The Exeter, Hampton & Amesbury Street Railway: Streetcars, Casino, Bridge, and Municipal Folly, 1897-1926
HAMPTON: A CENTURY OF TOWN AND BEACH, 1888-1988
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Chapter 2 -- Part 1
The Trolley Era
As suggested in the preceding chapter, the Beach was poised for growth as the nineteenth century came to its conclusion. Textile mills were humming in the Merrimack Valley and in the mill towns of the New Hampshire seacoast. Workers wanted, and needed, some place for recreation. The questions were where would they go and how would they get there.
Many Hampton businesspeople thought the Boston & Maine Railroad could extend a spur track from the Hampton depot to Boar's Head, but only a few hotels were there, and the tourist business seemed more profitable in the White Mountains, where some individual hotels of the day could handle more guests than the combined hotels at Hampton Beach. White Mountains hotels catered to wealthy guests who often came with their families for stays of a month or more. The small paychecks of textile workers could hardly support the kind of business the railroad wanted.
An alternative was the electric-powered street railway. In 1889, when there were less than 100 miles of trolley lines in the United States, the Exeter Street Railway Company was chartered by the Legislature, with a proposal to run a line from Exeter to Hampton Beach, but nothing came of the plans of its incorporators, a group of Exeter businessmen. On April 11, 1891, the Hampton Street Railway was chartered by the Legislature and empowered to build a line from the Hampton depot to Hampton Beach and northerly along the seashore to the North Hampton town line. The incorporators were Colonel Stebbins H. Dumas (proprietor of the Hotel Whittier), Charles Philbrick, Attorney Warren Brown, Jacob S. Brown, and S. W. Dearborn. As with the Exeter Company, this group failed to do anything more than incorporate, and it remained only as a legal entity.
Into the area came Wallace D. Lovell, an entrepreneur from West Newton, Massachusetts, lately returned from Mexico, where he left a number of failed business enterprises. There are few details available about Lovell, although trolley historian O. R. Cummings describes Lovell as a promoter who used borrowed money to create businesses that he hoped to sell at a profit for himself and his associates. (Cummings booklet, Trolleys to the Casino, published in 1969, and James W. Tucker's "Our Town" columns, published in the Hampton Union from September 27, 1951, through November 8, 1961, form the factual basis for this section, and they are must reading for those who wish to review the details of the street railway.)
Lovell learned of the unused Exeter charter, and, following a meeting at the Hotel Whittier, he and some associates acquired the rights from the Exeter company for $500, formed a separate construction company to build the line, ordered equipment and rolling stock, and received approvals from the town meetings of Exeter and Hampton.
Since the Exeter Street Railway was not authorized to sell power to individuals or town governments, Lovell also organized the Rockingham Electric Company, receiving a charter on March 19, 1897. This company could buy power from the street railway company and resell it, a business that ultimately became the Exeter and Hampton Electric Company.
Hampton voted to exempt the new company from property taxes at a special town meeting on April 24, 1897, and construction of the railroad began about a week later, when Italian laborers began grading the roadbed between Hampton Village and the Beach. Usually referred to in news accounts of the day as a "gang of Italians," some 125 workers were housed in the Drake's Pond icehouse.
On May 19, 1897, at 10:30 A.M., in front of the Hotel Whittier, Hampton Judge Charles M. Lamprey drove the first spike for the electric railway. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Judge Lamprey was the first signer on the petition for the special April 24, 1897, town meeting, and as justice of the peace, he witnessed the HBIC lease signing on April 7, 1898. He may have been a street-railway investor, but he was also the only lawyer in Hampton.) It was a festive occasion, and schoolchildren were released from classes to witness the historic event. While a Portsmouth Chronicle account of the events says the first spike was solid silver, tradition says it was a gold-plated iron spike, and that it was soon removed "to be carefully treasured," although it has now disappeared. Lovell, C. A. and L. M. Cotton (sons of Boston trolley investor C. L. Cotton), J. Warren Towle, O. H. Whittier, engineer H. F. Lincoln, George F. Hayes, J. P. D. Wingate, and Oliver Godfrey all drove spikes as part of the ceremony. Godfrey, then 84 years old, had been the proprietor of the Whittier when the steam railroad came to Hampton in 1840.
Apparently some people were apprehensive about the impact and wisdom of the trolley line, so Judge Lamprey, in his remarks prior to driving the spike, offered a short history lesson:
One hundred years ago this present week, the people collected in front of the present town hall, for the raising of that building, which was then the town's church. There was more or less croaking at that early day on the ground that the old church was still suitable. Eighty-two years ago the present month [May 1815] there was another gathering at this spot for the raising of the Hotel Whittier. There was more or less croaking then, on the ground that a new hotel was not advisable and wouldn't pay. This is the oldest wayside inn in New England, the site having been used continuously for more than 200 years.
Fifty-four years ago the present month [May 1843] the people gathered before the Congregational Church for the raising of that building to which there was more or less objection.
Today, May 19, is the most important of all the days of the past one hundred years. The people have come together to lay the first rails connecting Hampton and Exeter whose settlement was contemporaneous in 1638; one, the oldest beach town east of Boston, and the other, the shire town and one of the most beautiful places of all New England. When these two towns are connected by rail, they will be made a unity and the political division will be forgotten. It will bring to Hampton increased wealth and prosperity as a summer resort. It will increase the prosperity and importance of noted Exeter.
