HAMPTON: A CENTURY OF TOWN AND BEACH, 1888-1988Back to previous chapter -- Forward to next section -- Return to Table of Contents
Chapter 14 -- Part 1
For nearly 300 years, Hampton residents were directly responsible for providing the community with one of its most basic services -- streets and roads. A large share of the town budget was expended for road and bridge work, and residents were employed to do most of the work. For example, in 1885, when the highway tax was 23 cents on $100 of valuation, the Town raised $1,550 from highway taxes. Of this sum, $1,394 was paid in labor by local men who worked on the roads in lieu of paying their taxes in cash. That year, much work was accomplished on the turnpike (today's Lafayette Road across the marsh).
Teams of horses and hand labor built and maintained roads, a process that primarily meant spreading gravel or digging drainage ditches. Rather than appropriating a specific sum in the budget for highways, the town meetings usually voted "To leave the amount to raise for highways and bridges with the selectmen." In 1889, the Town bought a "road machine," probably a horse-drawn grader, which was also rented at a rate of $7.50 per day to adjacent towns. Apparently the machine worked well, because the News-Letter correspondent reported in August, "Said a visitor the other day, Hampton's magnificent roads are as much a source of pride to all who ride over them as to her own public-spirited citizens...." In 1894, the reporter commented,
Road machines are of questionable value in the opinion of some. One or two short stretches of the highway are somewhat soft and sandy. These places should, of course, be covered with gravel. But the machine makes the driveways wider, smoother and rounder in the middle. Nearly all of the roads in town were well repaired, in fact, made new with the machine last year, making smooth durable tracks at once for pleasure summer driving. The advocates of giving up the machine and then gravelling all of the highways should consider first the two serious facts -- the expensive taxation and the years of labor to make good gravel road beds over the whole town. A competent and experienced civil engineer says it would cost more than $25,000 and under the old free and easy system of working out the district road tax, at least $40,000. Too much tax, too much debt!
Snow removal was unknown; instead, men dug "snow paths" for pedestrians and sleighs. Snow rollers were also used to compress the snow, and about 1893, hotel owner O. H. Whittier bought a snowplow, which was drawn by teams to clear snow from Village streets. Probably the town road machine was also used for clearing snow.
In 1892, the year the Town built the "sea side highway" from Winnacunnet Road to North Beach, the highway expense was $3,814, including $2,900 for the new road, $150 for a building to house the road machine, and $354 for making snow paths. That same year, the Town indefinitely postponed an article that would have required the payment of highway taxes in cash.
Most of the highway work was supervised by the selectmen, who were authorized by town meeting to fill a number of positions, including "Surveyor of Highways." In 1893, the town report first carried the expenditures for highways under the heading of "Highway Agent's Reports." Apparently the highway work was too much for the selectmen to oversee, and they decided to appoint agents in various sections of town to do the work. Samuel A. Towle, John A. Philbrook, and Curtis DeLancey spent a total of $1,921, and an additional $415 was spent for snow paths and $1,031 on the Beach road. Each agent apparently was responsible for a section of town roads, and the agents earned most of the money spent in their district. In 1893, each agent earned over $200, and their 150 workers earned from 27 cents to $77. Some men were paid as laborers, others for use of their teams. For example, Albert Johnson was paid $23.78 for "self, father and team," while butchers G. N. and W. M. Batchelder received $48.48 for "labor, men and teams," the latter apparently using some of their employees to work on the roads. Men also worked on other public-works jobs such as building the Beach breakwaters, caring for the cemeteries, or constructing new roads, especially at the Beach. There was no regular highway or public-works crew; instead, men were hired for a few days when work was needed. Undoubtedly a few men in town were "regularly" available, and, of course, for farmers and others for whom cash was always in short supply, the opportunity to work off their highway taxes was a benefit.
In 1895, George W. Dearborn was the sole road agent, spending $1,611, but in 1897, there were three agents. Two years later, the number of road agents, and districts, was increased to 12, although there is no reason listed for this expansion. The reports of all the agents in 1904 required 19 pages in the town report. In 1904, the Town voted to pay $1.70 per day for highway labor, $4.50 for a team, and 25 cents per hour for snow shovelers, the pay to commence when the shovelers left home.
