Chapter 15 -- Part 10

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One hundred years ago, Hampton was mostly a farming community with a modest tourist business at the Beach. Most residents worked in town, either on their own or a neighbor's farm; in one of a number of shops and stores; as carpenters, painters, and laborers; and as fishermen. A few worked for the railroad. Some people rode morning and afternoon trains to and from jobs in Portsmouth or Newburyport, while a few others went on foot, horseback, or wagon to Exeter. Mainly out-of-town workers went to textile mills or shoe factories, and some of Hampton's business leaders began to think that Hampton also should have one of these important businesses. Textile mills required water power to operate, but shoes were made with steam-powered equipment, and it was thought that Hampton would have people in need of jobs who would work in a factory if one were located here.

Shoemaking had been a home industry in Hampton, Seabrook, and other small towns. The shoemakers would go to the factories in Exeter, Newburyport, Amesbury, and elsewhere to pick up shoe parts that they would assemble and sew in a home shop or in a small building, sometimes called a 10-footer because of its square dimensions of that size. Some of these small buildings are still to be seen, and one is set up as a display at the Seabrook Historical Society. Sometimes the shoe factories would send boxes of shoe parts on the train to the local shoe workers. This type of shoemaking, for which the workers were paid by the number of shoes made, not at an hourly rate, was a popular winter activity, especially for farmers. Hampton had a group of these skilled workers, but the needs of a thriving shoe factory also would require many out-of-town workers to move to Hampton where, promoters believed, they would become residents, rent housing, shop in stores, and generally foster economic growth.

In 1887, a group of local men formed the Hampton Factory Building Company to build a $12,000 boot-and-shoe factory to which they hoped to attract a firm that would rent the building and operate a business. Among 24 company shareholders in February 1887 were William Merrill, William Perry, William Blake, J. W. Mason, J. A. Lane, Samuel Dearborn, Thomas N. Chase, Charles M. Lamprey, and Edward and Warren Batchelder. The company issued $5,000 in stock, valued at $25 per share. Standing today nearly as originally constructed at the corner of what is now Dearborn Avenue and High Street, the factory was 80 by 40 feet and four stories high, with a three-story, 50-by-46-foot wing. As Joseph Dow relates, the V. K. and A. H. Jones Company from Lynn, Massachusetts, a center of shoemaking, set up its shop in January 1888 after closing operations in Barnstead and Strafford, New Hampshire. Workers from those two rural towns came to Hampton, and, for about four years, Hampton's first substantial industry fulfilled the hopes of its promoters. Jobs provided employment and the many workers had money to spend in Hampton's stores.

No sooner had the business begun with 100 workers than the News-Letter's Hampton correspondent noted in the January 20, 1888, edition, "The olden friendly salutation in our manufacturing borough may no longer be 'Good Morning,' or even the dear old hearty greeting, 'How do you do,' but 'How many shoe factory boarders have you?"'

Elsewhere in the same issue, the correspondent commented, "Hampton is already feeling the stimulating effects of the new shoe factory. The few cautious ones who, when the factory was first talked of, shook their venerable locks, and predicted the speedy demoralization of the town as a summer resort, now look more cheerful, and are willing to acknowledge that a little enterprise may be a good thing even in this staid old burgh."

In March, the correspondent was defending the factory against rumors that "cheap work is being manufactured at low pay, that hands could not earn enough to pay their board and that the Knights of Labor were all leaving." Arguing that the charges were untrue, the writer continued,

The building is large enough to accommodate three hundred hands. When the Jones took possession it was not fully completed and only part of it ready for use, and then with the promise of taking in labor from the town as fast as it could be taught, the proprietors have been hampered and could not advance as fast as they desired. It will take two months or more before the shop will be run in its fullest capacity. One hundred fifty-two hands are on the pay roll, eighty-four male and sixty-eight female and the next week's pay roll will contain ten or more additional. The highest wages drawn, are male, per week $25.50; female, $12.70, running down to a trifle less than one dollar per day. About six hundred pairs of kid and pebbled goat button ladies shoes are made daily and when the factory is in full operation the number will be increased to fifteen hundred or more, making work for over three hundred hands. Hampton can furnish half of that number, the rest will be called in from other places, men with families preferred. Already rents have advanced, property in the vicinity of the factory has increased in price, and good boarding houses are well filled up. The Messrs. Jones do their work well, pay good wages for reliable help, and are advancing the prosperity of the town. The hands are well behaved and as yet the peace and dignity of the state has not been disturbed. The town makes a new departure this year, manufacturing will draw out its business capacity and increase its population and wealth. All nuisances at the beach will be abated and order preserved during the coming season. Three thousand dollars has been appropriated for repainting and putting in good order its ancient town house. And in the warm season, it will celebrate its quarter-millennial settlement in grand style.
  (signed) JUSTICE

