First Homes in Hampton Were Not Log Cabins

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"Our Town" By James W. Tucker

Hampton Union

Thursday, January 30, 1958

Business continues good in this corner. There's no sign of a recession.

Compared Water Rates

A friend stopped us on the street to state that if he had been able to pay the rates charged by the municipal water company in Exeter for the water he had consumed during the past year at his home in Hampton, the savings would have been "oh brother." We gathered that his expression meant that a considerable sum of money would have been saved. And he knew, for he had actually made the comparison.

More About The Shoals

On December 12, this column was headed "Lost Heritage of the Isles of Shoals." Now we find that we may be wrong — that possibly the remarkable heritage of this famous group of nine lonely and rocky islands which guard our shoreline may be preserved after all and in a very practical, useful manner. The information came from Mrs. Barbara Laighton Durant of Cambridge, Mass., daughter of Uncle Oscar Laighton's younger brother, Cedric and a niece of the famous American poetess, Celia Thaxter. Mrs. Durant's gracious letter and the material which was enclosed will provide facts for another Isles of Shoals column to be written at the earliest convenient time.

Dinner at Laighton's

And with further reference to this same column, Percy Jewell of Exeter and Hampton told us that it reminded him of an eventful trip he made as a young man to Appledore Island where he and his companions had dinner at Uncle Oscar Laighton's hotel, near which stood the cottage home of Celia Thaxter. And Percy told us that Abner Ridgely Marsh of Stratham was related to the poetess whose writings brought fame to the Isles of Shoals and that he might have some interesting facts concerning her and her island home.

Leaf From Ipswich's Book

The nearby Massachusetts town of Ipswich which resembles our town in many interesting respects is now engaged in an extensive sewer project which includes the installation of a new treatment plant and an extension of mains. Ipswich plans to make application for and hopes to receive a sizeable federal grant to aid in financing the project. It may be that Hampton can take a leaf out of Ipswich's book with relation to federal aid for sewers and thereby find a practical way of solving a local need which is of great present importance and which cannot be dodged indefinitely.

Settlers' Homes

We have often wondered just what the homes in Hampton looked like right after our town was first settled in 1638. Evidently a belief was established here many years ago that the first settlement was a colony of log cabins. This belief or idea persisted until comparatively recent times for when the replica of the first church was constructed on our village green, it was made of logs. This replica was dismantled a few years ago and in its place is the old "North End School house."

Meeting House of Logs

In her 250th Anniversary brochure, from which we quoted at length a few weeks ago, Miss Lucy E. Dow wrote, "On the southern border of this basin (Ring Swamp) they built their log meeting-house, and the whole meadow, many acres in extent, was called the 'meeting house green'." Mrs. Eloise Lane Smith, who loaned the brochure to us, has encircled the word "log" with a light, pencil mark and opposite the line in the margin placed a question mark.

Mrs. Smith Differs

Mrs. Smith, a veritable fountainhead of knowledge concerning Hampton history, has never been in accord with the commonly accepted local belief that the first homes and church in Hampton were of log construction. In fact her ideas relative to building methods used by Hampton's founders have for many years been in exact accord with the facts contained in the 1957 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (Vol. 12, P. 482).

Here Are The Facts

The first Hampton settlement was not, in all probability, a colony of log cabins; nether was the first church constructed of logs. The first homes in Plymouth were turfed-over dug out huts, but they were soon replaced by frame structures. Winnacunnet, as Hampton originally was called, built nearly two decades after Plymouth, probably escaped the short era of primitive huts and its earliest homes must have been of frame construction. Here are the facts as given in the 1957 Britannica:

Contrary to Legend

"Contrary to popular legend, the log cabin was not the earliest shelter of the first English settlers on the American continent. The turfed-over dugout hut of mud-chinked saplings, not unlike the Indian wigwam with the addition of a clay-daubed wooden chimney at one end, was probably the first home of the settlers in both Jamestown and Plymouth.

Frame Structures

"These primitive dwellings were speedily replaced by frame structures, copying the traditional small house of southeast England. At first a single room in plan, flanked by a massive chimney (where a brick soon replaced wood and clay), the house was later enlarged by a second room on the opposite side of the chimney. The attic, later expanded into an overhanging second story, was reached by narrow winding stairs between the central entranceway and the chimney stack.

Capen House in Topsfield

"The development in New England is well represented by such vestiges as the Capen house, Topsfield, Mass. (1638). The interior clearly reflects the structure with its massive exposed oak corner posts, girders and joists, and its huge open fireplace which served as the cooking and heating center of the household. Inside walls were usually of undecorated lath and plaster, covering the studs and their clay or brick filling. Room partitions and the face of the fireplace wall were sheathed with horizontal or vertical boarding, frequently featheredged or moulded.

Windows Small -- Ceilings Low

"Windows were small and originally of casement type with small leaded panes in a wood frame. Small windows with low ceilings were needed to conserve heat in the severe winters. Floors of wide riven boards of pine, smoothed and sanded, replaced the beaten clay of the first shelters.

Simple Furniture

"The furniture, with few exceptions, was simple and sparse. Though strictly utilitarian it reflected a desire for decorative warmth and dignity in its simplified carved and turned ornament and touches of earthly colors."

Perhaps the above word-picture will give all of us a better idea concerning the appearance of our town after it was first settled in 1638.

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