"V" is for Visitor's on the Seacoast
By John Hirtle, Beach News Staff
Beach News, Thursday, August 25, 2005
[The following article is courtesy of Beach News]
One could say that the Seacoast region has drawn vacationers since before the first Europeans arrived. Traces of seasonal Native American camps have been found along the shores of Hampton Harbor and other places along the coastline and inlets where shellfish are commonly found.
One of the first hotels intended as a 'resort’ hotel was established by Abraham Marston Jr. and Amos Towle III who opened the Winnicumet House on Great Boar’s Head in 1819. David Nudd, a well established local businessman, soon followed suit, as he purchased and built several hotels beginning in 1824 in the Hampton Beach area, several of which the family would run for over a century as they became the leading innkeepers at Hampton Beach.
The vast tracts of untamed sand and wilderness at Hampton Beach became a siren call for those seeking to get away from it all. Hunters, fishermen and campers would rough it on the now vanished dunes of Hampton Beach, taking advantage of the same natural bounty that attracted Native Americans years before.
Tour boats began to take people on day trips along the Seacoast. In August 1831 the steamboat Tom Thumb offered a round trip between Portsmouth NH and Hampton, with a meal of chowder, for the princely sum of one dollar. A host of imitators soon followed. The rail lines that began to weave their web across America entered New Hampshire and the Hampton area in the 1840’s, bringing with them more visitors to the region, and opening the opportunity for more resort hotels.
At the Isles of Shoals, Thomas Laighton opened the Appledore Hotel in 1848. The resort would grow and prosper, becoming home to an artist colony centered around his talented daughter, the poet Celia Thaxter.
Other hotels were built at the Shoals as well, but as trolley lines and amusements spread on the mainland, business to these increasingly isolated hotels slowed to a trickle. Only the Oceanic Hotel remains, playing host to summer church conferences.
On the mainland, vacation homes began to rise. Former fishing houses, such as the cluster next to the North Hampton State Beach were slowly bought up and turned into quaint vacation cottages. The Seacoast began to blossom as a true tourist destination at the dawn of the 20th century. In New Castle, the famed Wentworth by the Sea had been established in 1874, and under the ownership of Frank Jones, it had grown into a palace by the sea. Electric lights, a 20 piece orchestra, tennis courts, golf, even two steamships to take guests on tours of the Seacoast were added to what was then a state of the art resort.
Hampton and Salisbury Beach became centers of entertainment as transportation improved, the former taking on the title of "Atlantic City of New England" in 1922. It was a hard-won title as two massive fires had all but destroyed the beach attractions a few years before.
Live concerts, a dancing carnival, baseball games, even barnstormers landing on the sands of the beach to offer airplane rides helped attract visitors from far and near. Trolleys, which had been instrumental in bringing people to the beach ceased to operate in 1926 as automobiles became more common. One of their destinations though, the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, remains standing as a major attraction today.
With cars, and the construction of better roads, it was no longer a matter of planning a long vacation. Anyone could drive to the beach for a day of fun in the sand, or take in a concert at night.
Just as importantly, destinations changed as well. An appreciation of nature and history began to swell in the last quarter of the 20th century, leading to the establishment of other attractions, such as Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth where historic houses are preserved, and the Seacoast Science Center in Rye which showcases the region’s natural wonders. Whale watching from tour boats out of Rye and Hampton Harbor as well as sport fishing, kayaking, surfing and scores of other activities continue to draw visitors to this pristine little corner of New England’s scenic coast.