Old Grist Mill Goes To Historical Society
By Louisa Woodman, Staff Writer
The Portsmouth Herald, (Date Unknown)
HAMPTON ....... Selectmen have agreed to give the old grist mill to the Meeting House Green Memorial and Historical Association, Inc. At the same time, the Grist Mill Committee has been disbanded.
These are two small items that came from last week's regular selectmen's meeting, but behind the news is a story that goes far back into town history, where the mill played an integral part in the town's life.
The mill was built in 1686, not in 1688 as the sign affixed to the building indicates.
The builder was Deacon John Tuck, a stalwart of the community, selectman for 10 years, town clerk for 15 and deacon of the Congregational Church for 27 years.
Tuck received permission to build the mill in 1686, with its location set as on the Nilus Brook, the stream flowing into Little River and thence into the Atlantic at Plaice Cove.
Because there was no road to the area at the time, the town also agreed to build a road that would pass the mill and provide access to the beach, heretofore without an access road.
The road was designated [Nook] Nilus Lane, and traces of it are still to be found today, generally north of High Street about 100 to 150 feet.
The lane started at what is known today as "five corners," the junction of High Street with Mace, Locke and Little River Roads, and was replaced by the town with High Street some years later because of the original lane's rough terrain and winding course.
The original Deacon Tuck operated the mill until his death when it passed to one of his sons, Deacon Jonathan Tuck.
The first Deacon Tuck, besides his town duties and work at the mill, appears to have lived an active and productive life.
In his diary, he records the feat of having read the Bible in its entirety 12 times between February 1667 and May 1715.
He was also the father of 10 children, and in addition to son Jonathan who inherited the mill, his last child, John, was well known in his time as minister at Gosport on Star Island in the Isles of Shoals for 41 years. To this day, a granite marker sits on the island, a tribute to the Rev. John Tuck and a memorial of his burial place.
Deacon Jonathan Tuck owned the mill until his death in 1781, when it was transferred to Rubin Lamprey, who bought the mill with all of its priviledges.
Lamprey sold the mill around 1815 to Moses Leavitt but here records are a bit hazy. Evidently the mill was still operative but in poor repair, and Leavitt using native habits long established dismantled the original structure and erected a "new" one on the site.
But while the building and mill were termed new, it's more than likely that Leavitt used all salvageable parts of the original in his construction.
Leavitt apparently liked the location, near the east end of present High Street overlookiing the Millpond, because it was in 1802 that he bought what is thought to be the first house built on Hampton Beach.
The house was built by John Elkins at the turn of the century and when Leavitt bought it, he turned it into a boarding house.
Located on what was then known as Nut Island, the house is now a part of the Aqua Rama Motel [ed. note: now known as the Windjammer Motel] on Ocean Boulevard North.
Moses Leavitt died in the 1840's and the mill passed to his son Jonathan Leavitt, who operated it until his death. With Jonathan Leavitt's passing his widow took over and the mill ceased operations.
For those interested in comparative costs, it's interesting to note the "going price" for grinding was two quarts of meal in exchange of each bushel of corn ground.
Money wasn't the common item it is today and most business was carried on in the time-honored tadition of barter.
With the mill out of operation Widow Leavitt sold the structure in 1885 to a summer resident, Joel Jenkins, who retained ownership until the turn of the century.
From there it passed on until it became the property of the Crapo family, and nearly a decade ago the town appropriated funds to purchase the mill, hoping to save another historically significant spot from what was certain to be demolition.
With the town in possession, a restoration committee was appointed by selectmen, including Donald Ring, William Barkley and John N. MacInnis, Jr., as the Grist Mill Committee.
Restoration plans have been prepared by Barkley and now all that is needed for work to start is the funds required.
The mill suffered a fire several years ago, burning an attached shed and charring the mill interior, but the charring isn't deep, and would, in fact add to the character of the mill.
According to Harold Fernald, Historical Society member and local authority of historical facts, the mill is in sound condition, and needs only minor roof repairs and work done on a few gaps in the stone foundation to make it tight.
With the mill in the hands of the society, a program will be started to allow at least partial use of the building for eductional purposes, with school children taken to the site, for guided tours and a first-hand look at local history.
After some restoration is achieved, Fernald envisions the possibility of the mill being open to limited use by tourists, and then, with full restoration, a true bit of early America would be on display and view for all comers.
It now remains for the community to get behind the project to provide the support needed for fulfillment.