The business was progressing so well that in September 1888 the company announced plans to construct its own model 30-room boardinghouse, complete with private and public dining rooms, smoking and billiard rooms for the men, men's and ladies' parlors, steam heat, and a bell system connecting every room to the office. By November, however, the newspaper printed what was to be the first of a number of similar articles: "Work at the shoe factory is dull just now; several hands are out of employment, but it is hoped that there will be work for all soon."

Prospects seemed brighter in February 1889: "Business at the shoe factory is on the increase and old hands are nearly all at work." Perhaps as a result of this activity, the same issue predicted, "Quite a building boom is being enjoyed here, and we hope ere long to be placed upon a par with our sister town, Exeter." Late in the summer, a strong wind blew over the factory's iron smokestack, and it was replaced with an 80-foot-high brick chimney. A Lynn fire destroyed the main Jones factory, resulting in a boost to the Hampton operations. Curtis DeLancey was asked by the company to open his summer Beach boardinghouse to accommodate the new workers being brought to town. Perhaps not everyone was happy with the influx of workers, as the Portsmouth Chronicle correspondent said, "Investigation shows that several men who have paid attention to young ladies in town have wives in Haverhill, Lynn, etc."

As many as 250 people were employed at the factory, among them a youthful Roland D. Sawyer, but the economic boom was short-lived. By August 1891, the Jones Company had built a new, large Lynn factory, and, in the October 2 edition, the News-Letter's Hampton correspondent sadly noted, "Mr. Jones closed up his business at the shoe shop Saturday last. This movement will have a rather depressing effect, but in all probability the shop will not remain idle long .... The village and surroundings have a kind of dazed stare at the vacancy." By December came the report: "Our town has gone down fifty degrees below zero since the shoe shop closed up."

In January several people came to look at the factory, but the establishment of a new business was hampered by the Jones Company, which had a five-year lease with one year left and did not want to let it go, perhaps to prevent competition. And, contrary to the dream of Hampton growing as a result of the factory, many of the once-overcrowded boardinghouses were empty: "Quite a number of our citizens are absent from town, having followed the fortunes of Messrs. Jones' shoe business to Lynn."

The building remained empty, and, in August 1893, after showing a loss of $5,400, the shareholders announced plans to sell the building. Although valued at $15,000 with its steam boilers and other machinery left by the shoe company, the building was sold at auction for $3,000 in February 1894 to Irving Powers, a Boston grain merchant, according to the News-Letter. Curiously, the Chronicle said 0. H. Whittier, owner of the Hotel Whittier, had bought the factory for $3,000. Both newspapers suggested the factory would become a cannery, but that idea soon died. A leather-cutting firm announced its plans to open the factory in December 1896, but by April nothing had happened, and the place remained closed while residents were ever hopeful.

Finally, in late 1897, General D. H. Gale of Exeter, who had a large factory in that town, leased the Hampton factory. By December, it was "an emphatically busy place" as workmen began to get it ready for business. The building was wired for electricity, telephones were installed, and an automatic sprinkler system with a 5,000-gallon tank was connected to the steam fire pump that the Jones Company had installed. Despite this investment, Gale closed the factory within a year.

In July 1901, the Thayer, Maguire & Field Shoe Company of Haverhill leased the factory and made its first shipment of shoes, sending out 12 cases, but the shoe factory closed in November because of labor problems. The firm was running its Hampton business as a nonunion shop, while its other factory in Haverhill was union. Union officials were concerned that some shoes made in Hampton might carry the union label. The sudden closing shocked the town because Hampton voters had given the firm a 10-year tax rebate, many families had moved to town to work in the factory, the street railway had put on two early-morning cars to transport workers, new tenements had been built, and several businesses were started based on the shoe factory. On a Monday in late November, the factory superintendent gave one long, 10-minute blast on the steam whistle as the plant's closing signal.

