The Eastern Railroad
Now we begin to comprehend the excitement, when the construction of the Eastern Railroad reached Hampton. Many of our people had never seen a locomotive; the reports in the papers inspired some with curiosity and some with awe; while many opposed the coming of the infernal thing, with superstitious fear. It is said, that a woman refused to allow workmen to leave tools at her house, lest they "get agoing in the night." Landholders fought stoutly against the supposed ruin of their property. Progressive citizens, however, hailed the advent of the railroad, as the beginning of a new era.
The route of the road, as built through the town, is not the one first favored. Another route was surveyed, farther east in crossing the marshes, running through both Perkins farms, near the tide mill, intersecting the beach road just east of Mr. Uri Lamprey's house, and so to pass on through Little River and Rye, to Portsmouth. Various reasons are assigned for the change.
The road-bed over the marsh was begun with wheelbarrows and horse-carts, till enough gravel was deposited, to bear up a temporary track, when a gravel train was run to the source of supply, the cut above Capt. David A. Philbrick's house. The engine for this train, Dearborn Shaw brought, on the deck of a vessel, from Boston, sailing up the river to Birch Island bridge, whence it was hoisted to the track.
The crossing of the driftways and highways demanded care. In March, 1840, the town left to the discretion of the selectmen, the manner of crossing at Thomas Ward's and at James Towle's, as far as the town had control, but insisted on a bridge at the Drake Side crossing (which, however, was not obtained), and chose the selectmen and Capt. John Johnson, a committee, to treat with the railroad company, for the construction of a drawbridge at Birch Island, that the navigation of the river might not be impeded.
The year 1840 is memorable for the opening of the railroad to travel, though it was not completed till a year or two later. In 1844, the town demanded a bridge over the crossing near James Towle's, which was built and continues to the present day. The crossing on the Exeter road was never safe, till gates were erected in 1889.
With the advent of the railroad, travel increased, ideas broadened, trade advanced, property became more valuable. It is difficult now to realize the old order of things, when our farmers rode mostly on horseback. Sleds sometimes conveyed their families to church in winter, and horse-carts without springs, in summer. Abraham Marston owned the first cart on springs, which he sometimes let for hire. Wagons were introduced by James Leavitt and Richard Greenleaf. The two-wheeled chaise followed, then the carryall. The lumbering stage-coach was the only public conveyance. Into this primitive order was suddenly introduced the railroad, and its dizzy rate, of twenty miles an hour!.
In 1850, the town voted to raise twelve hundred dollars for town expenses, which was more, by two hundred dollars than had ever been voted before. In 1854, the amount was increased to sixteen hundred.
Hon. Uri Lamprey was chosen delegate to the Constitutional Convention, which met at Concord, November 8, 1850. Several amendments were framed, and submitted to the people in 1852, but all were rejected, except those relating to property qualifications for office-holders. Hampton voted yea. on these articles.
During the two decades, from 1840 to 1860 (in which two Presidents died in office), the settlement of the northern boundary, the acquisition of California and the discovery of gold, the annexation of Texas, the Mexican war, the ascendency of the slave power, the Kansas troubles, the rise of the Republican party, were some of the issues which excited the nation at large; and in all these, the people of Hampton took intense interest. The children of these days, now in mature life, remember well the highly wrought feelings of their elders as they made haste to open the newspapers and discuss their contents. The spread of the "gold fever" and the quick sympathies of the community, on the arrival of letters from the adventurers; the sad news of death in the mines; the return of the majority, some poorer, some richer than they went: -- all these pass in review, with the clearness of recent scenes. As for the political questions of those exciting times, then, as now, men arrayed themselves warmly on one side and the other; but the greater number stood for the oppressed.
Meanwhile, men toiled as usual, on land and sea; churches were built and religious societies grew; the Academy was burned and rebuilt; Mr. Norris closed his twelve years' preceptorate, and "Squire" Edmund Toppan, his twelve years as postmaster, the one by removal from town, the other by death; the Ocean House was built and patronized; the telegraph came, with its astounding powers; the new cemetery, now, after the lapse of thirty-three years, white with marble memorials, witnessed its first interment; [Charlotte Ann, aged nineteen, daughter of Meshech S. Akerman, buried January 3, 1859.] the little world of town affairs moved on. Another year would see the renovation of the old meeting-house.
August 8, 1860, the old Marston house, the paternal homestead of Mrs. Uri Lamprey, who inherited it, was struck by lightning and injured beyond repair. "The lightning struck on the west end, near the roof, and ran down to the ground, ripping off the clapboards, passing out and in, and completely riddling the end of the building. A child, abed in one of the chambers whose walls were shattered, miraculously escaped uninjured." Mrs. John Brown, an Irish tenant, was killed, at prayer. Having just remarked that, if she must die by lightning she would die praying, she dropped upon her knees. While in that attitude, the bolt fell. The house was built in 1690.
Land for the new cemetery, alluded to above, was bought in 1858, by Enoch P. Young, Uri Lamprey and Samuel D. Lane, committee for the town. A portion of it was laid out in 1859, and the remainder, in 1866, the fence being extended, to include the whole. In 1868 maple trees were set out on all sides. The western gateway was opened, and the hearse-house built in 1874. The next year, a new hearse was procured, for five hundred dollars; and a hearse for winter use, in 1883.