Concluding his remarks, the judge drove the first spike. The Italian laborers, in two crews--one working toward the Beach, the other toward Exeter--began laying the track, setting the poles, and stringing the wire. The rails were 60 feet long and weighed 1,200 pounds, and that first day about 1,500 feet of track was laid. The Beach crew once laid a record 4,800 feet in a single day, and with that speed, the line was soon completed, reaching Hampton Beach, approximately opposite today's Highland Avenue, on July 3. The next day, Sunday, town officials and invited guests made the first run, leaving the Village at 6:15 A.M. By the end of the day, some 500 passengers had made the trip from Hampton depot to the Beach.
On July 10, the line from Hampton Village along Exeter Road to the Great Bridge outside downtown Exeter was completed. The next day, 4,000 passengers were carried to the Beach, making the trip in about one hour. The final spike was driven on August 2, connecting Exeter depot with Hampton Beach, a track distance of 12.129 miles.
While the tracks were being laid, the trolley company was building both a car house and a power station on Exeter Road just west of the junction with Timber Swamp Road. Construction began in April, and it was these two structures that Hampton residents voted to exempt from taxes. The wooden car house, built by Abbott L. Joplin, was 140 feet long and 48 feet wide, contained three tracks and a repair shop, and could store 12 streetcars. Later the building was lengthened to 205 feet and a fourth track was added to increase storage capacity to 24 cars. The building was protected by an automatic sprinkler system, and a private telephone line connected the car house with all track turnouts and railway terminals.
The brick powerhouse was built in three sections--a boiler room, an engine and condenser room, and an office. Behind the building, a small pond, still known as Car House Pond, provided water for the boilers, although a deep artesian well was drilled later when more boilers were added. When constructed, the building had three boilers and two engines, each belted to a DC generator, and another engine belted to another generator solely to power 70 streetlights provided to the town of Exeter for $78.50 per year. Electricity was later generated for the Casino and other company buildings at the Beach. Other hotels and individual home owners also wired into the service, adding revenue to the company. In 1899, the Town of Hampton paid the company $200 for electricity for a few streetlights.
The railroad company began operation with five open and five closed 10-bench cars, all built by the Briggs Carriage Company of Amesbury, Massachusetts. Other rolling stock included a freight car, a flat car, and two Taunton nose plows, plus a horse-drawn tower wagon (used to reach the wires on poles), and a buggy.
The schedule that first summer called for hourly departures from Exeter from 7 A.M. until noon, then half-hourly until 10 P.M. (11 P.M. from the Beach), and half-hourly on Sundays beginning at 8 A.M. Two cars were required for the hourly schedule, four for the half-hourly timetable. Originally, there were three fare zones, each section costing 5 cents; Exeter depot to the Hampton town line; the town line to Whittier's (later changed to the Hampton railroad crossing to accommodate Boston & Maine Railroad passengers getting off at Hampton depot); and from there to the Beach.
The first year of operation must have pleased even the optimistic Lovell. There were 6,625 round trips from Exeter to Hampton Beach, for 159,000 passenger miles. Total passengers carried during the first year numbered 554,849. Revenue from fares plus receipts for carrying mail and freight, and miscellaneous income totaled $29,023. There was an operating profit of $4,931.
Lovell's method of operation raised a few questions, however, and perhaps his investors, mostly banks, should have paid closer attention to a report filed by the Railroad Commission of New Hampshire in late 1897:
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 will 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 of 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 have placed themselves in a position in which, if they are so disposed, 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.
There was no further complaint from the commission. Apparently Lovell and his associates made changes to satisfy the State, and they began expanding their system. Since the Exeter Street Railway was only chartered to do business in Exeter and Hampton, a new company was incorporated by Lovell on June 13, 1898, as the new Hampton and Amesbury Street Railway to extend the line south from Whittier's to connect at the Massachusetts border with the Haverhill and Amesbury Street Railway, which was being extended north from Salisbury Square. Construction began in November 1898 and was finished in May 1899. With this connection it was possible to ride by trolley from Boston and beyond Hampton Beach.
Next Lovell received a charter from Massachusetts to extend a line from the junction at Smithtown (Seabrook), through Salisbury Plains, direct to Amesbury. The Amesbury & Hampton Street Railway was charted in March 1899. At the same time, the Exeter Street Railway lines were extended south at Hampton Beach to the Casino (and a temporary line all the way to the river) and north from Winnacunnet Road to the North Hampton town line, where a connection was planned with the line from Portsmouth. In February 1899, Lovell's group incorporated a new company, which received a state charter to combine the various lines into the Exeter, Hampton & Amesbury (EH&A) Street Railway. This was accomplished at a stockholders' meeting on May 20, 1899, through an exchange of equal shares of stock and adoption of the new charter. The Amesbury & Hampton, which was not yet built but could not be part of the New Hampshire company because it was a Massachusetts-chartered corporation, was simply leased to the EH&A on July 1, 1900. The EH&A now included 26.216 miles of track from Exeter to Hampton Beach and from Whittier's to Smithtown and on to Market Square in Amesbury. Since most of the line carried half-hourly traffic during the summer, the company ordered 15 new cars from Briggs to meet its passenger commitments. By the end of 1900, the EH&A had seven 20-foot closed cars, one Duplex convertible, 13 10-bench open cars, eight 14-bench open cars, a combination mail and baggage car, a freight car, four snowplows, and a number of work cars.
Lovell must have been pleased with this expansion, because 1900 was a profitable year for the EH&A, with gross revenues of $75,029 and profits of $16,920. A year later, the company reported revenues of $105,298 and profits of $23,900. Included was $22,173 in revenue from the electric company and the Hampton Beach Casino, which opened in the summer of 1899.