In May 1903, Hillard & Talbot leased the shoe shop and began small-scale operations, planning to enter full production. Residents voiced concern as to tenement space for workers because five families already needed housing and none was available. A dynamo was installed and the building was rewired, but only the stitching room operated and only 20 men were hired. Apparently this company also closed, because in April 1904, the Union wrote that Andrews & Company of Everett, Massachusetts, would be taking over the shop. The plan was for the Town (or people in the town) to pay for the moving expenses. The company would then lease the factory for five years. If they didn't perform as expected, the company would refund the moving expenses to the Town. The Union said that sentiment was running strong in favor of the plan and that the money could be raised with little effort, but the move was not made.

Hampton's hopes were raised again when the West Lynn Shoe Manufacturing Company considered opening the factory in September 1909 and discussed moving its whole operation here. Workmen supposedly were getting the building ready for the move, with a start-up planned in October. By December, the factory was still closed, but the West Lynn company expected to open in January 1910, with 300 workers producing 1,500 pairs of shoes daily. The Union predicted, "American help will be hired with local or native help preferred. Such an industry coming to our town will make business and enhance the value of our houses and house lots and create a boom in the village generally."

But hopes were dashed again when the factory did not open. In February 1911, the Federal Trust Company, probably the mortgage holder, bought the building at auction. In October, the long-idle shoe shop was leased to the A. F. Smith Shoe Company of Lynn, which planned full operation soon, according to the newspaper. Credit was given to the EH&A Street Railway for "inducing the company to move here since it means much to the street railway as well as to the E&H Electric Company." The new company hoped to make up to 1,000 pairs of shoes per day, requiring a work force of 250. In May 1912, a special town meeting voted to give the A. F. Smith Shoe Company a five-year tax exemption, but this financial inducement apparently was not enough, because the newspaper reported that the representatives of Federal Trust Company in Boston, owners of the vacant shoe building, were in town to talk about selling the structure. In November, the A. F. Smith firm vacated the shoe factory and Thomas Cogger removed the machinery. More than 2,100 bags of shoe lasts were sold for firewood instead of being shipped back to Lynn.

Despite the continued problems involved with opening and keeping a successful shoe business in the old factory, the town did have another shoe business. In the fall of 1910, Edward E. and William L. Redman, descendants of a 1646 Hampton settler, began manufacturing ladies' slippers (their special product was white wedding slippers) in a factory erected near Five Corners, behind 101 Locke Road. The two-story building, 50 by 20 feet long, employed about 50 men and women. To encourage the business, the 1911 town meeting voted to give the company a 10-year property-tax exemption, "if it can be legally done." By April 1911, the newspaper reported, "Success has been phenomenal" for the Redman Shoe Company, and, one month later, "The payroll of the Redman Shoe Company is now $1,000 per week, all of it going to Hampton people." In July, regarded as a slow month, orders worth $5,000 were shipped, and the company doubled the capacity of the plant with an addition. William Redman handled sales, his brother Edward ran manufacturing, and Charles F. Allen of United Shoe Machinery Company was the "silent partner," according to the Union. They turned out 20 cases of shoes per day (72 pair to a case), and $9,000 worth of slippers was shipped in December 1911. The newspaper said in September 1912 that William L. Redman and family would spend the winter in Florida, where he would represent the shoe company. Edward was granted a patent on a new flexible shoe, the "0-So-Ezy," which "ought to sell to everybody who has feet." The company had to enlarge again, but in 1935 the business relocated to Newburyport.

