Elmer King recalls "awful arguments" at old-time Hampton Town Meetings

The Hampton Union & Rockingham County Gazette
March 5, 1975, p.1

Courtsey of Hampton Historians, Inc.

"There used to be some awful arguments at the old-time town meetings," reminisces Elmer C. King of Thompson Rd. He was speaking of the meetings he attended as a young man after the turn of the century.

The annual meetings used to be held in the town hall which was destroyed by fire soon after the town meeting in March 1949. The present central town office now stands on that location. The old two-story structure, which began as a church in 1797, had two halls. The town meetings took place in the lower smaller hall until the woman's suffrage ammendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1920. After women began getting involved in local politics and the new residents moved to town, the meeting had to be moved upstairs to the larger hall.

Elmer King remembers that most of the local votes at town meeting, including the annual election, were by show of hands. The moderator and the town clerk, the only ones up front of the meeting, took care of the counting. Before the 1920's there was sawdust on the floor and spittoons near the settees. A lunch bar was set up in the rear near the town offices, and he recalls men walking around eating plates of raw oysters.

The all-day nature of town meeting permitted groups of men time to go down a block toward Lafayette Rd. to the bar at Otis Whittier's hotel (which burned in 1917), the year Congress passed the prohibition amendment). After getting "fortified" they'd return to the meeting and "talk and talk" according to Elmer. "But they refined it after they moved the meetings upstairs and let the women in," Elmer adds.

If a snow storm hit that day, the annual meeting was postponed. But every effort was made to make traveling possible for those coming in from the farms. They "broke" the roadways with old railroad ties placed through the front runners of horse-drawn sleighs. Oxen dragging wooden frames also helped break the drifts. The first "V" shaped plow that Elmer recalls was Charles Brown's sidewalk plow.

The open horse sheds in back of the town hall permitted the gentry to tie up and shelter their horses and carriages. Those sheds survived the 1949 fire and were moved, in recent years, to the DPW facility at the end of Mill Rd.

Elmer remembers such public officials as Joseph B. (Joe Billy) Brown who was chairman of the selectman for over 25 years until his death in 1923. Elmer says that "Joe Billy" ran the town for a long time and was the first selectman from the Beach at a time when there were few buildings there. There was also John F. Marston, the moderator, who was succeeded by Byron E. Redman (who still resides in town.)

He especially remembers the town clerk, Horace M. Lane, who issued him a license to marry Lillian Dow of Seabrook in 1915. Elmer took the street car to Seabrook, where Rev. W. H. Reed married them. (the Kings will celebrate their 60th anniversary on May 15.) Lillian King recalls the town meetings in the upstairs hall: "You went down the back stairs to the rest room and passed the two jail cells in the northeast corner of the first story."

The talk of the jail cells reminds Elmer of the summers he spent on the police force at the Beach. Appointed by selectman "Joe Billy," who ran a fruit cart at the beach, he remembers two wooden cells in a small building on the west of Marsh (now Ashworth) Ave. in the vicinity of G St.

That jail gave way to the masonry police station across Ocean Blvd. from the Casino Ballroom. In the early 1930's police and comfort station was razed to make room for the 1962 Sea Shell complex. The Chief of police in the "old days" was "Sherbie" Blake, followed by selectman Harry D. Munsey.

Elmer used to work traffic duty on Ocean Blvd. with fellow officer Bill "two gun" Stickney. Traffic was pretty congested after the Wednesday fireworks (C St. area) and near the dance hall at Rocky Bend. The uniformed police had their hands full during Prohibition with the "pocket peddlers" selling outlawed booze at the rear of the dance hall. We can imagine that Elmer, Bill (still of Hampton) with his motorcycle and the others did their duty.

Elmer, who carried the name of his father, won't say if those long-past days of small-town Hampton were any better or worse than the present. But they do conjure up personal memories which bring a delight to his eyes and a smile to his face. Maybe he's just happy that he survived them.