HAMPTON: A CENTURY OF TOWN AND BEACH, 1888-1988
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Chapter 14 -- Part 3
In 1907, the Hampton Water Works Company installed mains to the Beach and the following year action was taken on a sewer. The Town Board of Health, first appointed in 1891, issued regulations in May 1908 prohibiting the rental of property without suitable "privies" and requiring dwellings to be connected to a sewer or to have another way to remove sink water underground. Some 108 cottages at the Beach without proper sanitary facilities were ordered closed by the State Board of Health. Perhaps coincidental with the posting of the health regulations was a special town meeting in June, which accepted state regulations on sidewalks and sewers and voted $10,000 to construct a Beach sewer. Completed in September, the sewer was just a straight pipe, with no treatment facilities, emptying into the ocean 300 yards out from the low-water mark. The completed sewer cost just over $14,000, with $3,300 in wages paid to the indispensable "gang of Italians," those hard-working immigrants who also built the street railway, much of Ocean Boulevard, and the waterworks.
Joseph B. Brown, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, in a January 1909 Union interview, explained that the finished sewer was more expensive than expected but that all costs would be charged directly against the property benefiting from the sewer.
Most of the new sewer connections were for buildings in the area leased to the Hampton Beach Improvement Company (HBIC), and an immediate problem developed regarding who should pay for the sewer construction. Property owners were charged $50 to hitch up to the sewer. Some 21 leaseholders refused to pay, arguing that the HBIC should first provide them with long-term leases. Later the issue became a question of whether the assessment should be paid by the HBIC as the primary leaseholder or by the company's tenants. The Union suggested the issue might result in the HBIC losing its lease, an event the Town supported because the company's $500 annual lease payment was clearly far less than the property was worth. In 1911 the Supreme Court upheld a law suit between the Granite State Land Company (owner of the Casino properties) and the Town, affirming the Town's right to build the sewer, even though the Precinct had been formed for that purpose and had not built the sewer, and allowed the assessment against the HBIC lease-holders. However, the Court ruled that since the leaseholders did not own their land, they were entitled to an abatement "when it is found how much of said sum [the $50 assessment] should be justly charged against the interests in the lot which the plaintiffs [Granite State Land Company] do not own...."
In 1917, at a cost of some $20,000, the old sewer line was rebuilt and the mains were extended north of Cutler's and south of the Casino to include the Pines and White Rocks Island sections. A new outlet pipe was placed off the mouth of the harbor. A third outlet was opposite the Pelham Hotel.
Over the next decade, the Town continued to expand the Beach sewer but, since there was no treatment facility, the system just carried untreated waste out into the ocean. In August 1931, some residents were concerned over the unsanitary conditions at the Beach and petitioned the State Board of Health to look into the situation. Some 1,000 cottages and 100 hotels, rooming houses, and restaurants were hooked into the sewer, although some property owners still had only septic tanks and cesspools. Under certain wind and tidal conditions, raw sewage formed a scum on bathing waters and was deposited in windrows on the beach.
Responding to the petition with a study, Dr. Charles D. Howard of the State Board of Health reported that "drastic steps" had to be taken to clean up the unsanitary conditions. The 1932 town meeting voted $5,000 to repair and clean the south end of the sewer, and a committee was appointed to consider a long-term solution.
Another of Hampton's important special town meetings was held in April 1933. In the morning session, the Town voted to convey the land east of Ocean Boulevard to the State, and, in the afternoon, $118,000 was voted for a new sewerage system with a treatment plant to be located on Island Path or Glade Path. It was later decided that a better site would be across the marsh near the end of Tide Mill Road, because this location could also serve the Village with a sewer. Although this plan cost more money, the federal government awarded a $160,000 funding package to the town in September. Some $40,000 of the grant was a gift; the balance was to be paid back with a bond issue. In a November special town meeting, however, voters rejected the sewer proposal and the Union warned that the town was in for more grief because state officials would seek court action. The newspaper said those who ran "a campaign of misinformation, is vilification and abuse against the sewer project and its sponsors" were to blame for killing the project, which would have given the town $40,000 to solve its problems and provide work for many citizens during the Depression. In a later editorial, the paper blamed "prominent citizens" (whom they called "officials," perhaps meaning the selectmen) as leaders of the group that had defeated the proposal. They were the same people, the Union explained, who long ago opposed the gift of Boar's Head as a park and who urged spending $100,000 for a White Rocks Island breakwater.
By this time, the State had acquired the beachfront and the Town was required to maintain order and sanitation. With a threat from the State to have the beach quarantined and closed to the public, Dr. Howard invited the selectmen to Concord for a meeting. The State could have taken the Town to court for maintaining an open sewer to the ocean, and individual charges could have been brought against property owners who still had privies and septic systems.
The Superior Court granted a petition for another special town nd meeting. On December 14, 1933, less than a month after the sewer project was first voted down, residents approved the proposal by a 378-102 margin. One year later, the Union boasted, "The nearly completed sewer plant beyond Tide Mill Road is one of the most wonderful projects to be found anywhere in this vicinity .... The grounds surrounding the plant have been beautifully landscaped, and give the appearance of a park with a fine view of Hampton Beach across the marshes." When operation began in April 1934, Hampton had the distinction of constructing the first sewage treatment facility of its type in the state, and Hampton Beach was the only Atlantic Coast recreational community between Canada and Florida that did not dump its sewage directly into the ocean.
