HAMPTON: A CENTURY OF TOWN AND BEACH, 1888-1988
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Undoubtedly there were informal sporting events such as footraces, horseshoe pitching, or tests of strength. Winter brought skating, hockey, iceboating, and sledding. For many people, the ability to grow a large squash or cabbage or to raise a chicken for entry at the county fair was as much a sport as they had the time or inclination to consider.
Organized and individual sports as we know them today have formed an important aspect of the social life of Hampton residents only since just before the turn of the century. One activity that quickly became popular was bicycling. High, uncomfortable, and difficult-to-ride "ordinary" bicycles had been around for years, but the development of rubber tires in 1889 and the introduction of the "safety" bicycle in 1893, which was quite similar to today's versions, brought a boom to the sport that quickly caught the fancy of, especially, the wealthy classes. Hampton Beach became a popular biking destination, so local people were soon introduced to the sport.
Clarence Dearborn, son of wealthy lumber dealer Samuel Dearborn, and piano maker Moses Brown, who lived on Winnacunnet Road, both had bicycle shops. Dearborn sold Victor and Crawford bicycles. According to the May 1895, Exeter News-Letter, the I. W. Mason & Co. general store "have thus far this season sold three bicycles in Hampton. The town has 25 riders or more of both sexes, with probabilities favoring early accessions to the number." During the same month, a group of 16 members of the Portsmouth Bicycle Club was entertained at the Hotel Whittier, which was also a popular destination, especially before and after the beach season. A week later, some 50 riders came to the Whittier from the Boston area, although heavy rain caused most of them to ride home on the train. In July, the News-Letter reported, "From his location at 'The Logs,' Sunday afternoon, your correspondent witnessed an almost unbroken procession of teams and wheels, a double one off and on. And the marked feature was the number of graceful female wheelers, beside whose erect figure many a man looks like a scrouching baboon."
A year later, the paper was proclaiming, "We have in our midst both professional and amateur bicycle riders. Long may both ladies and gentlemen enjoy this delightful, healthful exercise." By 1897, the Mason store was also renting bicycles, and the News-Letter said, "The bicycle is reigning supreme in our town .... The wheel is fast supplanting the horse among our young people, and the day is not far distant when a pedestrian will be a rare thing on our streets." The decline in pedestrians also may have been the result of a problem that exists to this day -- bike riders using the sidewalks. In May 1897, the Exeter newspaper addressed this issue: "The large number of bicyclists who persist in riding upon sidewalks have become a menace to the public, and we wonder that our town officers do not enforce the law, and keep them in the road where they belong." Hampton was at the time beginning to build sidewalks to protect walkers from horses and wagons, so the bicycle riders presented a new problem. One person attempted to dissuade bike riders by placing a railroad tie across the sidewalk; unfortunately, the first victim was an 80-year-old man who tripped over the obstacle while out walking.
The development of the street railway and the popularity of automobiles eventually ended this phase of the bicycle craze for adults; children were the most numerous riders for many years. Now, however, large numbers of adults are riding again, enjoying .... this delightful, healthful exercise.
The earliest organized Hampton sport was baseball. Abner Doubleday invented baseball in 1839 at Cooperstown, New York. The sport soon became the American pastime, spreading from the cities to the country. It was popular with Civil War soldiers, and every small town had a local team in the late nineteenth century. It is unclear when the sport began in Hampton, but in 1888, the town team consisted of the following players: catcher John Lightbody, pitcher Ernest Mace ("although young in years and experience, is a remarkable pitcher and second to none in the county"), first baseman and captain E. G. Bullis, second baseman and pitcher A. L. Jenness, shortstop Thomas Chase, third baseman and pitcher William Joplin, and outfielders Bragg, Hiam, and Redmond. Reserves were James Holmes, Walter Palmer, and Joseph Holmes. When Hampton failed to show up for a game with Greenland, the latter team proclaimed in the Exeter newspaper that it was "second to none in the county." The following week, Hampton responded and offered to play a three-game series with Greenland to determine the county championship. Hampton had previously defeated the Greenlanders in two games. The town team tradition continued into and during most of this century, with Hampton teams competing against similar clubs from Portsmouth, Exeter, and surrounding towns. There was an active team at the Beach during the l920s, and Hampton maintains a competitive softball league during the summer. Various levels of youth baseball and softball teams are also popular Hampton spring and early summer activities.