In September 1899, the EH&A began carrying pouch mail between Exeter and Smithtown, and picking up and depositing mail at the Hampton depot, where it was transferred to B&M trains. Despite complaints by local residents that the streetcar mail service was slower than the previous system--which used individuals and the various B&M stations in Hampton, Hampton Falls, and Seabrook--the following February the company was awarded a contract for a railway post office. A new combination mail and baggage car, built in Newburyport, was ordered and the Exeter & Amesbury RPO (railway post office) delivered mail between those two communities. Beginning its route in Amesbury, the car made three round trips daily, except Sunday, and one round trip on holidays. In 1900, the car delivered to groups of postal boxes in Salisbury, and picked up and left mail at boxes three times daily on the Exeter Road just east of Dow's Hill, and also at similar boxes in Exeter on the other side of the hill.
Transporting passengers and mail was only part of Lovell's grand plan. To increase business on his streetcar lines, he planned and built a number of recreational attractions. The two best known, and still operating, are Canobie Lake Park in Salem and the Hampton Beach Casino, the latter built in 1899 and expanded in 1900 and 1901.
The consolidation of the several small trolley lines into the EH&A was just the beginning of Lovell's grand plan to connect Hampton Beach to the masses of the Merrimack Valley cities. In 1901, the Lovell group received New Hampshire charters to build (1) the Portsmouth & Exeter; (2) the Seabrook & Hampton Beach, a line from Smithtown Junction, down Walton Road, across Washington Street and down South Main Street to Seabrook Beach, then across the Hampton River Bridge to Hampton Beach; and (3) the Haverhill, Plaistow & Newton, a line to connect those communities directly to Hampton Beach via Amesbury.
A Massachusetts charter was given to the Haverhill & Plaistow, a short line that connected the city of Haverhill with Lovell's other line, which ended in Plaistow at the Massachusetts border. Passengers on the Lawrence, Lowell & Haverhill, owned by a different company, could change to Lovell's line in Haverhill for a trip to Hampton Beach. Contracts to build the new railroads were awarded to Lovell's Massachusetts Construction Company, which subcontracted the actual work to others. All of these new lines were leased to the EH&A.
Coincident with the creation of the new streetcar lines were two other Lovell companies, both chartered in 1900: the Rockingham County Light and Power Company and the Granite State Land Company. The power company generated the electricity for the expanded trolley lines and for anticipated customers for electricity along the railroad routes. Soon after being formed in October 1900, the company purchased the Portsmouth Light and Gas Company and built a new Portsmouth power plant, which opened in 1902.
The Granite State Land Company had two goals, the most important of which was construction and ownership of the Hampton River Bridge. In February 1901, Lovell also acquired the empty land in Seabrook Beach and subdivided it. Since he controlled all of these companies, and he had no wish to compete with his own business at Hampton Beach, Seabrook Beach was developed only as a summer residential community.
In 1900, Seabrook Beach was still undeveloped, because there was no road across the Blackwater River and the construction of this bridge was the first step in building the Seabrook & Hampton Beach line. Hampton contractors H. B. Brown and Fred Perkins were hired to build the new road from South Seabrook to the Beach. The 30-foot-wide road would be used for trolleys and other vehicles.
The Reverend Elder William Rand, pastor of the South Seabrook church, rang the church bells, cannons were fired, and a one-hour celebration was held when road construction commenced in April 1901, once again using a "gang of Italians." By May, 45 men were at work extending South Dock Road across the marsh, building the Blackwater River Bridge, and extending the road to Seabrook Beach. Soon after, the trolley tracks were laid down, and service from Smithtown to Hampton River commenced in October, with hourly trains running for a month or so, then suspended until May 1902. The Union reported in May on "the transformation of Seabrook Beach from a barren desert to a beautiful summer resort," based on the plans of landscape architect Frank M. Blaisdell. With a gang of 60 Italians, the Seabrook sand dunes were leveled. A 6,000-foot breakwater was under construction and new streets were named Euclid, Whittier, Byron, Park, and Seabrook. Two large parks were planned, and the paper suggested that cottages would be underway within 60 days.
While the Seabrook line was being readied, Cowles & Childs construction company of Northampton, Massachusetts, was awarded the Hampton River Bridge contract, which began in May 1901. With the bridge completed, Lovell and the EH&A's six streetcar lines maintained 59.629 miles of track, 50 passenger cars, a mail car, eight work cars, and six snowplows. There were car barns in Stratham, Plaistow, and Amesbury, and in 1902 a new car house was built in Hampton, across Exeter Road from the old car house and the power station. The new building was built with 420,000 bricks and had six tracks.
The last major addition to the Casino in 1901 coincided with the start of construction of the fourth major element that transformed Hampton from a small New England beach community into a major American resort at the turn of the century: the building of the Hampton River Bridge, which opened to the public on May 14, 1902.
In May 1901, the Hampton Union proclaimed,
The new bridge that Mr. Lovell is to build over Hampton River near its mouth has been talked of considerably of late, and many people have thought that such a bridge as this would not be built for some time, doubting if such a costly undertaking would pay. The idea of a 5,000 foot boulevard bridge over a tidal river, placed for the greater part on piles, seems a stupendous undertaking even for the powerful Lovell interests, but it now seems assured, as only a few days ago the contracts for building it were awarded to Boston parties. With this bridge crossing Hampton River near its mouth, a direct access will be given to the north coast Beach (from Merrimack Valley cities) and a more beautiful trolley ride or carriage drive could scarcely be imagined. Plank will be smoothly planed, making a dance floor of the whole bridge surface.