Prior to the 1900 town meeting, grocer John Mason convinced the selectmen to hold hearings regarding his proposal to build a road across the marsh from the end of Tide Mill Road to the Beach. He predicted the cost at $2,000, but the idea was abandoned when engineer William Ross estimated the actual cost at between $6,000 and $7,000. It was more than 50 years before the Town began to build such a road.
In November 1907, a Union editorial described repairs to the main road between Whittier's and Depot Square, where "old" dirt was removed and a new layer of gravel was spread. The newspaper said this approach was not adequate for the new demands on the road made by automobiles. The following August, a new technique was being used. The Square and Main Street (Lafayette Road) as far as the Whittier were treated with crude oil, which "does away with the dust that has been a nuisance all summer." By 1911, the Town was oiling streets from the Center out to and along the Beach to control dust and to lessen the wear from automobiles. In August 1914, Road Commissioner Joseph Brown was receiving praise from motorists for the good condition of Hampton roads. He said 56,000 gallons of oil (purchased for $1,252) was used on the roads that summer.
Another solution for improving road surfaces was Tarvia, a sticky, tar-based substance that was applied in a thin coat to the dirt roads and gave the streets a surface. In 1914, the Town used nearly $1,700 worth of Tarvia. The use of Tarvia was first mentioned in the expenditures for 1912 and probably was put on the state road (Route 1), which was maintained by the Town, but the work was paid for with $2,500 in state aid. The Town first received a small amount ($150) of state money in 1907, but at the 1910 town meeting, voters appropriated money for matching state funds on a 1-1 basis for a "trunk line" of the turnpike from Hampton Falls to Whittier's, then over the Beach road to the causeway, then north to the North Hampton line. Residents voted $2,000, with $500 to be raised from taxes; the rest was expected to come from any unexpended money in the budget. The State provided $3,800 for the project and a total of $5,400 was paid to local men. Fred Perkins earned $256 for labor with his team, and 14-year-old Eugene Leavitt earned $200 for labor with his team.
At the 1915 town meeting, the selectmen were asked to make plans for both a concrete and an iron bridge across the Taylor River at today's Route 1. At a later special meeting, Selectman Joseph B. Brown reported that a concrete bridge could be built for $4,000, but repairs to the existing bridge could be made for $875. Frugal voters then appropriated $500 for the repairs. A new law on highway agents went into effect in 1915. The town meeting first discontinued the old system of road agents; then a motion was made to elect one agent, but it failed to pass. Finally voters approved a motion to appoint three agents: Kenneth N. Ross for the Beach and Thomas Cogger and William T. Ross for the rest of town. In 1917, however, Hampton voted to revert to the 1899 system of road maintenance and repair.
In April 1916, the Union's "Good Things" column recommended some civic changes. The first mentioned was the widening of Main Street from the Odd Fellows Block to the junction with High Street, which would take a curve out of the street and eliminate a dangerous situation with the intersection at High Street. Part of this rebuilding included the improvement of Depot Square, where the new Brooks Garage was being staked out. A drive was built to circle the square, and the center was made into a lawn and a garden. The newspaper had been campaigning for this improvement for years, but the land was owned by the railroad, which apparently had little interest in the improvements. (In the May 25 edition, it was reported that the B&M Railroad supported the square improvement and would assist in any way it could. The Union hoped the railroad would reclapboard and paint the station also.)
In May 1916, a newly formed Community Association suggested renaming some of the roads in town, especially since some of the names were in use anyway. This suggestion set off a debate over which selectmen and residents have argued for some years. In 1916, the association suggested the following street names: the Beach Road from Whittier's to the causeway; Lafayette Road from Hampton Falls to North Hampton; Exeter Road from Lane's Corner to the Exeter line; North Beach Road (today's High Street) from Lane's Corner to the Beach, and Ann's Lane, Watson's Lane, Landing Road, and Tide Mill Road as then named. The committee suggested that Ocean Drive become Rockingham Boulevard. (Ann's Lane, one of the older roads in the town, was apparently named for Anne Godfrey, the only resident of the street, who died unmarried at age 90 in 1853.)
