Post Office

Chapter 15 -- Part 14

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In 1885, pharmacist Frank Laird was named postmaster, changing around his shop on Exeter Road to accommodate the postal business. When William Merrill built his commercial block on High Street in 1889, one of the first tenants was the post office. In 1889, Myron Cole, a clerk in the Lane store, was appointed postmaster (replacing Laird, who had moved out of town), moving into the Merrill Block and selling newspapers and confectionery items along with his postal work. Cole lost the position in August of 1893 to Selectman Charles M. Batchelder, who was appointed when Democrats came into power. The latter left his clerk's position with the Lane store and purchased the goods that Cole had been selling in the post office. With a change in politics in 1899, Cole was back as postmaster, but he died the following year, at age 42, and was replaced by his wife, Carrie, who received a permanent appointment in 1900.

In the September 16, 1899, edition of the Hampton Unions, Police Chief Clinton J. Eaton commented that he thought "Uncle Sam's mail service" set a record when he sent a letter to Georgetown, Massachusetts, on the 11 A.M. train and got a reply back on the 5 P.M. train.

A major change in postal operations occurred in July 1905, when the rural free delivery (RFD) carrier service began, with George E. Garland and Clinton H. Durant as carriers. Delivery service had been tried on an experimental basis before this time. The Grange was largely credited with promoting the RFD system, which provided delivery service to rural locations, not to the Village area. (Household and business mail delivery in the Village did not begin until 1946.) A 1905 Union editorial boasted, "With a good steam and electric [railroad] service, rural free delivery, grocery teams which call at the house two or three times each week, to say nothing of the butcher and the baker, the resident of Hampton has the advantages and none of the disadvantages of the dweller in the city. Hampton needs only to be advertised to draw many here for residence."

The Beach had morning and afternoon mail delivery, and those who wanted to post a letter between times could hand it to a grocery-store delivery man, who mailed it for them at the post office. The uptown delivery was once a day, but one could go to the post office and pick up mail at any time, many times per day, as people often did.

Following Carrie Cole, who died in 1901, was Ernest G. Cole, half brother of Myron. Despite his many business responsibilities, Cole remained postmaster until 1912, a period when the Beach rapidly expanded and the amount of mail increased accordingly. As an example of post office growth, total receipts for 1902 were $1,836; by 1911, receipts increased to $5,000. August 1911 was a record-breaking month at the post office, with 72,700 one-cent stamps sold. These stamps were used for postcards, and it was not unusual for Mr. Garland to bring in more than 2,000 cards gathered at his store at one collection. A tremendous number and variety of postcards was issued at the Beach, as any of Hampton's current postcard collectors will agree, but the post office often had to remind card buyers that stamps were required. Many unstamped cards were found in the mail collections. The growth of the Beach also had an effect on the postal receipts. August 1907 receipts were $1,001; August 1911 totaled $1,284; December 1907 receipts were $219, and December 1911 income totaled $305.

In 1912, the Hampton post office handled 25 mails per day, including mail leaving by trolley at 7:10 A.M. and others coming and going by trolley and train until 5:40 P.M. Beach patrons received two deliveries per day for four months, a service offered to only three other areas in the country. The post office also had a savings department, the first depositor being Charles M. Batchelder, member of the Board of Education and the former postmaster.

Cole was followed as postmaster by Fred Sanborn (1912-22), Herbert Perkins (1922-32), and Edwin L. Batchelder (1932-55). Batchelder was followed by Samuel A. Towle, the first local postmaster for whom postal work was a profession. Before Towle, postmasters were businessmen who often were helped to their position through political connections. Towle, a descendant of an early Hampton settler, spent his working years with the post office, first as a railway clerk sorting mail on the train, then in Boston, and, beginning in 1924, in the Hampton post office. He became assistant postmaster in 1942, was appointed postmaster by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955, and served until his retirement in 1964, a year when the Democrats were controlling the national political scene. During the next 18 years, he donated more than 2,500 hours of service to Exeter Hospital. An active member of the Meeting House Green Memorial and Historical Association and a member of the Planning Board, Towle died in December 1988.

Towle was replaced by businessman and Democrat George Downer, who was postmaster from 1964 until he retired in 1981. Downer was the last local postmaster to receive an appointment through congressional action. He was replaced by John C. Burrington, a career postal employee who had worked his way up from positions in Maine, Vermont, New York, and Massachusetts. Current postmaster Gordon Hurley replaced Burrington in 1983.

A new brick post office building was opened in the square adjacent to the depot in 1932*. That year, receipts were $12,275. When that building became overcrowded, the search began for a new location, and Hampton plunged into one of its many minor controversies. New construction was delayed for a time as local residents tried to decide on a proper site. After a proposal for a Winnacunnet Road site was rejected, a compromise location at 363 Lafayette Road was selected, and the new building opened in 1962. Receipts at that time had risen to $84,000. In 1963, the price of a first-class stamp was increased from 4 to 5 cents, and the ZIP Code program began. Continual growth necessitated another new post office, which opened in 1985 on Stickney Terrace. A first-class stamp cost 25 cents in 1989.

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