Improvement Company Fitted In To Calendar of Events

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"Our Town" By James W. Tucker

Hampton Union

Thursday, [year unknown at present]

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Prominent on the agenda for the weekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen for last Friday, April 7, was the matter of our town's action against the Hampton Beach Improvement Company, having to do with the legality of the Company's 99-year lease of practically all of Hampton Beach from the Ashworth to the Hampton Harbor Toll Bridge for $500 a year. The action has been pending since 1954. The lease was executed on April 7, 1898 and therefore has been operative for just over 63 years, with 86 years to run. At present, the Company holds, and has held practically in perpetuity, Hampton Beach land which has a potential value of around a million dollars for a yearly lease fee of only $500.

Legality of Lease Questioned

In the Town Meetings of 1911 and 1913 antipathy was expressed toward the Improvement Company and toward the 99-year lease. If we remember correctly, the matter was again presented to the Town Meeting of 1954 by Selectman Lawrence Hackett and authority granted for an investigation of the legality of the contract between our town and the Improvement Company. Factors which enter into the matter are the alleged sale by the Improvement Company, or its agents, of ten or eleven lots of the leased land and the right of the Selectmen in 1898 to bind future generations by such a restrictive covenant. It may be that the recent reelection of Mr. Hackett to the Board of Selectmen is the reason for the reawakening of interest in the long dormant case or it may be just a coincidence. We are inclined, how ever, to discount the theory of coincidence.

How Lease Came About

In view of the renewed interest which undoubtedly will be expressed in the case of the Improvement Company, we thought it might be a good idea to reprint a revised calendar of events which shows just how and why the lease transaction of 63 years ago came about quite naturally as a clever promotion, directly in line with the advent of trolley cars and of the Hampton Beach Casino. And the calendar of happenings may be helpful along historic lines also.

Calendar of Events

1820 -- First beach hotel was opened at the base of Great Boar's Head.
1826 -- Great Boar's Head Hotel was open to the public on Great Boar's Head.
1844 -— Original Ocean House of 250 rooms, with stables and bowling alleys, was built on the front just north of what is now Church Street.
1872 -— East End and Center [Grammar] Schools raised in village with appropriate ceremonies.
1885 -— The original Hotel Whittier built on Winnacunnet Road near Lafayette Road.
1885, May 7 -— Ocean House at Beach destroyed by fire.

Gay Nineties in Hampton

1897, May 17 -— Construction of Exeter & Hampton Electric Street Railway begun with appropriate ceremonies on Winnacunnet Road near Whittier Hotel.
1897, July 3 -— E. & H. Electric St. Ry. completed to Exeter; Wallace D. Lovell, promoter.
1897, July 9 -— The new trolley line completed to Highland Avenue at Hampton Beach.
1898, April 7 -— Hampton Selectmen lease main beach to Hampton Beach Improvement Company.
1898, July 4 -— Great cyclone causes loss of life and property at Beach.
1899 -— Building began in early spring of the north half of the Hampton Beach Casino; that part north of the main stairway.
1899 -- Beach terminal of H. & E. E. St. Ry. extended from Highland Avenue to the new Casino.
1899, May 12 -— Hampton and Amesbury St. Ry. completed.
1899, June 14 -— First edition of the Hampton Union by editor-publisher, Charles Francis Adams.
1899, July 4 -— First electric car runs to Hampton Beach from Amesbury via Hampton Village.
1899, July 14 -— North half of Hampton Beach Casino completed.
1899, Aug. 9 — "Farmer's Day," heretofore held on Great Boar's Head, moved to the new Casino.

Twentieth Century Begins

1901 — Construction of "Mile- Long-Wooden-Bridge" over the inlet to Hampton River is started.
1901, July 1 -— South half of the Casino and the new Ocean House are completed and opened to the public.
1902, May 14 -— Formal opening of the "Mile-Long-Wooden-Bridge."
1907, June 26 -— Hampton Beach Precinct organized at meeting held in Cutler Hotel.
1908, April 1 -— Exeter & Hampton Electric Co. is organized.
1915 -— Hampton Beach Board of Trade organized at meeting in Ross barn.
1915 -- Labor Day — Start of the First Hampton Beach Carnival. First airplane flight in or over Hampton.
1915, Sept 23 -- First great conflagration at Hampton Beach. Entire beach between B St. and Highland Ave. levelled by flames.

Events of the Twenties

1921, Feb. 1 — Town of Hampton purchased Exeter, Hampton & Amesbury Street Railway Company.
1921, June — Second great conflagration at Hampton Beach. Practically same area levelled as in 1915 except that flames did not get beyond Ashworth Hotel.
1923 — Dance Carnival opened on site of old Leavitt Hotel at base of Great Boar's Head.
1926 — Graves & Ramsdell sold Casino to Messrs. Cuddy, Demara, John and James Dineen of Lawrence, Mass., the Casino Associates.
1926, May 29 -— Last regular trolley trip to Hampton Beach. End of unhappy and costly experiment in municipal ownership of trolley line.
1926-1927, winter of -— Present Casino Ballroom is constructed.
1929, Nov. 25 -— Dance Carnival on Boar's Head destroyed by fire.

Happenings of the Thirties

1931, March 3, 4, 5 -— Three-day northeaster causes $100,000 loss at Beach. 1931, Sept. -— Precinct officials contact Warren H. Manning, one of the country's best known planning authorities.
1983, Jan. 3 — Mr. Manning reported to Precinct on need for zoning. Subject discussed at Precinct Meeting in 1933 and 1934.
1933 -- Town deeds State of New Hampshire, beach land, roughly from Coast Station to Mile-Long- Bridge, in return for coastal protection devices.

Three Main Epochs

In looking back over this calendar of main events — mostly concerning Hampton Beach — we are impressed that they seem naturally to fall into three main epochs or eras, each, note-worthy because of a method of transportation in vogue during the period. From 1819 to 1897, when Hampton was numbered among the famous "Watering Places" along the North Atlantic coast, we were in the "Stage Coach and Carriage Trade Era." At the beginning of this early era, the valuation of our town was $150,000.

The Trolley Car Era

From 1897 to 1926, Hampton lived through an exciting period of growth, best described as "The Trolley Car Era." The valuation in 1897 was $600,000. From 1926 to 1961 we have experienced the third epoch of growth and development, which perhaps may best be described as "The Motor Car and Airplane Era." In 1926, the valuation was $4,901,805 and now it is well over eighteen million dollars -— a record of growth not surpassed by any community in the state.

Getting back to the Improvement Company; it was born after the trolley cars had opened Hampton Beach to the public and when the Casino was being planned -— born perhaps in the fertile mind of Wallace D. Lovell, promoter extraordinary, when the main beach was still nothing more than a long stretch of sand dunes with a cart path winding along where Ashworth Avenue is now located. The ink had hardly dried on the contract before the Improvement Company had leased the lots between "C" and "F" streets to the trolley company for $500 a year as a site for the new Casino. The Improvement Company was away to a good start -— a fine augury for the 63 years which have followed. What happens now is a question for the courts to decide.

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