Many townspeople hoped that the Redman firm would buy the vacant shoe factory on High Street, but it was to remain closed until 1918, when the Greenman and Pethybridge Company of Haverhill moved in to manufacture leather outer soles for women's shoes. A company subsidiary, the Winchester Counter Company, made leather counters and shanks used in shoemaking. At last, Hampton had a successful operation in the factory, and, as the Charles E. Greenman Company, it remained in business until the 1970s. Greenman apparently purchased the building from Hampton Associates, a local group that probably had purchased it from Federal Trust Company. Greenman set up a separate corporation to own the building called Seaview Inn, Inc., a name that confused many local people. When the senior Charles Greenman died in 1929, he was considered to be the town's largest taxpayer. A longtime employee of the company was David Hamilton, whose sons D. Malcolm and Arthur followed him into the business. The sons became parmers with the younger Charles Greenman and eventually acquired the building and the business when Greenman died. Following a 1961 fire, the top floor of the building was removed, leaving it at its present height. During this removal, several cases of the 1938 tercentenary celebration booklet were discovered -- apparently stored there and forgotten by Charles Greenman, who had been chairman of the booklet committee. Copies of this booklet are still available at the Tuck Museum. After 40 years with the company, the Hamiltons liquidated the business and in 1977 sold the building to businessman Stanwood Brown, who founded Hampton Coach Chevrolet Interiors, a specialty company that makes fabric kits used for restoring interiors of antique Chevrolet automobiles. The remodeled building also has a number of shops and stores.

Hampton's original large shoe factory had been formed by public-spirited individuals who wanted to help the town bring in some industry. About 50 years later, a similar community effort was made to begin the town's third shoe business. In February 1935, the newly formed Hampton Chamber of Commerce held a "mass meeting" to discuss ways to bring industry to town. The newspaper said there had been a shortage of work for townspeople in the winter, and even in the summer, due to a decline in building brought on by the Depression. At an October meeting in the Greenman factory, the Chamber announced plans to build a shoe factory that would employ "the many factory workers in town who don't have jobs or who have to travel long distances to find work." Government financial aid was available, but a small amount of local capital was also needed. Residents were told that an unnamed national company, which had to vacate its present building by January 1, was interested in relocating in Hampton. The 30 people attending pledged $3,000, about half of the amount needed to begin construction of the $16,000 factory. A Union editorial urged people to get behind the effort by buying shares in the project at $10 each, with a guaranteed interest of 5 percent.

By early November, funds were assured for the factory loan and ground-breaking was expected in mid-November. A mass meeting on a Friday night showed movies of the Academy-versus-Marblehead football game to raise the remaining funds. The following week, the factory foundation was underway, built according to plans drawn by architect Maurice Witmer of Portsmouth, district manager of the Federal Housing Board. Town Clerk William Brown was elected president of the stockholders of Hampton Industries, Inc. It was finally announced that Bradford Shoe Company of Haverhill would move to Hampton to occupy the new building, employing 200 people. The charter was received from the State in early December, and those who had ordered stock began making their payments to Hampton Industries. Built in 28 working days by contractor Thomas Moore, the one-story, U-shaped, 10,500-square-foot building was constructed off Lafayette Road on Kershaw Avenue, named later for company owner Clarence Kershaw.

On December 26, before the shoe business began operation, Hampton celebrated this community effort with a huge party held in the factory, attended by 350 people who were served a catered dinner and danced to the 42-piece McElwin band. The Hampton Community Band also played. Gubernatorial candidate Major Francis P. Murphy said, "It is the businesslike solution to the welfare situation to rehabilitate industry in New Hampshire .... Hampton's citizens have pointed the way for the rest of the state to solve the welfare situation."

In late January 1936, Hampton Industries issued $1,500 in additional stock to cover the full amount of the bills for factory construction, and, in December, Hampton Industries paid interest of 5 percent on bonds sold to finance the shoe-factory building. The Union said many people had not expected any money back, as they considered it "lost in a good cause." At year's end, the factory had 168 employees and a weekly payroll of $4,800. An addition made room for 25 more employees, and, during its first year, Bradford Shoe made 360,000 pairs of shoes.

The company was soon making 80 cases of shoes a day with 220 employees, but during World War II, production dropped to 50 cases as the company had difficulty hiring workers. After the war, the small business faced stiff competition from large companies in the manufacture of novelty women's shoes. Production declined to 35 cases, an unprofitable level, and the business closed in November 1948, putting some 120 people out of work.