Schools also had teams. In May 1892, the "Hampton high school Juniors" played at the Hampton Falls Grammar School and defeated the Falls team 30-27: "The Juniors lacked three of their team but picked up one substitute. The Grammars threw out poor players occasionally as better ones came on to the field, and kept a rather peculiar count, after a fashion of their own; but after all the umpire conceded the game to the Juniors, and luckily they all reached home alive."
The most popular organized sports, however, have been associated with the high schools, especially when the Buccaneers of Hampton Academy [&] High School took to the court or the field. Before television, and when movie theaters were a half-hour's drive away, the community rallied behind the local high school teams. Saturday football games and weeknight basketball games were important occasions, attracting large crowds and causing lengthy debates in local barbershops, coffee shops, and general stores, where adults, often former athletes themselves, discussed the merits of the coaches and the abilities of various players. Who can forget the booming voice of lobsterman Irving Jones, as he sat clad in red-and-black-checked hunting clothes, cheering, "Come on, you Buccaneers," while his son Nicky, John Cann, and several other Beach residents dominated the high school teams in the 1950s.
Baseball was the first and only organized Hampton Academy team for many years. In May 1911, Hampton Academy lost its first game of the season to the Redman Shoe Company nine. Later in the month, a social was held at the town hall to benefit the academy team. The first uniformed baseball team played in the 1914 season, and by the end of that decade, games were being played with Sanborn Seminary, Exeter, Amesbury, Groveland, West Newbury, York, and Kittery. Clayton Johnson, who was a member of teams from 1917 to 1920, recalled that the games were played behind the Casino, as that was the only decent field in the area. Johnson went on to college, but in 1925, when he was home and "working on odd jobs," he offered to start an academy football team. Wearing secondhand uniforms paid for by the team members, the boys played a schedule with Ipswich, Governor Dummer, North Andover, Exeter, Kittery, and York, losing all six games. Paul Hobbs was team captain, and the line, which averaged 190 pounds, was anchored by 225-pound Arnold ("Fat") George. The academy's best football years were in 1944, 1948 (first undefeated season), and 1954 (also undefeated), when it won state class championships. The baseball team won league championships in 1949 and 1950. One of the best athletes of the 1920s was Winslow ("Tuck") White, son of coach Charles White, who played academy football, hockey, and baseball, then played four years of the latter two sports at the University of New Hampshire. Weighing 98 pounds, he was the quarterback of the first football team. He pitched professionally for a couple of years with a minor-league franchise of the St. Louis Cardinals and was a regular pitcher for a few years with many of the summer-league teams in this area.
The athletic fields behind the academy were improved in 1928, when the old dump was closed, but Hampton residents were delighted in June 1930 when the new Tuck Athletic Field was dedicated. This was a long-sought improvement for the town. In May 1912, the Union suggested that since a special town meeting was being held to give a tax exemption to the shoe factories, then another article should be included to create a sports field, since there was none in Hampton. The "Green," site of the old Hampton Academy, was recommended by the newspaper. Eighteen years later, the idea became reality. George Ashworth chaired the 1930 festivities and the late Reverend I. S. Jones, who got a $10,000 donation from Edward Tuck, was given credit for beginning the process that resulted in the new field. The dedication ceremony began with a large parade, but the day's highlight was a group of 90 women, each dressed in white with a white scarf covering her head, forming the name "Tuck." Ada Nudd, whose grandfather's sister married Edward Tuck's father Amos, was the "period." The women sang a poem written for children by Caroline Shea and conducted by Esther Coombs. The first stanza:
"We're here to sing in praise of our good friend Edward Tuck
To wish him every blessing and nothing but good luck
Content and health be his with abundance of good cheer
To light the path he follows through every passing year."