In mid-May, the first shipment of oak piles, 30 to 40 feet long, arrived at Hampton depot, were taken by trolley to the Beach, and then were hauled by horse teams to the bridge site. A schooner from Maine was supposedly bringing more piles, which would be unloaded at the Hampton Landing. The piles then would be brought back to the bridge site on scows. The first task of Cowles & Childs was to drive wells to provide water for the three steam pile drivers. When finished, the 4,923-foot bridge cost $70,000 and had 5,270 oak piles, each 28 feet long and 13 inches thick. About 1.8 million board feet of hard pine was used for the floor and timbers, and the structure was held together with 25 tons of iron bolts. With a deck 8 feet above mean high water, the bridge had a 30-foot-wide draw weighing 25 tons and operated by balance weights. Its deck was 30 feet wide, with 10 feet on the ocean side used for the tracks and the rest open for pedestrian and carriage travel.
By the end of August, 1,200 piles had been driven and some 500 feet of planking had been installed. It was expected that the bridge would be finished that first construction season, but there were delays--including the loss of two rafts of several thousand feet of southern pine, shipped from Biddeford, Maine, and worth $4,200, in a storm off Boar's Head in October.
The bridge was situated just west of the present Neil R. Underwood Memorial Bridge, and most of its length was on the Seabrook side of the river. Although it had no official name, it was usually referred to as the Mile Bridge, being just 350 feet short of that length, making it the longest wooden structure of its type in New England, and some said the world.
In one of Hampton's most impressive ceremonies, the bridge was opened on May 14, 1902, when New Hampshire Governor Chester B. Jordan ran the first streetcar from Hampton to the Seabrook side. Earlier, Lovell and his 200 invited guests were served a banquet at the Hotel Whittier, the Casino perhaps not then open for the season. After dining at high noon on escalloped oysters, cold roast turkey, tongue, sliced ham, French-fried potatoes, chicken salad, lobster salad, Harlequin ices, assorted cakes, and coffee, the party traveled down to the Beach and crossed the bridge, where a platform had been built near the Seabrook end (but actually in that wedge of Hampton Falls that at the same time extended to Bound Rock). Thousands of chilled but excited spectators listened to the Exeter Band, the Governor, and six other orators before the event was adjourned, and many people went to Cutler's for further celebration. That afternoon, regular service across the bridge commenced, and the new route had an impact on Hampton Village. During the first week of September 1901 (the last beach weekend before the bridge opened), the Hampton depot may have had its busiest time ever, as there were 44,000 riders; baggagemaster John Akerman and one assistant had to handle all the trunks. On the Monday, every car of the EH&A was in use, and passengers had a four-hour wait to get a ride to the Beach. After the bridge opened in May, more riders went directly to the Beach via the southern route.
During the summer of 1902, the main beach was busier than ever. Streetcars brought passengers from the Merrimack Valley via the new Seabrook line and the Mile Bridge. That route also was used by cars from Salisbury Beach. From the north, the Portsmouth Electric Railway, owned by the B&M, was extended to the Hampton-North Hampton town line in June 1900, and it brought tourists from Portsmouth and southern Maine. The Portsmouth-Hampton run at first required passengers to change cars at Portsmouth Junction, the connection of the two lines at the North Hampton town line, but later the two railways worked out a summer-only through passenger service. On a half-hourly schedule, cars from Market Square, Portsmouth, covered the 13.8 miles through Rye Center, Rye Beach, North Hampton, and Little Boar's Head to Hampton Beach in 1 hour 15 minutes. The 25.6 miles between Haverhill and Hampton Beach took 1 hour 45 minutes. Cars left the Casino at 15 and 45 minutes before the hour for Haverhill and Portsmouth, and left on the hour and half hour for Hampton Village and Exeter.
Construction of the bridge and the new trolley lines had severely taxed the financial reserves of Lovell and his Massachusetts Construction Company, which owned the assets of the railroads. As explained by O. R. Cummings, Lovell operated on borrowed money and credit. He obtained loans by pledging the securities of the companies he created, and he planned to profit by selling the securities to investors when the companies were in operation. Lovell's bankers, the New York Security and Trust Company, with vast sums loaned to Lovell and nothing received in return, were finally concerned about the financial operations and seized the promoter's assets in October 1901. Lovell and four others then created the New Hampshire Traction Company in November 1901, and, through a series of transactions, the Massachusetts Construction Company transferred its stocks and bonds, which represented the ownership of the various companies, to the New York bank, which in turn transferred the securities to the Traction Company in exchange for its securities. This effectively made the bank the owner of the Traction Company, and it hired Lovell for $6,000 to run the company and to complete the construction. The bank then loaned the Traction Company the huge sums needed to finish construction and expansion of the railways. Included in these transactions were Canobie Lake Park, the Hampton Beach Casino and other Beach property, and the electric company.
The bankers were interested in more than just protecting their investment. Optimistic financial reports predicted a bright future for the completed system. Sanderson & Porter, electric railroad engineers, estimated the company would generate yearly profits of up to $385,000. In 1903, the six lines represented a capital investment of $1,730,445, with capital stock of $785,000 and bonded debt of $690,000, the bonds paying 5 percent.
For the year ending June 30, 1902, the EH&A showed a profit of only $6,450 and paid an unearned dividend of $8,250, but the following year the line lost $29,323 and its leased sister lines lost another $78,883. In 1904, the combined losses were $82,414. After five years of unprecedented growth and small profits, the EH&A started on a financial decline that led to receivership and finally to Hampton's extraordinary decision to run the line as a municipal company. In the end, the EH&A was undone mainly by Henry Ford and his decision to make automobiles available to the mass market, but another reason for the financial difficulty was the nature of the trolley system itself. It was based on summer tourist business, and there was not enough passenger traffic in the off-season to support operations. Several winter storms shut down the trolley lines for days, weeks, and sometimes months at a time, cutting into the railroad's expected income from fares. Even with reduced and, later, curtailed winter service, the expense of maintaining track and rolling stock could not be met by the short peak-season income. Early in 1903, Lovell left the company to pursue other financial schemes, but, according to Cummings, he was unsuccessful. On March 19,1906, Lovell died at the age of 56, "broken in health and spirit."
