"Our Town" by James W. Tucker
Thursday, May 8, 1952
The Beach's Largest Hotel
A few weeks ago, Kenneth Ross loaned us three pictures of the original Ocean House, built in 1844. When completely destroyed by fire on May 7, 1885, it was the largest hotel on Hampton Beach; four stories high, perhaps 150 feet long by 100 feet wide with a maximum capacity of 250 guests. Since then there never has been a larger one will never be constructed in the future. This great summer hostelry, complete with tow large cottages, a big stable and a separate bowling alley, stood on two or more acres of land fronting Ocean Boulevard just north of Church street. After the fire in 1885, the hotel was never rebuilt. Before telling you the story of the Ocean House, we would like to mention briefly a few facts having to do with the start of the summer hotel business in our town -- a business which has grown into a thriving recreational industry. And we should never lose sight of the fact that our town is one of the nation's earliest summer recreational centers.
Fishing and Boat Building
In the very early days, Hampton was noted for its fishing and boat building industries, about which we hope some time to be able to tell you. Although the settlers of Winnacunnet were essentially farmers, it didn't take the founding fathers and their sons very long to discover that the fish in the nearby sea was gold on their front doorstep. Originally, fishing was carried on from the river section of our town and then transferred to the site of the controversial fish houses at what is now North Beach. Boats were anchored in a small bay called Plaice Cove, presumably because of the plaice -- a variety of flounder -- which were caught there in great quantities. This little cove is sheltered on the north by a small rocky-shored promontory, a section of land which has come to be known by the name of the bay which it protects, Plaice Cove. Under the circumstances of the commercial fishing it is natural that boat building became an important industry. Just recently Alton Tobey handed us a clipping which tells the story of the Hampton boat which is still known, particularly in neighboring Maine, as one of the most important types of small craft ever constructed in New England.
First Summer Hotels
Fishing and boat building have died out but the summer hotel business haw flourished for almost a century and a half. The first house built especially for a hotel on the beach was erected in 1819 by Abraham Marston, Jr., and Amos Towle, 3d, and opened for business in 1820. It was located almost on the spot occupied now by the Rocky Bend Restaurant, at the base of Great Boar's Head on the south side. In 1826 the first hotel was built atop the great promontory by a company headed by David Nudd. It was called the Boar's Head Hotel. Later, Mr. Nudd built the Granite House, near the foot of the promontory on the north side. In 1830 he constructed the Eagle House on the western slope of the Head near the road. This building is still standing and is snow the home of Miss C. Belle Nudd, a great-granddaughter of the building.
First House on Main Beach
In 1826, the year before David Nudd began construction of the original Boar's Head Hotel, his nephew, Thomas Nudd built the first house to be constructed south of the Head on what is now the main beach. This house, originally a farm homestead, was later used by Oliver, son of Thomas for modified hotel purposes. This landmark still stands. It is owned by Kenneth Ross, a grandson of Oliver Nudd, and under the name of Nudd Homestead, it still offers entertainment to the public in the form of rooms and meals, the proprietor being Miss Christine Cassidy.
[In the mid 1970's(?), the "Nudd Homestead" was moved to 24 North Shore Road, and as of 1999 was the residence of Rev. Robert W. Golledge, Vicar of the Old North Church in Boston.]
David Nudd -- Hotel Pioneer
House, built in 1844 and destroyed by fire in 1885. It was the
largest hotel ever built at Hampton Beach. It was located just north
of today's Church Street. Cutler's Sea View House can be seen at
right. This also was destroyed in the 1885 fire but was rebuilt and
stayed in business many years. It went through owners and name
changes before burning down in 1985, 100 years after the first fire.