In June, the Community Association presented its final list of road names: Lafayette Road and Exeter Road (as is); Winnacunnet Road instead of the Beach Road; Windmill Road from DeLancey's Corner (Winnacunnet Road) to North Hampton; Ann's and Watson's lanes (as is); Guinea Road, from J. F. Marston's to Hampton Falls; Timber Swamp Road (as is); Small Gains, from Mace house to Guinea Schoolhouse; Ring Swamp Road (now Park Avenue), from Austin Johnson's house (Winnacunnet Road) to Mace house; Sandy Lane (now Locke Road), from East End School to Five Corners; Tide Mill and Landing roads (as is); Rockingham Boulevard to Ocean Drive; and North Shore Road (as is).
The seemingly simple task of naming streets developed considerable interest in the community. One week after the above names were suggested, the newspaper carried more comment. One "respected and esteemed citizen" said that the road from DeLancey's Corner to North Hampton had been called "Back Road" from "time immemorial ," and that calling it Windmill Road had no significance. The committee then asked whether one of the above two names -- or Mill Road, as it was known in North Hampton -- should be used. Other names recommended were Woodland Road, from Five Corners to North Hampton; Crescent Road (now Little River Road), from Austin Mace's to Woodland; Black Swamp Road, from Crescent to Woodland; Fish House Road, from Woodland to the fish houses; Cross Road, from Timber Swamp Road to Guinea Road; Academy Road, from the library to North Beach Road (later became High Street); and Highland Road (later became Dearborn Avenue), for the road off North Beach Road at the shoe factory. (In 1939, Edgar Warren said this road was also called Shoestring Alley, and Incubator Row, which suggested "the street is populated by a highly virile class of residents who do not believe in race suicide.")
At the 1918 town meeting, the voters elected three road agents and agreed to pay $6 per hour for a two-horse team. The town meeting elected Eugene M. Leavitt as a single road agent in 1922, ending the system of multiple road agents responsible for specific sections of town roads. In May 1922, town highway crews were placing screened gravel on the roads prior to the application of Tarvia to all the streets.
In January 1923, four storms within a week left a total of 30 inches of snow. On the highways it was necessary to run a disc harrow to cut up the crust, and a gang of men went ahead of the team to break a path for the horses; then an eight-horse team followed the harrow. The heavy snows disrupted businesses. The Greenman Company had to resort to a horse team to get cut soles to Newburyport because the roads were not passable by autos. The Union commented, "We believe that the roads that Charlie Brown and Stacy Nudd are breaking out are the best in town. They certainly know their job." The street railway to Exeter had to be shoveled out because of the accumulating high drifts. Teams were able to use the car tracks, and turnouts were made. Hampton Center Garage purchased a snow car, "being a ton truck rear end, a special narrow gauge with Caterpillar tread and runners on the front end. Many [now] call it the first snowmobile."
Obviously such highway situations could not continue. Horses could get through the snow, but motor vehicles needed more than snow rollers to make the streets passable. Finally, Hampton purchased a snowplow for $5,400, and in January 1925 the newspaper said, "The tractor is a good investment since it opens all of the roads of snow and even back road travel is good." The following year, another tractor was purchased for $6,000, and after a February storm, the Union commended the "men who drive the tractor which has been in operation all day and all night for many days," since there were 50 miles of Hampton roads to plow. For a number of years, the plow was stored at Floyd Gale's Garage on Lafayette Road. Once when Floyd came home from an out-of-town Masonic trip during a heavy storm, he stripped off his tuxedo and began plowing in his long johns. The Gales lived over the Garage, and Clara Gale recalls that she would often put on a ham to boil so that the plowers could stop at the garage throughout the night to get some food.
In 1926, the town meeting voted to spend, if necessary, $5,000 that year and the balance next year to build the turnpike (Route 1) bridge over the Taylor River. By February 1927, the newspaper reported slow progress on the turnpike bridge, so the State took over the work and expected to have the old wooden bridge replaced with a concrete structure by May 1. The temporary bridge proved to be dangerous, with two fatal accidents, one of which killed two rum-runners speeding through Hampton in November 1926.