Kershaw expected another shoe business to occupy the building, but Nichols Poultry Farms moved in, using the facility as an egg distribution center and later a hatchery. When the New England chicken business declined and Nichols moved out, Ben Pearce acquired the property in 1961 and moved his leather-finishing business from Salem, Massachusetts. In the mid-1960s, the company was producing 35,000 to 40,000 square yards of finished leather daily, enough for 25,000 pairs of women's shoes. Although Pearce was an important business, many nearby home owners literally breathed a sigh of relief when the leather-finishing portion of the company closed in the early 1980s. The finishing process used a variety of pungent chemicals and the aroma emitted from the plant was often unpleasant.

While Hampton boomed as a residential center following World War II, many local people were convinced that the town needed industry to bring in tax dollars and jobs. Other residents, however, were concerned that the wrong type of industry might hurt the town. Periodically, industrial commissions or committees have been formed, either appointed by the town government or as a division of the Chamber of Commerce. In 1959, a Chamber-sponsored industrial committee promoted an industrial-park site west of the railroad tracks and south of Exeter Road, but the committee's first success, following the gift of a right-of-way to setback land from Theodore Scott, J. D. Cahill Company of Haverhill built a new plant. At an open house in November 1960, residents toured the box-board manufacturing plant, the town's first new industry since Bradford Shoe began operation in 1936.

Pearce Leather followed Cahill to Hampton, but the drive for industry slowed, and in 1966, the selectmen appointed their own industrial development committee. One of the committee's goals was to seek potential industrial sites in town, and the efforts of this committee led in 1975 to the relocation to Hampton of the corporate headquarters of Wheelabrator-Frye Inc., a Fortune 500 company, which purchased a large area of land straddling Interstate 95 between the expressway and Towle Farm and Mary Batchelder roads. The company's move away from the corporate centers of Manhattan and Connecticut shocked the financial world and surprised Hampton residents, who viewed the new company with a combination of pride and incredulity. The company's large Colonial-style office complex, furnished with fine art and antiques, complete with broad lawns and ponds with swans, is located east of the Interstate on Liberty Lane, a name no doubt influenced by the patriotic views of company founder Michael Dingman and of Governor Meldrim Thomson, an active promoter of the company's move to Hampton. West of the highway, the company has built another complex, and since moving to Hampton, it has become very much a part of the world of corporate mergers. First it became part of The Signal Companies, Inc., then Allied-Signal Inc., and, since 1986, an independent company named the Henley Group, Inc. The Hampton business developed the country's leading waste-to-energy and cogeneration company and has operations and investments in other growth industries, but the Hampton operation remains a corporate headquarters, and no manufacturing is done.

While Wheelabrator-Frye was completing its move to Hampton in 1975, the town received more good news with the arrival of the Foss Manufacturing Company of Bradford, Massachusetts, manufacturers of nonwoven fibers. Foss built a plant west of the railroad tracks off Lafayette Road in the large area bounded by Drakeside Road, the expressway, and Exeter Road. The company purchased, and has restored, the Howard G. Lane house on Lafayette Road in order to have access to the landlocked plant site via a railroad underpass behind the house. Foss expanded the Hampton plant in 1985 with a 52,000-square-foot production facility and a 13,000-square-foot research-and-development building. Foss also owns the adjacent Deacon John Tuck Homestead, which has been restored and is now used for office space.

In 1980, the Drakes Run light industrial and office park was developed off Towle Farm Road. It now includes the Timberland Shoe Company corporate headquarters and warehouse, which opened in 1985; Adhesive Technologies; Continental Microwave and Tool Company; QA Technologies, assemblers of test probes for printed circuit boards; SPECO, Inc.; and Snap-on Tools. On lower Tide Mill Road are located Burgon Tool Steel Company and a number of small businesses in the Tide Mill Industrial Condominiums.

With the exception of Foss Manufacturing, which employs approximately 275 people, most of these companies, as one owner told the Planning Board, are small, "quiet, nice-looking" businesses, with relatively low demands on Town services in exchange for the taxes they pay. For Hampton, which has become largely residential, the light industries and office complexes appear to be ideal solutions to the mixed blessings that some forms of industry bring to communities.

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