From 1902 until 1906, the New Hampshire Traction Company operated the Lovell street railway system. The company designated the EH&A as its Eastern Division and its lines in the New Hampshire Merrimack Valley as the Western Division. Business was brisk during the summer season, with cars running half-hourly between Hampton Beach and Haverhill and north to Portsmouth. Fares continued to be 5 cents per zone, with riders paying 30 cents between Haverhill and the Beach, 15 cents from Exeter to the Beach, and 5 cents from Whittier's to Portsmouth Junction. Discounted round-trip tickets were available, and special workingman's reduced-rate tickets cost 3-1/2 cents each.
The winter schedules were much reduced and usually went into effect from the end of September until December, when they were reduced further until April 1. They were expanded to the summer schedule by Memorial Day. The hourly service to Hampton Beach ended December 1, and at the same time the entire Smithtown-to-Seabrook Beach service ended, to be resumed April 1. During 1904, Hampton Beach service in midwinter was limited to one 7:40 A.M. run, and then hourly from 12:40 until 5:40 P.M. Cars still connected with Portsmouth cars at Portsmouth Junction. This limited schedule was set up primarily to service schoolchildren going to East End School and workmen going to and from the Beach and Portsmouth.
By 1904 the trolleys were no longer novelties, and, while they could run profitably in the cities, the small towns of Amesbury, Salisbury, Exeter, and Hampton could not support the costs of operation in the off-season. From 1903 through 1905, the combined losses for the EH&A and its leased lines were $230,544. In 1905, the New Hampshire Traction Company reported a loss for all of its divisions of $371,000. The company was failing to meet its bond and dividend payments and was borrowing more money to pay expenses.
A bondholders' protective committee created the New Hampshire Electric Railways as a volunteer trust association in August 1905, and it acquired control of the Traction Company and its assets, including the EH&A Street Railway. Late that year, the EH&A served notice on its bondholders that it would be unable to meet the interest payments due December 1. A bondholders' committee was formed, and, on petition of this committee, the Rockingham County Superior Court named Allen Hollis of Concord receiver of the railway.
The EH&A's leases of the Amesbury & Hampton, Seabrook & Hampton Beach, Haverhill & Plaistow, Haverhill, Plaistow & Newton, and Portsmouth & Exeter Street Railways were canceled immediately after receivership. The Portsmouth & Exeter was abandoned in 1912, and the other four companies were merged with the Massachusetts Northeastern Street Railway in 1913. The Northeastern acquired the Hampton River Bridge from the Granite State Land Company in 1914. the Rockingham County Light and Power Company changed its name several times after 1914 and in 1965 became part of Public Service Company of New Hampshire.
Hollis borrowed $40,000 dollars to rehabilitate the badly neglected line, installing thousand of new ties, stringing new trolley wire, and repairing the cars. At this time, the company was composed of about 21 miles of track from Exeter to Hampton Beach and north to Portsmouth Junction, and from Whittier's to Smithtown. Assets included the car barn and powerhouse on Exeter Road, 25 units of rolling stock (including 13 passenger cars) the Casino, the Ocean House, and a number of small cottages at the Beach. From 1907 through 1920, the Beach properties were leased to Rufus E. Graves of Exeter and C.J. Ramsdell.
Adding to the financial woes of the line, the wooden car house on Exeter Road burned in March 1907, with a loss of five open bench cars and two work cars. Insurance proceeds were used by the receiver to purchase the 1902 brick car house on the opposite side of the road and to replace those cars destroyed in the fire.
In accordance with a reorganization plan developed by the bondholders' committee, the mortgage securing the EH&A's bonds was foreclosed in November 1907, and by court order the railway's assets were sold at auction in March 1908 to the bondholders for $250,000. The lighting business was separated from the street railway on March 30 to become the Exeter & Hampton Electric Company. The EH&A was reorganized under its old name and a separate Exeter Railway Lighting Company was set up to own the securities of both the railway and the power company. Allen Hollis became president of all three companies.
From 1907 until 1920, the story of the trolley company is one of continuing decline with occasional bright spots. Some years the company made a profit, and it usually made money for its June-July-August operation because Hampton Beach was a powerful attraction. From 1908 through 1916, the company made a profit only five times. Travel picked up in 1918 because of the increased work at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and because of the off-duty military people at the base who came to the Beach, but the end of the trolley business was drawing near, at least in Hollis's mind. Automobiles were now crowding Hampton Beach, and, while the streetcars were busy, many runs that had been operated in sections of two or more cars now were made with a single car.
While finances were shaky, Hollis was also the target of repeated complaints from Hampton people, especially Merrill H. Browne. Many front pages of the Union were composed of Browne's letters to the editor, often on the subject of the Hampton Beach Improvement Company or the Beach popcorn license, but also on the matter of streetcar service. In an effort to generate more money, Hollis petitioned the state several times and received permission to increase fares and/or increase the number of fare zones. In 1911, an increase in fares from 5 to 6 cents angered the town, and some people began boycotting the streetcars. In April, a citizens' committee of Browne, Charles Francis Adams, and George T. Lindsay was appointed to meet with Hollis to discuss a variety of complaints. Hollis agreed to build a waiting room at the B&M depot and said some fares could be dropped to 5 cents but not immediately, since the boycott was hurting income. He refused to change the transfer point from Whittier's to the depot. He also backed the work of Superintendent J.A. MacAdams, who, he said, "…has worked hard and conscientiously to build up an impoverished street railway…" In June, MacAdams was seriously injured when hit with 19,000 volts of electricity while talking on the telephone with engineer E.J. Stickney. Apparently the power line had touched the telephone line.
