The New Hampshire Traction Company

'Our Town' Logo

"Our Town" by James W. Tucker

Hampton Union

Thursday, October 18, 1951


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The nineteenth century really started rolling on the wheels of trolley cars. And it was these same wheels, as we have endeavored to show over the last three weeks, which started Hampton Beach rolling on its way to national recognition in the recreation field. Back of the many trolley lines, organized in this section, was a shrewd, resourceful promoter, Wallace D. Lovell. With his associates, Mr. Lovell was responsible for the first street railways, the Casino, the "Mile-Long Bridge" and the summer band concerts which have continued uninterrupted for nearly half a century. He was indirectly responsible for the Exeter and Hampton Electric company, the Hampton Water company, the Hampton Beach Improvement company and even the New Hampshire Electric company, with headquarters in Portsmouth.

The Trolley Parks

Mr. Lovell had imagination and vision. He had courage and fortitude and he had access to money. He obtained the financial backing necessary for his many promotions from New York investors whom he was able to interest by means of his own enthusiasm and his ability to paint a most convincing verbal picture. All over New England, his colleagues in the field of suburban and inter-urban trolley lines, were building parks for the purpose of providing attractive recreation spots to which trolley riders might be hauled. There was "Central Park" in the outskirts of Dover; "Contoocook River Park" in Concord; "Massabesic Lake" and "Pine Island Park" in Manchester; "The Pines" in Salem and dozens of other man-made recreation centers, constructed by electric street railways for the purpose of increasing car riding.

Mr. Lovell knew at a single glance the splendid potentialities of Hampton Beach as a mecca for trolley riders. Nature had provided an unrivaled set-up. Here were cool breezes, exhilarating surf bathing, acres of soft warm sand, and a beautifully diversified shore-line setting for the limitless blue Atlantic Ocean.

Here was a natural magnificence which would dwarf the puny parks his colleagues were building in inland sections of New Hampshire and nearby Massachusetts. Here was the proper setting for a large Casino to augment the recreation facilities which nature had so generously provided. And that was the beginning of the greater Hampton Beach with which we are all acquainted. The least our town can do in honor of Mr. Lovell -- a man who did so much for our town, is to give his name to some important street or road which may be built at some future time.

3 New Operating Companies

The fact that his trolley empire collapsed in the end was due more to the advent of the automobile than to bad management on the part of Mr. Lovell and his associates. Following the consolidation of his earliest trolley lines into the Exeter, Hampton and Amesbury Street Railway, Mr. Lovell organized the Massachusetts Construction company for the purpose of building three new operating companies: Portsmouth, Exeter and Newmarket; Haverhill and Newton, and the Portsmouth, Great Bay and Dover Street Railways. On October 30, 1900, he organized the Rockingham County Light and Power company to take over the Portsmouth electric light, power and gas plant which he had purchased for his proposed new system.

More Street Railways

Next, Mr. Lovell in 1901 organized in succession the following street railways: Portsmouth and Exeter (chartered March 7); Seabrook and Hampton Beach (March 23); Haverhill, Plaistow and Newton (March 26); Haverhill & Plaistow (June 5). On July 1, 1901, the Dover, Somersworth and Rochester, which Lovell had incorporated in March, absorbed the Union Electric Railway of Dover and Somersworth and at the same time took over the franchise of the Rochester Street Railway which had not yet been built. All of these railways, with the exception of the Haverhill and Plaistow, were leased on July 1, 1901 to the Exeter, Hampton and Amesbury Street Railway. The Haverhill and Plaistow was leased a year later on July 1, 1902, after legislative permission had been received in Massachusetts where this utility had been chartered. Construction of the new lines, with all necessary carhouses, power stations and sub-stations, was begun at once. Block signals were installed together with a telephone dispatching system. Obviously, the rapid development of the automobile, as a means of universal transportation, was entirely unforseen by Lovell and his associates, for no expense was spared to make the system modern in every respect. The Exeter, Hampton and Amesbury Street Railway now owned or held under lease or contract practically seventy-eight miles of track.

The Final Merger

Now, the New York bankers who had been providing the financial backing for the Lovell group, decided to investigate their investment. They hired Sanderson and Porter, electric railway engineers, to appraise the Lovell properties. So, sometime prior to 1902, the engineerings firm gave the bankers a rose report, stating that the yearly net profit of the Lovell railways should not be less than $385,000. They added that the various companies comprising the system would pay generous dividends on their capital stock. On the strength of this glowing appraisal, the bankers decided to hold onto the Lovell railway system. On November 19, 1901, the bankers chartered, under New Hampshire laws, a holding corporation to take over the securities of the properties which they had financed. This new corporation, the New Hampshire Traction company, holding practically all of the stocks and bonds representing the capitalization of the Exeter, Hampton and Amesbury and its leased lines, now proceeded to sell its own securities, using the proceeds for the completion of electric railways and other properties of its subsidiaries.

Five Years of Growth

The new lines, begun earlier in the year, were now ready to operate. The New Hampshire Traction Company designated the Exeter, Hampton and Amesbury and its leased roads, with the exception of the Dover, Somersworth and Rochester, as its Eastern Division. The last named railway became the Northern Division. The Eastern Division's new lines, with the exception of the Portsmouth & Exeter Street Railway, began operation in May, 1902. The Portsmouth & Exeter began operation on September 11, 1902. So, before the end of 1902, the Lovell enterprises had reached the peak of their ultimate growth. The five year period from 1897, when the Exeter Street Railway was completed, to the end of 1902 when the New Hampshire Traction Company's first year of operation was finished, had been a period of unprecedented growth. The spectacular rise of the Lovell enterprises was completed. The equally spectacular fall of the dynasty was eminent. We'll tell about it next week.
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