After the song, the women knelt, and David Colt circled the field in an airplane taking photographs, which he later sold as postcards for 15 cents each. Tuck, then 88 years old and a resident of Paris, France, could not attend, but he sent a message saying, in part, "May this field become a source of happiness and benefit for successive generations of Hampton youth at all times." Following a band concert and a few speeches, Hampton Academy played Exeter High School, the host baseball team losing 14-4. Following Tuck's death in 1933, the area was renamed Tuck Memorial Field.
In February 1929, Hampton Academy lost its first ice hockey game, 7-2, against Portsmouth, playing outside "in spite of the coldest wind of the winter."
The fledgling high school basketball team began in 1938-39, playing in the Community Center, the remodeled street-railway generating station at 364 (***) Exeter Road. The program received a boost when the new academy, complete with gymnasium, was built in 1940. The 1941-42 team, known as the "Tall Towers," was composed of Norman Merrill, Earl Blatchford, Al Stover, Richard Blake, and Rocky Keenan, each over 6 feet tall, and Ted Batchelder, Bill Palmer, and Charlie Akerman. Despite a long unbeaten string during the season, the team lost during the semifinals of the state tournament. Some 200 fans supported the Buccaneers when they made their only Boston Garden appearance in 1948, defeating Class A Hudson, Massachusetts, 36-18. During the 1950s, there was standing-room-only in the gym twice weekly as the team won three league championships. It was runner-up for a state championship in 1958 when it had a 20-2 record, the last year of the academy as a high school. John G. Peterson was the coach of those successful postwar football and basketball teams. He also started the first academy cross-country and track team in 1947-48. Just three years later, the track team won the state class B title, led by Neal Harvey and Bernard Campbell, who set four records as each won two events. Campbell's brother Carl was another leading athlete of the era and their local careers (as well as the successes of the rest of Hampton's athletes) were carefully recorded by their father, Irving ("Soup") Campbell, who was the Hampton Union sports editor for about 20 years, until he retired in 1958. The senior Campbell originated the Tid-Bit basketball program for grammar-school boys and for many years he was the official scorer for academy and Winnacunnet basketball games. It was Campbell and coach "Alex" Sulloway who devised the Buccaneer nickname. "Soup Campbell Week" was proclaimed in October 1982, six months before his death in 1983.
While Campbell was promoting youth sports through the Tid Bit basketball program, barber Joseph Pellegrino was active with the Boy Scouts and the Pony League baseball teams. Pee Wee football and wrestling teams were organized in the fall of 1961, and the result of this private sports promotion was the formation of the Hampton Youth Association in 1962.
The most successful boys' high school sports year was 1966. Led by Greg Pickering, the Winnacunnet High School basketball team won the class L championship and the baseball team won the class I crown. The basketball accomplishment was all the more remarkable since the school could have competed in a class for smaller schools but petitioned to play in the more competitive large-school class. After the final basketball game, 2,500 supporters met the team in Depot Square when it returned from its victory, and Coach Robert Dodge was named Man of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce. Dodge retired from Winnacunnet High School in 1989, completing a three-decade local coaching career that began at Hampton Academy.
In the 1960s, cross country was a leading Winnacunnet sport, and the runners won five state championships in seven years. Most of these victories were under the coaching of Harold Fernald. In 1969, Bruce Butterworth won the individual state crown. The Winnacunnet football team won league championships in 1959, 1968, and 1977 and won the Division II crown in 1983. In 1962 and 1963, the Winnacunnet wrestling team won consecutive Northern New England championships.
