Group Works To Preserve Historic Home, Gardens

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By Susan Morse

Hampton Union, Friday, September 30, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and

Seacoast Online.]

Rick Davis, a Unitil employee, helps remove a pile of rotting utility poles left in the woods behind the historic James House in Hampton. Unitil donated the labor of two men and a truck to help with the cleanup.
[Photo by Jay Reiter]

HAMPTON -- The James House, a 1723 home that has become a natural historic site on Towle Farm Road, is undergoing restoration both inside and out.

Last Friday, Unitil Energy Systems Inc. removed 26 old telephone poles from the property, to make room for James House Association Inc. members to replant Colonial gardens that once graced the property.

Unitil did the work for free, said James House President Skip Webb of Hampton.

"We are clearing one-and-half-acres of woods, to turn into orchards, historic gardens and a herb garden," said Webb.

Because historic artifacts might lay under the trees, association members are not allowed to pull up roots, he said.

Three archaeological digs of the site have turned up 20,000 historic artifacts: nails, glass, jewelry, bottles, clay pipes and bricks.

The house is open for tours on Sundays, May through October, with the last open house being held Sunday, Oct. 16, from 1 to 4 p.m.

The association has also brought in school groups and shown how salt marsh hay was once part of the working farm.

In June, the association, which bought the house from the town of Hampton, celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Yet the house has yet to achieve the visibility of other area historic homes.

"James House is becoming well-known," said Webb. "Because it's in the process of construction; the type of program that would bring people in hasn't been presented."

The house sat vacant for years. In the early 1990s, Hampton burned down the carriage house and barn, said Webb. In 1994, the association was formed to acquire the house and bought it for a low price from the town.

Maintaining and restoring the house is costly, with grants forming much of the funding.

"Our goal is to have a full-time museum," said Webb.

The two-story, center chimney house built by Benjamin James and Susannah Smith is unusual, said Webb.

The outside posts are curved at the top, said Webb. There are only nine examples of such construction in the state, he said.

The house remains unfurnished for visitors to see the frame and tongue and groove paneling.

The house remained in the James family for seven generations. Members of the association bring skits of family life to area groups through its Lives Past Lived program.

On Monday, Oct. 17, at 7:30 p.m., the public is invited to see a performance at United Church of Christ in North Hampton. Martha James, who ran the former farm for 50 years, and Fanny James, who is connected to the Hampton Academy, will be presented.

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