Hampton Beach Community Church

Chapter 22 -- Part 5

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Religious services have long been a summer tradition at Hampton Beach. Various halls and the Casino were used for Sunday services until the construction of St. Patrick's Catholic Church and St. Peter's-by-the-Sea, an Episcopal church that burned in the 1915 fire. Some Beach leaders saw the need for another Christian church, and in mid-June 1924, Frank Lucier of Concord was selected to start a $25,000 fund drive to construct a community church. Rufus Graves, manager of the Casino, donated a lot on D Street, and architect George Cunningham of Concord was hired to design the building. By mid-July, $11,184 had been raised and $4,000 more had been pledged, half of the donations coming from nonresidents.

The first service was held in May 1925, and the building was dedicated on July 5 at a service featuring a sermon by Bishop William E. Anderson of Boston. As constructed, the church had seats for 400 people (with 150 in the balcony), and Sunday School rooms, and was finished with red and white pebbled stucco to make the exterior fireproof.

Church contractor and onetime selectman Lemuel Ring offered to build the church, keeping costs to a minimum. He must have had strong feelings for the building, since the funeral of his son Robert was held there. Lemuel, who died in 1933 at the age of 78, came to the Beach from Haverhill about the turn of the century. As the Union editorialized after his death,

"The place he filled cannot be taken by another.. . .He early perceived the possibilities of Hampton Beach and was active in its development. Under his supervision more than one million dollars worth of buildings were constructed. . . .When he came to Hampton he was a poor man. He had been unsuccessful in his undertakings. About all the property he possessed was the kit of carpenter's tools which he brought along with him .... He put the town's interests above his personal gain. He would not stand for graft or extravagance, no matter in what guise they came .... Many of us remember the dramatic scene Sunday evening, September 5, 1932 when, as a climax to the [annual Civic Night] service [in the Community Church], Mr. Ring burned the mortgage of $8,000, which he held on the property."

Ring then told the congregation, "Now the church is free of debt and all I ask is that you keep it so."

The church has attempted to live up to that request while continuing to hold 10 weekly summer services. For many years, they used a variety of ministers, some who came for the summer and others who preached for only a single service, but Reverend Duane Windemiller has been the regular minister since 1981. The church continues its reputation as the "singing church," a tradition begun in the 1930s by the Reverend Ralph Walker.

Another remarkable story highlights the church's more recent history. Eccentric Miss Annie Webster of Amesbury was the first woman to be elected as a selectman in that town, had a love for fires and fire engines, and once told a friend that she had done everything she ever wanted to do "except drive a fire truck." She inherited her father's dry-goods business and operated the store successfully. In her later years, she became a recluse, living in a large house accompanied by her cats and dogs. She died in 1964, leaving a large estate to her pets and stipulating that the house should be maintained for their use. After their demise, the balance of the estate would go to the Hampton Beach Community Church. Miss Webster had been introduced to the church by Martha Greene, a founder of the church and president of the board of directors for some 50 years. Longtime Amesbury High School teacher and Whittier scholar Roland D. Woodwell was appointed executor of the Webster estate, and his first task was to neuter all the animals, yet Tippy the cat, Miss Webster's favorite, lived on until her mid-20s, dying in 1977. At that time, the house was sold and the balance of the estate was turned over to the church, generating at the time some $7,000 in annual income.

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