Many of Hampton's most successful male athletes received their first formal coaching from Clifford H. Eastman, Sr., who coached junior-high baseball and basketball teams for more than three decades before he retired in 1963. When Eastman started, the school had no gym; the boys practiced basketball outdoors at the Centre School and played only "away" games. Later they shot at eight-foot-high baskets in the old East End School.
Women athletes also have been successful in Hampton. Academy girls began playing field hockey in the late 1930s, and softball and basketball were started in the 1940s. Winnacunnet's cheerleaders won state championships in 1965 and 1985. The girls won their first basketball league crown in 1969, but the school year of 1983-84 saw Ed Beattie coach both the girls' soccer and girls' basketball teams to state championships.
A number of individuals also have been successful in sporting activities. Hampton bowlers were introduced to that sport in 1900, when the Hotel Whittier opened two alleys. The Casino alleys were also popular, as was the later Ferncroft Lanes, operated for a time by Harry McLane. His daughter, Betty McLane Pray, won the Massachusetts state candlepin bowling championships in 1976 and 1977. In 1963, Richard Bisig of Hampton became the first New Hampshire person to achieve a perfect 300 game in tenpins while bowling at Lafayette Lanes in North Hampton. Clarence W. Hewlett was named the 1970 New Hampshire chess champion. In a nationally sponsored event, 10-year-old Greg Janetos won the Punt, Pass, and Kick competition in his age group, performing on television during half-time on the field of the 1972 Super Bowl game in New Orleans.
The Myopia Hunt Club held an annual fall fox hunt in the seacoast from 1908 until 1939. Club members came to Hampton by train and ran a course through North Hampton to Rye. Although few if any local people were involved, the colorful hunt attracted large numbers of spectators.
Although not an athletic activity, flying airplanes has long been a sport for Hampton men and women. Pioneer aviator Harry N. Atwood flew his biplane over the town in May 1912 en route from Saugus, Massachusetts, to Portland, Maine. According to the newspaper, he came in low over the eastern part of town, then flew over the village "close enough to inspect the Dearborn monument. This was the first view of an aeroplane for many people in town." A few months later, people got a closer look at the plane when Atwood landed on the Hampton River in July. While flying along the coast, he had become lost in a fogbank off Rye Beach, circled around, and finally recognized Hampton River, where he landed. A highlight of the 1915 Carnival Week was aviator Chauncey Redding, who performed aerial stunts off the beachfront and took passengers for rides. For many years, Bob Fogg and his airplane were a popular attraction at the Beach, landing on the sand to pick up passengers for sightseeing trips.
Union editor Charles Francis Adams was an early advocate of building a Hampton airport on the marsh, which he hoped would become a major international facility. His plan was unworkable for a small town, but eventually, various people became interested in the idea of a small airport. In February 1927, the newspaper mentioned an airplane landing in back of Winnacunnet Road, the site of the "proposed new Hampton Aviation Grounds ...." The following August, residents learned that "An aeroplane has recently been stationed in the large field back of Henry Hobbs's house on High Street. The pilot [unnamed] has been offering rides to residents but on one landing [the plane] hit a rut and broke its propellor." A few weeks later, in September, a barnstorming flying show was based at the A. T. Johnson flying field. Using three planes, the pilots did aerobatic stunts over the town and the Beach, performed wing walking, and offered rides. These stories give different locations for the airport, but it was in fact situated in the great field between High Street and Winnacunnet Road, east of today's Moulton Road. Named for its first owner, James Hutchings, the facility was expanded in the spring of 1931. In July, the first passenger to come to Hampton by airplane arrived from the East Boston airport, then went by car to his cottage at the Beach.
In 1933, a special town meeting, held to seek federal funds that had been made available because of the Depression, authorized the Town to seek $2,500 for the airport and to lease land from the many property owners at the rate of $1 per year plus a rebate of their taxes. Similar airport projects were underway in Portsmouth, Lowell, and Newburyport. World War II brought an end to the airport. Postwar housing developments occupied the site, and in 1946, the current "Hampton" Airport opened in North Hampton.