Although the Town voted to extend Beach sewer lines in 1936 ($30,000 for the White Rocks Island section), the war years of 1942 and 1943 precluded any plans to expand the system into the Village. Finally in 1947, a committee was appointed at town meeting to plan for new sewers. The following year, Hampton voted $25,000 to extend and repair the Beach sewer line, and $250,000 for a new Village sewerage system and reconstruction of the 1934 plant. Bids for construction exceeded the amount budgeted, so the plan was changed to enlarge and remodel the old plant. The Village system began operation in 1951. (The first so-called town sewer was built in 1911 when Selectman Joseph B. Brown ran a line from the depot south along Lafayette Road to Winnacunnet Road. Catch basins were installed on the west side of the street and houses en route were connected, but the Union didn't mention where the water drained. Half of the crew was provided by the street railway, since the work benefited the company.)
The war's end and the return of servicemen anxious to start families and buy homes, coupled with the announced construction of Pease Air Force Base in Newington, set off a building boom in Hampton that has seen only a few periods of recession since. Sewers are among a growing community's most important and expensive services, and Hampton has, with a few exceptions, met the needs of growth. Between 1946 and 1952, Hampton spent some $351,000 for sewer maintenance and construction, so when voters were asked in 1953 for another $308,000, primarily for Village lines, they tabled the article for two years. This postponement set off a series of town-meeting warrant articles for several years calling for sewers for specific streets or subdivisions. Among projects approved were Fairfield Drive and Hackett Lane.
In 1956, master planners Anderson-Nichols released their suggestions for a $1 million sewer expansion. The company said that the 1934 sewage primary-treatment plant was operating at full capacity during the summer, that thousands of gallons of water were added to the system daily through infiltration, and that the priority area for sewer-line expansion was the entire North Beach, including Boar's Head and the rapidly developing housing area between Mace and Winnacunnet roads. A lower priority was Exeter Road, since only 50 families lived between the turnpike and the railroad. In all of Hampton there were 3,000 homes, 2,000 of which were at the Beach, but only one-third were connected to the sewer -- 325 in the Village, 700 at the Beach. Some 130 homes with access to sewers were not connected.
At a July 1960 special town meeting, residents voted 92-22 for a $1.16 million bond issue to expand the sewer system. State and federal aid paid for 70 percent of the cost, Hampton being one of the first towns in the state to benefit from the State aid. The expansion provided for extensive alterations to the old treatment plant, construction of a main pumping station on Winnacunnet Road, extension of the sewer along Winnacunnet from Locke Road to the Beach, and new lines for the North Beach area from Boar's Head along Ocean Boulevard and King's Highway to High Street. When the project was completed, Hampton again had the most modern primary-treatment facility in New Hampshire.
During the work on this project, engineer John W. Durgin III and worker Donald F. Jette died while making heroic rescue efforts. While digging in a trench at the foot of Winnacunnet Road, worker John Walsh apparently hit a pocket of hydrogen sulfide (marsh) gas. When released into the air, the gas replaces the oxygen, and those who breathe it risk a loss of consciousness and, ultimately, death. Observing Walsh slump to the bottom of the trench, Jette climbed down a ladder into the ditch to rescue him. Jette tied a rope around the man, but he too passed out. John Almeida followed Jette, saw him collapse and attempted to leave but also was overcome. Durgin, who saw the first two rescuers pass out, went to the head of the ladder, resisted efforts of others to prevent him from descending, and succeeded in tying a rope about Almeida; then he passed out. Workers pulled Walsh and Almeida from the ditch, and then fireman John Cann, Sr., wearing a gas mask, entered the ditch and tied ropes around Jette and Durgin. The two men were pronounced dead when removed from the 17-foot-deep ditch. For their courageous actions, Jette and Durgin were posthumously awarded Carnegie Medals, and their widows received monthly death benefits. Marsh gas continued to plague the project, and the air had to be tested regularly to protect the workmen.
After 18 months of discussions, Hampton made arrangements in 1974 with the town of Exeter to provide sewers to the Warner Lane section of Hampton, located adjacent to the Exeter town line. In 1988, Hampton paid Exeter $6,800 to service 29 sewer hookups.
In 1974, Hampton built the Landing Road-Lafayette Road interceptor, a sewerage-system improvement that involved some 60 percent of the uptown area. The deficiency in adequate sewerage facilities had caused selectmen to impose a building moratorium in the uptown section of Hampton for several years until the new line was completed. In 1975, the Town began construction of a secondary treatment plant, built at a cost of nearly $4 million, with 95 percent paid by state and federal funds. Completed in 1977, the plant required expansion of the Sewer Department staff from three to 12 workers.
By the 1980s, Hampton growth again had an impact on the sewers. Town officials said that many lines were full to capacity and overflowing during heavy rainstorms. To solve this and other sewer problems, a special town meeting in 1984 approved an $800,000 bond issue for a new Brown Avenue interceptor to replace the original 1934 line, and the 1986 town meeting approved a $7.8 million bond issue for sewers, to include improvements to the treatment plant, a new interceptor along the railroad, another for the North Shore Road area and surrounding streets, plus new mains for High Street, Little River Road, and the Mill-Barbour roads area.