In September, still unhappy with Hollis, the citizens' committee filed further complaints with the Public Service Commission, asking for erection of the depot waiting room, reduction of fares or a reduction of fare zones, reduction of the round-trip fare from Exeter to the Beach from 40 cents to 25 cents, and improved winter service from the Village to the Beach. The latter route was a continuing source of complaint, and, in November 1911, the company petitioned to shut it down completely in the winter. The citizens' committee and Browne individually also filed petitions, and the route remained open. In 1914 there was a further complaint about ending the winter runs in front of Leavitt's instead of the Casino, where some 20 students boarded the cars to ride to school. Most of the winter riding, however, was between Whittier's and the East End School. Although the cars continued to run to the Beach and to Portsmouth Junction to meet the Portsmouth Electric, often the two-man car crew outnumbered the passengers. In 1916, the Board of Trade complained that high fares and schedule changes were keeping tourists, especially ones from Massachusetts, from coming to the Beach.
Also operating at a loss was the Whittier's-to-Smithtown run, and, because of inconvenient schedules and the expense of transfers between the two streetcar companies at Smithtown, some riders found it faster and cheaper to take the B&M from Newburyport and Salisbury and to transfer to the trolley at Hampton to go to Exeter rather than to ride the trolley all the way.
In October 1917, fares were increased to 7 cents, with student fares remaining at 3 cents. In April 1918, the fares were increased to 10 cents, and the Exeter-Hampton run was reduced from three zones to two.
While these changes increased revenues, the losses continued. In September 1918, the EH&A petitioned the Public Service Commission to discontinue permanently service between Exeter and Hampton Beach and Whittier's-to-Smithtown. It also asked to discontinue temporarily that portion of its line from Portsmouth Junction to Hampton River and its two short branches connecting Smithtown with Massachusetts lines. This petition was met with concern by officials and residents in Exeter, Hampton Falls, Seabrook and Hampton. Despite the local outcry, the commission agreed the company could not continue to operate at a loss and granted the petition, but they ruled that the company could not permanently abandon the line until May 1, 1919, although they could shut it down temporarily. This order was issued in January and the company announced it would shut down on February 1.
People from the four towns decided the solution was to buy the company, and they voted at town meetings to have a bill filed in the Legislature that would permit municipal ownership of the line by the four towns. H.L. Tobey, Hampton insurance man and co-founder of the Hampton Cooperative Bank, was the leader of the municipal ownership approach. He convinced Hollis to keep the line running until the legislation could be passed and the towns could vote to raise the money to take over the line.
In March 1919, the Legislature passed the enabling bill, but the company continued to operate at a loss, hoping to get more in return if the line was still operating. Hampton held several special town meetings during 1919 and reports were filed by various town committees. Among those serving on committees were Tobey, Howell M. Lamprey, Horace M. Lane, Irvin E. Leavitt, Edwin L. Batchelder, George Ashworth, Joseph B. Brown, and Harry D. Munsey. The plan called for Hampton to buy the line and for the other towns to provide subsidies. Finally, in December 1920, after Hollis had petitioned to abandon the Whittier's-to-Smithtown line and gave Hampton a price of $80,000, a special town meeting voted 155-118 to go forward with the purchases. Hampton would issue bonds for that sum and for $20,000 more in operating expenses.
On January 7, 1921, the Town offered $76,000, which Hollis accepted and the Legislature validated the deal on February 3. The transfer of ownership was delayed, however, by citizens opposed to the purchase who filed suit in Superior Court and placed reconsideration articles in the 1921 town warrant. Among those opposed were the Reverend Edgar Warren, Union editor and publisher Charles Francis Adams, and Selectman Edwin Batchelder, who likely was the court petitioner. When the Town voted to indefinitely postpone the two articles, the court suit was withdrawn and the railroad was transferred to the Town on April 6, 1921. For its money, the town of Hampton received from the Exeter Railway & Lighting Company the tracks and wires from Exeter to Hampton Beach and north to Portsmouth Junction, and from Whittier's to Smithtown, plus all rolling stock. The Town also got $100,000 in stock and $76,000 in mortgage bonds, payment for which was made with the municipal bonds issued by the Town on February 1, 1921. The ER&L sold the bridge to Massachusetts Northeastern Railway for $6,000, and the Casino, Ocean House, and cottages were bought by Graves and Ramsdell.
Charles Greenman was elected president of the municipal Company, with Joseph B. Brown vice president, Tobey secretary and clerk, Howard G. Lane, treasurer, and Dean B. Merrill assistant treasurer. Directors were the officers plus Irvin E. Leavitt, George Ashworth, and Harry D. Munsey. In late 1921, L. Frank Stevens of Hampton, a longtime conductor, was appointed superintendent of the railway, serving until 1925. B. T. Janvrin of Hampton Falls and Elihu T. Adams of Seabrook were appointed directors in 1922 when those two towns made their appropriations for the railroad subsidy. Leavitt became vice president and Merrill a director in 1922.
