One of the Worst Fires This Town Ever Experienced
Engines Sent From Newburyport, Exeter and Portsmouth
The Hamptons Union, Thursday, October 30, 1903
One of the worst fires which has visited Hampton occurred Sunday night at Hampton Beach, and resulted in a loss of between $15,000 and $20,000 in real and personal property; and a much greater loss was very narrowly averted.
The wind at the time of the fire was very light and remained so most of the time until the flames were under control. What wind there was came from the east, the most favorable quarter, but there were occasional sudden shifts to new quarters and three times at critical points in the situation the wind was noticed to change and by so doing made it possible to save other property. The first instance was when the Johnson and Hobbs cottage south of the Washington house had taken fire in spite of the best work of the workers and seemed likely to be destroyed. The wind which had become a little north of east was driving the flames against the cottage, suddenly shifted to the south and gave the fighters the chance they needed and from that moment the cottage was safe and a large amount of property, including the casino, which would have surely gone if the wind had not changed at that time. And again when the high Dodge building was burning fiercely, the east wind was carrying the flames over the Ashworth cottage in the rear, and though the roof had been soaked with great quantities of water it was on fire in several places and the intense heat was forcing the men away, the change came and a great volume of flame, bearing downward on the apparently doomed building lifted and rolled back toward the ocean, bringing relief to the firefighters and saving the house. A third time a change in the wind saved the Ring cottage on which all help was concentrated. The double cottage belonging to the Messrs. Singleton and Littleton was a solid mass of flames and the narrow highway between this and the Ring cottage was proving ineffective; the heat was so intense that the watchers on the ground had called to the workers some of whom were Exeter firemen to come down and give up their efforts; the Exeter fire engine was there and a line of hose laid but the needed water at the critical moment could not be had, and it seemed certain that the Ring building must go and with it many more to the north; but at this point there came a fresh northeast breeze and it drove back the flames for an instant, then the wall of the burning cottage fell and the fire was under control.
Five buildings were destroyed as follows:
Washington house, where the fire started, owned by Mrs. Fredrick P. Ham of Exeter, valued at $6500, including furniture, partially insured.
Dudley and White's studio, value $800, insurance $600.
Dudley and White's restaurant, value, including furniture, $1600; insurance, $1200.
Double cottage owned by Messrs. Singleton and Little, Exeter, value, $3000; partially insured.
Boarding house and store, owned by Charles N. Dodge of Hampton Falls, value $5000; insured.
The fire was discovered a few moments before 4 o'clock in the afternoon, coming from a window in the Washington house, a three storied building just this side of the casino, by E.J. Littlefield.
She quickly notified Joseph A. Dudley and W.H. Wilson who were in the studio, a short distance away. The men on arriving at the hotel found that no one could be aroused and broke into the building through a window where a brisk blaze was discovered over a fireplace in one of the rear rooms.
Assistance came in a few moments and an attempt was made to put out the fire but they made little headway and the flames spread to the floor above. Still the little squad of half a dozen men, residents of the neighborhood, worked on, and one by one their number was added to and under the leadership of Mr. Pressey, the fire which had broken out in the rear was checked and confined wholly to the interior where it was being smothered to death. Then someone entered the burning building from the floor and making his way to the upper floors, thoughtlessly smashed in a window, letting in a current of air. Instantly the smothered flames burst out and the hard work of the men who had labored so hard to prevent the spread was rendered useless.
Realizing that it would be impossible for them to save the house, the men began to remove the furniture and succeeded in getting out most of it from the parlor and dining rooms.
Finally it became necessary to abandon the house, and attention was given to the saving of nearby buildings. The men formed a bucket brigade and poured water as best as they could over the buildings most endangered. They were greatly assisted at this time by the arrival of the men from Hampton beach life saving station under command of Capt. Smart. These men worked hard and to them belongs the most credit for keeping the fire from spreading.
In the meantime the citizens of Hampton had been notified of the fire by the ringing of the bell in the town hall, and a large number had arrived to assist in fighting the flames.
It was hard work and the fire was rapidly spreading, and it was at once seen that the bucket brigade were in no way fit to handle the flames, although they were doing great work.
Word was therefore sent to the neighboring towns for assistance, and in a couple of hours three engines with their hose carriages came in, each with four horses and thoroughly exhausted. Exeter was the first to arrive, and by her men a line of hose 1200 feet in length was laid and the suction pipe ran to the well of Charles Ross. The water, however, was insufficient, the well being exhausted before the long line of pipe was filled, and it was necessary to change to another location, but by that time the fire was under control and there was no further need of the engines.
Meanwhile the fire spread rapidly northward and had jumped to the Sea Verge hotel owned by Charles N. Dodge. In a minute the building was a mass of flames.
Next in line was the hotel Home Nook, owned by Singleton and Littleton, and while the firefighters worked hard to save this building the flames got the best of them and they retired to give their attention to the other buildings.
The telephone message to Portsmouth for help reached the police station at about 5 o'clock and immediately the out of town alarm was sent in from box eight.
The Moses H. Goodrich engine and supply wagon were quickly got in readiness for the trip which was made over the road. August Hett with four of his best horses drove the engine. He started from the engine house on Hanover street at 5:30 and arrived at the scene of the fire at 7:15 making the trip in one hour and forty-five minutes, which is a remarkably quick trip, considering the heavy load which the horses had to pull.
The local firemen went over in buckboards, and arrived there soon after the engine.
The flames threatened the bath house, café and cottages owned by L. C. Ring, and meanwhile the Avon cottage was in great danger. The bucket brigade was doing great work, and was fast getting the fire under control. Finally at about seven o'clock the frame of the Home Nook fell in, and then the flames were partially subdued.
The heat from the fire was intense, and sparks flew in every direction, making the situation a most dangerous one for the nearby buildings.
Thousands of people from the nearby cities and towns witnessed the fire and the electric lines running to the beach did a great deal of business. A special car left Portsmouth at 8 o'clock carrying nearly a hundred people.
Among those who did good work aside from the residents at the beach, were Fred Henniger, Rev. J. N. Bradford, Carl Joplin, William E. Leavitt and a number of Exeter students.