on an 80-unit, three- to seven-story condominium project at the Beach. St. Magnus, Hampton's first condominium complex, was ultimately approved and built on the site of the former Palmer's Clamshell Restaurant, at the foot of Cusack Road. The Planning Board reacted to this sudden change by presenting a multifamily zoning amendment to voters. It called for a maximum of 24 units per building and other restrictions. Beach businesspeople felt the restrictions imposed by the ordinance would prohibit any multifamily housing at the Beach, so the Beach was exempted from the provisions of the ordinance.
In 1972, the Town also imposed a building moratorium because the sewage system was no longer adequate to handle the expected demand for new construction, delaying for two years such projects as Friendly's Restaurant. A new cluster-development proposal was approved for the Olney family off Winnacunnet Road. As proposed, the potential 120-parcel development would have a variety of single-and multifamily houses built closer together than the zoning ordinances allowed, but a large area of land would be left as open space. The contemporary homes in this development have been designed by developer-architect Peter Olney, and one house received a national award for its innovative use of solar energy for heating.
Through the 1970s, building and developing continued, with condominiums becoming the popular choice of developers because Hampton land values escalated the price of single-family house lots beyond the purchasing ability of people of moderate means. One of the results of stricter zoning regulations, especially for subdivisions, has been the increased cost of development. Requirements for improved road construction, plus underground wires, sewers, and drainage, add tens of thousands of dollars to developers' expenses, costs they can recover only by building expensive houses. Also, since most of the best residential building land has already been developed, new subdivisions are being placed in more marginal locations, where site-development costs are high. At the Beach, marginally profitable small motels or cabin colonies have been razed and replaced with condo complexes with many times the number of new units. Also, many owners of rental property, including some motels, have converted their buildings to condos. In the 1970s and early 1980s, two to six multifamily building permits per year were granted, but there were 10 in 1984, 38 in 1985, eight in 1986, and 16 (341 total units) in 1987. That year, there were 22 new single-residence subdivisions approved, with a total of 237 lots. The Planning Board estimated that the town's 1987 growth rate was 2.4 percent, a figure slightly below the growth of the county. In 1985, 15 percent of all condos registered in the state were in Hampton.
Residents apparently were unhappy with the selectmen-appointed Planning Board, and in 1980, the Town voted to elect Planning Board members, choosing three women. Previously, Helen Hayden (who was the Board of Selectmen's representative in 1976), and Louisa Woodman had been the only women to serve on the Planning Board. In an effort to keep up with this growth, the master plan was updated again in 1985, when voters also approved a revised wetlands conservation ordinance.
For many residents, the growth has not been a pleasant experience. Fields, farms, and forests have been turned into housing and industrial developments, and most of Hampton east of Interstate 95 has been built upon. In the 1980s, small subdivisions have filled in those places that were "missed" or avoided because of high development costs by previous developers. Only Twelve Shares -- that section of Hampton bounded by Mill, Barbour, and Woodland roads and the North Hampton line -- remains undeveloped at this point. Much of the land is forested, but it is wet and probably not suitable for septic systems. The construction of the sewer lines on those roads surrounding the area in 1988 possibly will provide developers with the means to enter the area. Because Twelve Shares is composed of many long and narrow lots, it seems unlikely that developments will consume all of the land. A land-bank conservation fund established in 1986 will provide money for the Town to purchase threatened pieces of land or parcels worthy of conservation.
West of Interstate 95, development has been slower, partly because there have been several large landowners who were not interested in development, and also because there is no sewer in this section of town and a two-acre minimum lot size is required. With most of the available residential land in town already built upon, it is conceivable that residential growth for single-family homes will decline, but the possibility for condos at the Beach continues, especially in the HBIC leasehold, which ends in 1997.
The result of Hampton's growth during this century, and especially since the end of World War II, is evident in the accompanying chart. Despite the ever-increasing property valuation, expenses and taxes have continued to climb as more and/or improved services are provided to residents. The largest rate of increase has been for the schools. In 1958, the school expense exceeded 50 percent of the tax dollar for the first time; in 1971, the schools accounted for 60 percent of the property taxes collected; and in 1980, 55 cents of each tax dollar went to schools. Fifty-one percent of the 1985 tax dollar was used for schools.
Taxes have always been a concern, even in 1928 when, on his 87th birthday, J. Freeman Williams said, "Hampton is a good town. The schools are kept up, the churches are kept up and the taxes are kept up!"