Greenman, Ashworth, Tobey, and Merrill were among the town's leading businessmen. With Selectman Brown and Munsey part of the board of directors, the municipal railroad seemed to have the right people to ensure the success of the venture. Instead, the company's revenues continued to decline and the Town was forced to appropriate money from taxes to meet expenses, improve the property, and pay interest on the bonds.
With great enthusiasm, the company first rehabilitated the track, wires, and rolling stock, and they ran on a schedule similar to that of previous years: Exeter to Hampton Beach, Whittier's to Smithtown, and Hampton Beach to Portsmouth Junction. While there was an increase in riders from the previous years and money was saved by running two one-man cars in the off-season, the town railway ended 1921 with a $4,000 loss. President Greenman predicted the next year would show savings of $4,000 allowing the line to break even. The line was able to cut expenses the following year, but because of a wet summer, passenger totals dropped by abort 70,000 riders, revenues were down $6,000, and, despite subsidies of $500 each from Seabrook and Hampton Falls and $2,500 from Exeter, the line lost about $6,000.
With improved maintenance, the physical condition of the railway was the best it had been for several years. Greenman was again optimistic for the 1923 season, but that year winter storms left the line snowbound and closed from January through early April, with only the Exeter-to-Hampton Village route open. The loss of revenue, the extra cost of snow removal, Seabrook's failure to provide a subsidy, and a continuing decrease in riders left the company with a loss of some $9,000. In the 1924 town report, Greenman was less enthusiastic:
The Directors are far from satisfied with the results of operations for the past two years and while it is obvious that the deficits have been in large part due to extremely severe winter and unseasonable summer weather, with the increasing use of automobiles as a contributing factor, nevertheless the fact remains that there is a deficit of such proportions that unless it can be materially reduced it may be necessary to consider…suspending winter operations entirely.
Realizing the hardships caused by the winter curtailment, the directors decided to consider several options: (1) cease winter operations if the snow is too deep to be plowed from the tracks (instead of using men to shovel); (2) raise fares from the current 2 to 2½ cents per mile to the usual 3 to 4 cents charged elsewhere; (3) ask Seabrook to pay a subsidy again; and (4) find other ways to cut expenses. Greenman also mentioned another alternative that people in town had been discussing: scrapping the trolley line and buying a motor bus. He rejected this idea because of the extra cost of purchasing a bus; the comparable operating expenses; the reduced carrying capacity of the bus compared to the trolley, which used five cars to meet the 1:15 P.M. train at the depot to carry 290 passengers to the Beach; and, "With highway congestion already existing at Hampton Beach and all approaches to it…it would simply be out of the question to operate busses on any regular schedule." One important railroad expense, Greenman wrote, was the $7,000 spent during the previous three years for entertainment at the Beach, an outlay carried over from when the EH&A had paid for a variety of entertainment at the Beach to attract riders.
Greenman was optimistic again in the 1925 town report, especially since the contract to provide entertainment (chiefly fireworks and band concerts) had expired, and he asked the line to be relieved of that cost. The new one-man car purchased by the company was more efficient than the older cars, which often needed electrical repairs, and this resulted in a savings, but the ridership was down to 406,000 and the deficit was $9,200.
By 1925, however, the EH&A was operating nearly alone. The Smithtown-to-Seabrook Beach line had been abandoned in 1920, the route from Smithtown to Amesbury in 1923, and Portsmouth to Portsmouth Junction at the North Hampton line ended in January 1925, although summer bus service was provided from Market Square, Portsmouth to North Hampton, where passengers switched to trolleys. Trolley service continued between Hampton Beach and Salisbury until 1930.
During the summer of 1925, the trolleys continued to run on the regular route, although the most frequent service was provided between the Hampton depot and the Casino, but by September 14, the schedule was reduced further. On September 20 the Hampton Falls-to-Seabrook line was abandoned and Hampton Falls received only two round trips a day from Whittier's. The Beach was served with two round trips daily on weekdays and three trips on weekends, with on-demand service at 50 cents per passenger with a minimum of two riders. Exeter and the Hampton depot continued to be served with an hourly service. The end was at hand, however, and on October 1, the directors voted to end trolley service until the summer, and then to run only between the car house, the Village, and the Casino, and to use a bus in the other three seasons. The line's employees made an offer to the directors to run the line until June 1, 1926, for what they could get out of it, but the directors declined to accept the proposal. As Greenman explained the situation in the town report, the line had a profit of $4,300 in June, July, and August, but the rest of the year the line lost $1,000 to $1,500 per month. Fare-paying passengers dropped to 326,000 and the deficit was $7,400.
The Public Service Commission approved the proposed changes and the last trolley cars ran on January 26, 1926, with the single bus service beginning the next day. There was no occasion marking the end of the trolleys because the directors intended to run again in the summer, but at the 1926 town meeting, residents--led by businessman Lemuel C. Ring--called a halt, voting to discontinue the transportation company, discharge the directors, dispose of the assets and apply the income against the liabilities, and to raise $5,000 per year from taxes to pay off the debts. All of this action was to be under the control of the selectmen. Articles to allow the directors to carry out their plans were passed over.
The Town had to receive approval from the Public Service Commission to abandon the operation. Meanwhile, the bus service continued, providing round trips between Exeter and Hampton, to Hampton Falls, and to the North Beach Hotel near the Coast Guard station. On Tuesday and Saturday nights, a special 60-cent ticket provided a round trip to Exeter and admission to the Ioka Theater. Even this limited service ended when the PSC granted the abandonment in April and allowed service to end May 27.
