The Exeter Street Railway

'Our Town' Logo

"Our Town" by James W. Tucker

Hampton Union

Thursday, October 4, 1951


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Our town's first electric railway was discussed briefly in this column last week. We told how the first spike was driven in the first rail by Judge Charles M. Lamprey at a point on Winnacunnet Road about opposite Hotel Whittier. We also gave a brief resume of Judge Lamprey's remarks on this auspicious occasion. We knew that the launching of this important project was accompanied by appropriate exercises, but it remained for one of our senior citizens to inform us concerning the extent of the celebration. It seems that the pupils at Hampton Academy were given time off by Principal Jack Sanborn in order that they might witness the laying of the first trolley rail and the Center school was also recessed. And we are told that others who were heard on the program included the promoter, Wallace D. Lovell; C. L. Cotton from Dedham who is described as owning the charter or franchise of the new road and a Mr. Godfrey who, at the time, was one of our town's first citizens.

May 19, 1897 was certainly a red-letter day in Hampton history. And in order to keep the record straight, the senior citizen who told us more about the May 19th celebration that we can put in print, also said that the section of our town sometimes referred to as "Guinea" bore the same appellation long before the Italian laborers, who built the trolley line, were quartered in that locality. In any event, the Exeter Street Railway, begun on May 19, 1897 was finished as far as the Exeter terminal is concerned on July 3, 1897 and the terminal point at Hampton Beach -- a point on ocean boulevard about opposite Highland avenue -- was reached on July 9th of that year.

Carhouse and Power Plant

Car Barn and Power Plant
The car barn and power plant
While the ties, rails and overhead wiring was being installed rapidly and in westerly and easterly directions from the starting point on Winnacunnet road, a carhouse and power plant were being constructed on opposite sides of the Exeter road about one mile west of Hampton Center. The carhouse, of wood-frame construction, was about 200 feet long and 50 feet wide. It contained four tracks and had a storage capacity of twenty electric cars. A completely equipped repair shop and stock room was installed in the rear of the carhouse. Across the street was a brick power plant, 100 feet long and 80 feet wide, completely equipped for generating power for both lighting service and for operating the trolleys. A telephone dispatching system connected the carhouse with all of the track turn-outs and with the railway terminals. Since the electric railway was scrapped, the car house has been used as a garage and as a factory. The power plant is now owned and occupied by the local post [No. 35] of the American Legion.

Rolling Stock and Schedules

At the outset the Exeter Street Railway Company owned ten electric passenger cars, five open and five closed types. The company also owned a freight car, a flat car trailer and two Taunton nose plows. Other rolling stock consisted of a horse-drawn tower wagon and a buggy. The electric car were purchased from the Briggs Carriage Company of Amesbury, Mass.

During the latter part of the afternoon of July 5, 1897, the first car ran from the carhouse to Court Square in Exeter. In a few days, regular service was inaugurated between that town and Hampton Village. When the line was completed to Hampton Beach on July 9, a half-hourly schedule was immediately placed in effect between the Beach and Exeter. This schedule was continued until late in September when an hourly time-table was put in operation for the fall, winter and spring periods.

Fare and Profits

There were three five cent fare zones: the first from Court Square in Exeter to the Exeter-Hampton town line; the second from the town line to Hampton Center and the third from Hampton Center to the terminal at Hampton Beach. There was a special round-trip fare of 25 cents from the Beach to Exeter and return.

According to report, the first year of operation proved financially successful for the new electric railway, which, by the way was one of the first in this section of New England. Round trips from Exeter to Hampton numbered 6,625 for a total of 159,000 car miles. The passengers carried during the first year of operation (1897-98) numbered 554,849 and these fares, plus receipts from mail and express with other miscellaneous income, yielded total revenue in the amount of $29,022.97. The operating expenses, including bond interest of $4,875, totaled $24,092.14, leaving a net operating income of $4,930.83.

Interlocking Directorates

So, success apparently crowned the efforts of Promoter W. D. Lovell, at least insofar as his first electric railway was concerned. He and his associates immediately launched extensive plans for extending their electric railway properties. They paid no attention to the severe criticism which the New Hampshire Board of Railroad Commissioners had paid to the financial manipulations of Lovell and his associates in the Commission's annual report for 1897.

Before this promotion group became interested in the Exeter Street Railway, they had organized the Franklin Construction Company for the purpose of building trolley lines. So, it was arranged that this construction company would build and equip the Exeter Street Railway, receiving as payment such capital stock and bonds as the new utility would be authorized to issue, except that the directors of the railway were to receive ten shares of stock. At this same time Lovell organized the Rockingham Electric Company which was chartered on March 19, 1897. This utility was to purchase electricity and power from the Exeter Street Railway which it would in turn resell to residents of Hampton and Exeter, a business which the Railway Company could not legally engage in under its charter. Concerning this deal, the Railroad Commission report said:

Railroad Commission Objects

"Mr. Lovell, and his associates, as the construction company have contracted with themselves as the railway company, to build and equip a railroad . . . and they propose, as the electric company to take from the railway company, at a price fixed by them, such light, and power as they can find a market for. All of these contracts being with themselves, it is for them to decide what kind of a railroad they will construct and what they will pay for the light and power they sell.

"Assuming that these bargains and contracts which these men have made with themselves are binding upon the street railway, then the owners of the railway securities, who furnish all the money will be at the mercy of the construction company until the road is completed and of the electric company afterwards.

"We place upon the record our disapproval of the arrangements by which those in control of the corporations have placed themselves in a position in which, if they are so disposed, they can prey upon the property of the railway company after disposing of its securities and we suggest to all concerned a radical modification of the plans and practices of the managers of this enterprise so as to bring them within the law."

But without regard to the adverse opinion of the Railroad Commission of New Hampshire, the Lovell syndicate of electric railway utilities which so greatly contributed to the early development of our town, continued to grow and to prosper. In all probability changes were made in the various corporation set-ups which met with the eventual approval of the Railroad Commission. Next we shall endeavor to trace further the rapid spread hereabout of the Lovell enterprises.

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