"Our Town" By James W. Tucker
Thursday, April 17, 1952
Community life in our town for a period of more than three centuries has circled around "The Ring," or Meeting house Green. And the section alluded to is that part of Hampton, bounded roughly by Park avenue on the south, Lafayette Road on the west and Winnacunnet Road on the north and east. The west end of this tract contains Tuck Field. For some reason, known only to themselves, the founding fathers, in 1638, made their way from "The Landing," to this particular area and established their homes on the high ground which surrounded the center meadow or swale. This low section was called "Ring Swamp," less elegant terminology but probably more truly descriptive of the topography of the land around which they built their first homes and eventually a road, ten rods wide.
Bounds Are Doubtful
Three hundred and fourteen years is a long time. There is no doubt that the present-day bounds of "The Ring" are approximately the location of that 165 foot road which was laid out by the selectmen as a highway in 1697. And it remained ten rods wide until April 11, 1786. Whether or not the present "Memorial Park" was originally a part of Meeting House Green and whether a portion of the triangle within which the Moulton House originally stood was also contained within the Green, is purely. conjectural. Neither are they matters of great importance. We cannot be sure if the entire tract within the ten rod road was always known as "Meeting House Green." Maps that date back to 1800 indicate it as such, but it would seem to be more likely that originally only the west end of the tract within the ten rod road was called "Meeting House Green" and possibly, at the very outset, only the acre or so that immediately surrounded the Meeting House itself.
Church Site For School
The first four Meeting Houses were built by the Town. They were all located in the southwest corner of the tract, approximately where the Tuck Memorial House is now located. Then came the Presbyterian Schism, and the fifth Meeting House, which eventually became the Town Hall, was built approximately on the site of the present Town Office building by the Congregationalists with money derived from the sale of pews. The site of the fourth Meeting House, and the last one built by our town on Meeting House Green, was given to the incorporators of the Hampton Proprietary School and here the original one-story Hampton Academy was built in 1811. On January 22, 1883, the Academy was moved from its location on Meeting House Green to its present site by eighty yoke of oxen.
The Green Is Abandoned
If we are to assume that all of the tract within "The Ring" is "Meeting House Green," then, with the removal of the Academy, the greater "Green" was virtually abandoned, at least for over a year, as far as public buildings are concerned. Then in 1884, a semi-public building, the sixth and last Meeting House, was erected nearly opposite that church which eventually became the Town Hall and which was destroyed by fire in the spring of 1949. So, after 1883, that part of the Meeting House Green where the first four Meeting Houses had stood and where the Proprietary School had been first built, was deserted and became nothing more or less than a bramble patch. And it remained in that condition for over forty years.
The Octogenarian Benefactor
And were it not for Rev. Ira S. Jones, the hallowed site of the first four Meeting Houses might still be a bramble patch. He conceived the idea of the Meeting House Green - Memorial Park project and headed the effort involved in carrying out the actual work. And when the project was completed and it came time to dedicate the memorial, this remarkable man was 89 years old. Moreover, he was not a native of our town — merely an adopted son who learned to love Hampton, its historical background and its traditions.
Just Passing Through
In 1894 Mr. Jones left a pastorate in Ohio and started for Maine. On the journey, he happened to sojourn one night at the famous Whittier Hotel in our town. The public-spirited host induced this particular guest to stay here and he bought a place on Winnacunnet Road, just west of Elmwood Corner, where he and Mrs. Jones went immediately to live. And Mr. Jones became a very busy man. On Sundays, he often filled pulpits in Rye and in Amesbury. On weekdays he conducted a small furniture store on the second floor of Cole's Block and looked personally after an undertaking business.
Founded Cemetery Association
It may have been the latter vocation which aroused his interest in the cemeteries of our town. He founded the present Cemetery Association and took a personal interest in restoring Hampton's old burying grounds. He had removed an interesting sign which adorned the High Street Cemetery and which displayed the morbid sentiment, "We are all Passing Away." He cleared out and restored Pine Tree Cemetery, 1654 and did an equally good job on the Park Avenue Cemetery (Ring Swamp Cemetery). In the meantime Mrs. Jones died but before moving to Freedom, N. H., where opportunity seemed to beckon in 1913. Mr. Jones sold his undertaking business to Mr. Junkins of Exeter. He had also remarried.
Mrs. Jones Taught At Academy
While in Freedom, Mrs. Jones who had been a teacher at Hebron Academy in Maine, secured a position as a teacher in the public schools. It happened that on an occasion when Mr. and Mrs. Howard Lane were calling on Mr. and Mrs. Jones at their Freedom home, the matter of an opening in the teaching staff of the Hampton Academy was discussed. As a result of this conversation, Mr. and Mrs. Jones returned to their Winnacunnet Road home in Hampton in 1918 and Mrs. Jones entered upon a career as a teacher of French and La;tin at the Academy which extended over a period of fourteen successful and happy years. Although Mr. Jones before moving to Freedom and doubtless had considered it often during the five years he was absent from our town, it was not until his return in 1918 that Mr. Jones entered fully upon his plan for restoring the site of the original Meeting Houses and for building nearby a small park or common as a memorial to the first settlers who came to Hampton "to plant a free church in a free town."
Completion Of Great Project
It was a labor of love upon the part of a stalwart octogenarian who worked, for the most part, alone. His plan became more or less official when he interested the selectmen and obtained their cooperation. The Meeting House Green Memorial Association. Inc., was formed and Mr. Jones was elected President. Other towns, once a part of Hampton became interested and decided to contribute memorial boulders to the proposed Park. Family groups descendents of the original settlers, likewise contributed memorials and the project really began to roll. Edward Tuck, Paris banker and philanthropist, born at Exeter on August 24, 1842 and who loved our town as the home of his forebears, gave the money to provide a home for a caretaker with the addition of a hall for the use of the Association. With money necessary to complete the project virtually assured, construction work began in earnest. Soon curbs were set, landscaping completed, a replica of the first church erected and memorial boulders placed. On October 13 and 14, 1925, the beautiful memorial was dedicated with appropriate ceremonies which we hope one day to tell about. The originator of the plan to perpetuate the memory of the founding fathers had no prominent part in the dedicatory program. But his heart must have been filled with happiness and his mind overflowing with satisfaction over the success of his personal project.
His Reward — A Tablet
He has not been entirely forgotten. On the Green, nearly hidden in shrubbery is a small memorial tablet: "Dedicated to Rev. Ira S. Jones, 1836-1927, who in his 91st year conceived and effected this Meeting House Green Memorial Park to perpetuate the memory of the first settlers of Hampton." So, the man who came to our town in 1894 to spend a night, lived here for over twenty years and left behind him an indelible mark of high credit on the history pages of this ancient community.