Residents at the 1928 town meeting voted to forbid selectmen from overspending the highway appropriation except in case of emergency. In the past year, the selectmen said they had overspent the $15,000 appropriation by double ($32,233) because they had a chance to rebuild Park Avenue at a low price. (In July 1930, a news paper correspondent wrote, "It is hoped that sometime the name Park Avenue will be changed to Park Road or Parkway as Avenue smacks of the city.")
The State designated Lafayette Road as its first "through highway" in May 1930, meaning that all roads entering Lafayette Road would have to have stop signs. Union editor Adams said the ruling went along with his suggestion to erect automatic signal lights in the square. In 1924, town meeting had voted to install traffic beacons on Lafayette Road in the center of town and at the corner of Winnacunnet Road, and also at Elmwood Corner on Winnacunnet Road. In 1930, residents voted $600 to install a traffic light at the corner of Lafayette Road and High Street, to place a stop sign on Mill Road at the intersection with High Street, and to install a traffic light on High Street. In June, a booth for traffic officers was erected in Lafayette Square, the center of town crossroads.
Although the paper had carried several editorials about the Depression, the first mention of its affecting Hampton came in a 1932 letter to the town clerk from the State Committee on Unemployment, asking that all unemployed men report to the clerk so that an accurate count of them could be made. In March 1933, the Town told unemployed men who wanted to work on the proposed sewer project at the Beach to register with Fred Batchelder, chairman of the Sewer Committee. Mass meetings of the Town and Beach Chambers of Commerce were held in August to make plans to meet the obligations of the National Recovery Act. Some 35,000 people in New Hampshire were on relief.
A special town meeting in 1933 was devoted mainly to motions aimed at making applications for public-works projects to the State Civilian Works Administration (CWA), a Depression-inspired program to find work for the unemployed. Mrs. Margaret Wingate, who sponsored most of the motions, said Hampton had 225 unemployed men. Beginning in 1933, the highway budget listed payments to workers for unemployment relief compensation. The 58 workers received payments ranging from $3.60 to $336 -- a total outlay of $4,553. In 1934 and 1935, Hampton received $1,814 that was paid to highway workers for unemployment relief.
Women were urged to file with Mrs. Wingate in December 1933 regarding a CWA sewing project that would involve either a community sewing room or part-time work for women at home. In February 1934, a federally funded evening school was underway at the academy. There were 57 people enrolled in typewriting and 30 in bookkeeping. The Union reported, "They say some of Hampton's leading businessmen are spending their evenings at night school and working hard." Several Hampton men were working on CWA projects, including 24 on mosquito control and 10 for the browntail-moth commission.
Apparently part of this federal work involved paving Lafayette Road with concrete from Ann's Lane through Hampton Center, a project that began in late July 1933. At this same time, the newspaper said reports were circulating about a new road to bypass the Center adjacent to the railroad from the marshes north to the North Hampton town line. "Many farsighted residents have forecast that the future of Hampton will suffer from the effect of being set aside from the through traffic, which in passing would forget Hampton was on the map," the Union commented. Adding that the plan was just talk, the paper conceded that a wider road was needed to give ample room for traffic through the Center. Two years later, the plan was still being discussed, and Hampton merchants submitted a petition opposing a highway bypass for Hampton, saying it would cut their business by 30 percent by removing tourist traffic. "With Newburyport recently by-passed and little parking in Portsmouth, Hampton remains the only trading center for tourists on Route One for many miles." Apparently this road would have extended from south of Hampton north to the Great Bay Bridge at Dover Point. A February 1937 hearing in Concord was held on a bill to build a new section of Ocean Boulevard west of the Beach to ease the traffic problem. With a proposed cost of $230,000, the road would be two miles long, running from the bridge north to Winnacunnet Road, and it would cut out all through traffic from the beachfront. The war ended plans for both of these projects, but the former proposal resulted in today's Interstate 95. The Beach highway continues to be discussed but extensive residential construction west of the Ashworth now bars the way for such a road.