The Town moved quickly to sell off the assets of the company. The tracks and overhead material were sold for scrap, and the car house and other real estate were sold to private parties. Most of the rolling stock was sold in February 1927 to a scrap dealer, and Hampton finally netted some $42,000, which was used to pay local debts and to reduce the amount owed on the outstanding bonds. The B&M Railroad bought the bus and provided service from the Village to the Beach and from Exeter to Hampton for a few months but soon gave up the business.
Several of the streetcars remained in the local area. The body of No. 8 became the kitchen of the Hampton Diner, in the center of town, until it was dismantled in 1966. The combination mail and baggage car, No. 18, was used as a shed on the E. L. Batchelder farm on Exeter Road. Conductor George Munsey used another car as a children's playhouse, and two others lasted for a while in a campground off Lafayette Road in North Hampton. Only one car remains, and that was enclosed in stones and cement and is now a house on Mill Road, just south of the North Hampton line. According to an article by John M. Holman in the September 20, 1972, Union, this house was built in the 1930s by stone mason Ernest L. White and was sold to a Mr. Campbell of Exeter.
For many older Hampton residents, the trolley era will forever remain an exciting memory. Although the railroad provided regular travel to Portsmouth and Newburyport and cities farther away, the streetcars offered mass transportation at low cost. When the line began in 1897, there probably were some Hampton citizens who had not been to the Beach in many years, but overnight they were able to travel in comfort to a place that had previously required an uncomfortable buggy ride. Of course, the company was built to promote Hampton Beach. Though most of the passengers throughout the era were tourists, the streetcars offered a freedom for the average citizen of Hampton that many had never known before. With streetcars running often during the day, and with a variety of connections, people rode the trolleys to school, to social organizations and dances, and to church; from Winnacunnet Road to the Village; from Hampton to shopping centers in Exeter, Amesbury, Haverhill, and elsewhere. How easy it must have been in winter to jump aboard a heated car instead of walking in the snow to school or work or hitching up the horse and buggy. Streetcar schedules coincided with the last show at movie theaters, and factory and shop workers--mostly men in those days--saw their employment possibilities broadened because the trolleys ran where trains did not go and the cars ran more often.
Hampton native Horace Eastow Hobbs, who has written frequently in the Union about his Hampton boyhood memories, recalled the trolley era in August 1983. Prior to World War I, he was a summer conductor, earning 17 cents per hour for a 10-hour day. His uncle Elmer C. King, Sr., was the first trolley motorman and uncle Walter A. Scott was for a while the line's superintendent. Hobbs recalled many of the motormen with whom he worked: Bill Felch, Bill Spinney, Herbert Lamprey, Arthur Young, Bert Brown, George Munsey, Howard Lane, and "Spit" Willey, whose conversations were often accompanied by expectorations, hence the nickname. According to Hobbs, Lane and Munsey were at the controls of opposing cars that hit head-on one day on Winnacunnet Road. Hobbs recalled that Lane was a regular tobacco chewer who usually "spit over the dash," and into the wind, much to the distress of the young ladies who often rode just behind him at the front of the car. Jim Eastman, who was an early employee, remained until the end of the Town ownership, drove the bus, and was also the manager of the Beach baseball team. Starters--men who started the cars on time from various locations--included Lewis Clark and Frank Stevens, the Casino starter whose daughter Adeline became one of the first of the Miss Hampton Beach (then called the "Queen of Hampton Beach") titleholders. The men all wore blue uniforms and appeared quite dashing to the ladies of the day, according to Hobbs. Lewis Clark's starter house was at Whittier's, across the street from the home of Mary Toppan, whom he eventually married.
A less glamorous job on the railway was that of track oiler, a position held in 1907 by John Moulton. Daily he would walk from Hampton to Exeter carrying a large milk can of lubricant over his left shoulder, a stick through the handle, oiling switches, greasing curves, and watching for obstructions or needed repairs. At Exeter he rode a car back to Hampton, then walked to Smithtown, rode back to Whittier's, walked the line to the Beach and to North Hampton, and then returned home. At age 46, Moulton was walking 20 miles a day carrying his large can.
What did the experiment with a municipal transportation system, one of the few similarly owned lines in the country, cost the town of Hampton? Some $88,000 in municipal bonds and total yearly losses of $39,642.01, totaling $127,642.01. With income of $42,774.72, the net loss was $84,867.29, not much these days, but in 1926 the largest item in the town budget was $22,000 for the highway department. In his final column on the street railway, James Tucker suggested that the officers and directors of the municipal company (to say nothing of most residents) knew that the private company had been losing money for years; so why did they engage in this experiment that has ever since been a symbol of town folly? The answer may just be a simple one, as Dean Merrill, last living officer of the town company, explained in a 1986 interview:
The major reason was the fact that we were in a period of transition. Automobiles were beginning to be quite the thing to use but we were relying [on the railway] to get summer people between the railroad station…and the Beach. And when the street company decided to quit, we saw there was no transportation for people who were coming to stay with us for the summer. I think that was the major reason that people probably did something that today they never would have [done] because they were picking up a losing proposition….But for a period of time it provided a means of transportation for people between Exeter and Hampton and Hampton Beach.
Indeed, even in its last year of operation, the line carried some 300,000 passengers, and most of them were people going to the Beach, which was the town's only real industry and its largest source of income. Had the line closed some five years earlier, both the town and the Beach would have survived, but the annual loss of some $16,000 seems now to have been a small price to pay for the benefits the last years of railway provided to the residents of the town and the visitors to the Beach.
A reminder of the experiment still ticks in the town office. When the Town acquired the company, a clock in the car house was one of the assets. In 1927, some town official decided to keep the clock when everything else was sold. Hung in the old town hall, the clock was one of the few items saved when the building burned in 1949, and it keeps time today in the selectmen's meeting room.