The Ocean House was probably the fifth largest hotel to be constructed on Hampton Beach and the first to be built south of Great Boar's Head. It was built by Stacy Nudd. Stacy was the oldest son of David Nudd, and David may well be considered and certainly should be memorialized as the founder of Hampton's great recreational industry. And we should never lose sight of the fact that these early hotels surpassed anything which had ever been built in this section of our country. From this small group of outstanding summer hostelries, four of which were constructed by the Nudd family, has grown one of New England's largest seaside recreational centers, containing over fifty hotels and more than one hundred gust houses. The Ocean House was successfully conducted by Stacy Nudd until it was purchased in 1866 by Phillip Yeaton, a native of Maine who had had considerable hotel experience in Lawrence, Mass.
An Unusual Hotel Owner
Mr. Yeaton was an unusual character. He was born in Belgrade, Me., on November 19, 1821. He remained with his father who conducted a large farm, until he was eighteen years old. Then he worked as a carpenter, after which he held jobs as attendant and supervisor in hospitals. He returned to Maine in 1850 and married, after which he went to Lawrence, Mass., and helped to build the Pacific Mills. Eventually he leased a boarding house from the mill corporation. Later, five of these boarding houses were under his control for about ten years. His next step in the hotel business was to lease, furnish and operate the Pacific House, a hotel which was also built by the corporation. He conducted this place successfully for about fifteen years. When the Civil War broke out, he was a member of the Lawrence city council was delegated to help recruit and equip Companies I and F of the 6th Massachusetts Regiment. So he came to our town in 1866 as an experienced hotel man to take over his new purchase, the Ocean House.
Halcyon Days of Ocean House
For nineteen years he gave this splendid hotel his best attention with the result that it grew and flourished to such an extent that it was considered the best summer hotel in all New England. In 1911 the Boston Globe had a feature story on Mr. Yeaton who was then 90 years old. In his interview with the Globe reporter, the old gentleman reminisces about his halcyon days as the owner of the famous Ocean House at Hampton. From his own lips we learn the following interesting facts: "The Ocean House could accommodate 200 to 250 guests. I had a fine stable, including 20 'let-horses' and had a big old-fashioned stage coach to carry the guests to and from the station. In those days, we charged fifty cents one way; now (1911) you can cover the same distance on the electric cars for 5 cents.
"For sports, the guests used to play croquet and I also had a bowling alley and billiard table. Bathing and horse-back riding were popular also. Coaching parties were frequent and there was good fishing and yachting.
Lobsters, Cent A Pound
"You know how popular lobsters are now? Well, remember a Capt. John Perkins of Hampton who used to catch lobsters off the ho tell, bring them by wheelbarrow and boil them. Capt. Perkins used to say that a lobster was not fit to eat the day after it was caught, but I suppose the absence of ice had something to do with that view. I used to buy them at a cent or a cent and a half per pound."
Then the old gentleman went on to tell about the fire in 1885, saying, "That was a big loss to me, for I had a fine livery and horses and carriages came high in those days." After his loss at Hampton, Mr. Yeaton ran the New Winthrop at Winthrop, Mass., the Westport, at Westport, Mass., and the Lake Pleasant House near Greenfield, Mass. He retired at the age of 85 and lived the last years of his life in Blackstone Square, South Boston.
Hampton to Bar Harbor
As the owner-manager of our town's original Ocean House, host Yeaton entertained the wealthiest people of New York, Boston and other large cities. In his Globe interview, he tells of a "Mrs. Eldridge of Boston, said to have been worth $2,000,000 who paid as high as $25 a day for her vacations with me. Others who came to me were the Merriams of Springfield, Charles Pratt of Standard Oil and many prominent Catholic priests."
So, with the destruction of this hotel and many cottages north of it in the first great beach conflagration, in 1885, there came to an end an epoch in Hampton Beach ;hotel history that most of us never knew anything about or, for that matter, ever heard about.
The Eldridges, the Merriams and the Pratts and others of their ilk began to patronize Bar Harbor which was just beginning to become famous after our town's beach had been catering to the elite for over sixty years. With the great fire of 1885, a new cycle began in the development of our beach which witnessed the gradual decline of the big, luxury hotels of that era and the beginning of the era of trolley and motor car transportation with all the attendant changes in the recreational business.