In 1946, the town meeting voted $2,000 for a truck and selectmen hired Ralph Osgood as the first full-time Highway Department employee. He later became head of the department. In 1949, with the assistance of directory publishers Crowley and Lunt, Hampton Village homes received street numbers, a necessary step because the post office recently had begun home delivery of mail in the Village section. Homes with numbers were easier to find for both mail carriers and out-of-towners looking for Hampton residents, but there was a question as to whether street numbers would help in a town where there was continuous controversy about the names of the streets. In 1955, the selectmen were asked to rename the streets in what is now the Barbour-Little River-Woodland roads section of town. At a March meeting, the selectmen determined that Little River Road was to be a half-circle, beginning at Five Corners and ending on Mace Road. Black Swamp (today's Barbour) Road, which some people called Woodland Road, would run from Mill Road to the north bend of Little River Road. Woodland Road would extend from the south bend of Little River Road to the North Hampton line, and North Shore Road would begin at Woodland Road, not at Little River Road. Residents of the new Black Swamp Road complained that the directories carried their street as Woodland Road and they wanted to keep that name. The selectmen agreed and the result was two Woodland roads separated by a short section of Little River Road.
The street-name matter rested until 1962, when the town meeting gave the selectmen the authority to name streets and they proposed changing 24 names. This set off a two-year series of hearings and local discussions that were not resolved until April 1964. The many name changes came from extensions of existing streets, names of property owners, names of signers of the Association Tests of the American Revolution, and names of trees. During hearings, residents opposed the renaming of Ann's Lane to become an extension of Mace Road, and the changing of Towle Avenue to Marston Avenue, but King Road and its adjacent extension became Tuck Road and Cogger Street, Towle Road became Towle Farm Road, Drakeside Road ended at Towle Farm Road, and the Little River Road area was again changed. The Woodland Road that went from Mill to Little River was changed to Black Swamp Road, but following further resident complaints, it was named Barbour Road to honor the family of longtime resident George W. Barbour, whose farmhouse and open fields are still a feature along the western end of the road. Among the other streets that received new names at this time were an extension of Morningside Drive, Swain Court, Locke Lane, Laurel Court, North Shore Boulevard, Birch, Ash, Spruce, and Hemlock streets, Fogg Lane, Fuller Acres, Kentville Terrace, Page Lane, Epping Avenue, and Shaw Street. Another round of street-name changing went into effect in February 1977. Among the new names were Ballard Street, Beach Plum Way, Church Street, Tilton Street, Great Boar's Head Avenue, John Stark Lane, Bride Hill Drive, Smith Avenue, Redman Street, Cusack Road, Chase Street, Ocean Boulevard (from North Shore Boulevard or Ocean Boulevard North), Cole Street, Garland Street, Prescott Street, Marston Way, Anchor Court, Greene Street, Elkins Street, and Robie Street. Some of these changes required house renumbering, and residents were reminded that the new numbers were required by law.
The 1960s also brought discussion of major highway projects in Hampton. The first, which is discussed in more detail in another chapter, brought the long-sought highway from Route 1 to the Beach, today's Route 51. In 1966, the selectmen proposed widening High Street from Mill Road to Five Corners, using $70,000 in state aid. Following complaints that the work would result in tree cutting and the moving of stone walls, selectmen heeded the concerns of residents and canceled the plan. The town's other major artery to the Beach, Winnacunnet Road, was widened to provide space for sidewalks and reduce curves in 1971.
In 1954, Homer Johnson became the last elected highway agent, because that position became part of the town manager's responsibility when Hampton adopted the town manager form of government the same year. Johnson had been elected to the position every year since 1939, and he remained as an appointed highway agent under Town Manager True until 1957. When Johnson began as highway agent, Hampton had no trucks or highway employees. Johnson was paid by the hour only when he worked, and trucks and men were hired as needed for such jobs as tarring roads, plowing snow, or cutting brush. After Johnson left, when the budget was $80,157, the Town began its Public Works Department, which now includes the highway, sewer, and rubbish operations. In 1978, the Public Works Department had 40 full-time and 24 part-time employees and operated with a budget of $1,222,661. Ten years later, the department had three more full-time employees and the budget was $2,297,832.