Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: Measures To Protect The Beach

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Measure To Protect The Beach

A more alarming dispute has since arisen, on the question of the real ownership of these public lands. From the beginning the town has exercised control, as is shown by numerous votes entered on the town records. Some of these have already been noticed, in treating of general affairs.

March 8, 1743, it was voted: "That Capt. Jonathan Marston and Benjamin Dow be a committee who are impowered to prosecute any person or persons who shall cutt down any pine or cedar tree or trees of saffron on ye ox comon." The pines, cedars and savins on the Ox Common were on land lying between the road or cartway and the sea.

September 29, 1746. Liberty was given "to pertickeler men, to set up gates achrost the ways, to preserve the beach between the great and little bors head," and it was left "to the prudence of the Select men to say where the gates shall be."

July 7, 1755. "The town has allowed that theire shall be a Gate set up at the west end of the Cassey or at the most convenient place from the 20th of November to the 20th of October next ensuing." It was voted, to authorize Capt. Ephraim Marston, S. Palmer Esq., Jeremiah Moulton, John Lamprey and Jonathan Marston, Jr. (chosen to have the care of the fence and gates to preserve the beach), to impound all cattle, horses and sheep found on the beach, between the river's mouth and North Hill line, from November 20th to October 20th following, and to collect a fine of thirty shillings for each offense, from any person, breaking any gate or throwing down any fence, erected to save the beach.

Gates were maintained for a long series of years, across the three sea roads, the keepers being appointed at the annual town meetings. One record, which sufficiently locates the gates, may serve as a sample. In 1822 Nathaniel Locke was chosen to have the care of the north gate; Moses Leavitt, the care of the gate near his house; and Reuben Lamprey, of the gate near his house. In 1838 and for a year or two after, no gates were kept at the town charge; and after 1841 there is no mention of the subject on the town records. There ar men living to-day, who smile at mention of those gates; for memory carries them back to the times when, as boys, the passing of a carriage was the signal for a lively race of a mile or more, each eager to outstrip the rest and open the gate, for the small coin usually proffered.

March 15, 1768. Voted, "That no horse shall be suffered to go at large on the Beach at any season of the year, except it be from the middle of October to the middle of November." Similar votes were passed at other times.

March 16, 1779 and at other times,s fines were imposed for cutting beach grass or peas on the beach.

In 1843 the selectmen were instructed to remove all obstructions of every kind found on the public highway or common lands "at, near or around Boar's Head."

March 30, 1846, the town adopted the following preamble and resolution:

"Whereas, the inhabitants of Hampton, from the commencement of its settlement, reserved for their convenience and as we believe for the convenience of future generations a certain part of their territory, lying and bounded upon the sea-shore, as we believe, its whole length from one extremity to the other, without any individual reservation whatever, and also in other parts of said town, that they have ever exercised exclusive jurisdiction over the same, that they at all times and under all circumstances, have permitted its inhabitants to exercise and enjoy that privilege by using the same without any hindrance whatever, unless prevented by vote of said town, and further, they ever did and ever have acknowledged the same to be controlled by the town and to be used by the whole town, which is sufficiently evident by various acts and votes of the town and laws of the state in regard to the same; notwithstanding, a few individuals of a later date, have made encroachments upon the same, by enclosing and setting up personal claims &c. and by permitting such things to take place from time to time, in lapse of time, the whole territory, from one end to the other, will be claimed as individual property, and the public forever debarred therefrom:

"Therefore, Resolved, that we, the inhabitants, legal voters of said town, will not longer submit to such encroachments from individuals of said town, and that there be a Committee chosen, to look up such Records as relate to the same, and that said Committee examine all said public lands belongs to said town and lying as aforesaid, and that they be defined by metes and bounds and a record thereof made." Josiah Dow, Uri Lamprey and John Johnson were the committee chosen.

The right of the town to the guardianship indicated by the forgoing votes and resolution would probably never have been questioned, if the beach had not, in the course of years, become a watering-place of some note. Then, as eligible building sites were taken up, one after another, and the line of houses extended gradually almost to the sand-hills, it began to seem desirable to some, to stretch out still farther and save the expense of purchasing, by building on these public lands. The first of these houses was a rude structure, erected for a restaurant and store; the proprietors, worthy, law-abiding citizens of the town, little dreaming of the mischief that would ensue. No notice of this liberty being taken by the town authorities, others naturally followed their example, till, in 1866, the town became uneasy, and began to inquire into its rights. Spasmodic and half-hearted measures prevailed, however, for the next dozen years; but in 1878 the town was fairly aroused to the consciousness that some sixty or seventy small houses, many of them mere shanties, had been thrown up along the sands. Three such buildings were also erected on the beach hill, north of Boar's head, and the town became alarmed.

A special town meeting was held, October 18, 1878, when the following resolution was passed:

"Resolved, that the territory known as Hampton Beach was and should be reserved for public good; that the town has no right to sell or lease any portion of said beach or territory; but has full police control over the same; and, as guardian of said beach, should prevent all nuisances or violation of law."

It was resolved further, to commence a test suit, in order to have the question of the town rights settled by the Supreme Court.

January 4, 1879, voted: "That Uri Lamprey be appointed agent, to remove the house on the beach."

Again, on the 25th of the same month, a town meeting was held, when Gen. Gilman Marston, of Exeter, appeared by invitation, and set forth in stiffing words the dangers of allowing such trespass. His eloquence fired alike the determined, the timorous and the indifferent; and the business was at once put into his hands.

Three actions of the town, respectively, against Edson Hill, Albert Daniels and Bushrod W. Hill, were commenced, in a Plea of Trespass, as the October term, 1879, of the Supreme Court, in the county of Rockingham; Marston, of Exeter, and Hatch, of Portsmouth, counsel for the town; Frink, of Greenland, and Eastman, of Manchester, counsel for the defendants. A summary of the long-continued case is as follows:

It was referred to Judge Lewis W. Clark, before whom a hearing was had at Portsmouth. His report was in favor of the town. On exceptions,s the case was taken up to the full bench; but, before a decision was reached, the defendants agreed to let the town have judgment, each part to pay its costs, and the buildings to be removed before next June. The town assented, and the case went off the docket in March, 1886.

Events proved this to have been a mistake on the part of the town, which should have insisted on a decision, to settle the question for all time. Some of the "squatters" on the lower beach moved their buildings off the public land; but some refused to do so, and the result was more lawsuits, commenced the October term, 1886, which are still on the docket, going the same snail-like pace as before.

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