The Beach and the Village Go "Wet"

Chapter 4 -- Part 3

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The issuance of liquor and beer licenses signaled the change at the Beach that made a year-round operation possible for many businesses and led to the development and expansion of several restaurants in the center of town. Liquor sales and prohibition of liquor have long been issues for the Town and the Beach. In June 1843, for example, a major temperance celebration was held on Boar’s Head, organized by Portsmouth individuals and organizations.

Temperance was making some headway, because in June 1874 a Portsmouth newspaper correspondent wrote,

"As to liquor, the reformation among inhabitants is wonderfully great. Formerly everybody used the pure stuff at ordinations, at funerals and on all great occasions it was freely passed around; now the general use has been entirely abandoned. Not a place in town where the vile stuff can be obtained, except for a score or more places for a few weeks at the Beach, by foreigners, and perhaps a little pure stuff kept exclusively for his guests, by our friend Whittier at the Union House, a place where its equal cannot be found at any country hotel in or out of New England.

"Formerly there were any quantity of places where liquor could be had in larger or smaller quantities in this town, generally put up and taken away in wooden bottles, pints, quarts, two quarts and four quarts, very few of which are in existence at this time. As to the use of liquor, the reformation has been great not in any degree caused by law, but wholly by moral suasion, the true antidote for drunkenness."

A liquor raid in August 1880 created a major Beach controversy. According to the Portsmouth Chronicle, a mob attacked the home of N. P. Rynes, a Concord produce dealer who summered at the south end of the Beach and sold vegetables. He was thought to have been an informer for a recent successful liquor raid. Armed with pistols, an angry crowd gathered at his house and began throwing rocks, "finally gutting the house and barn, smashing the windows and throwing the furniture and provisions into the street .... He has since been warned to leave town." Rynes escaped from his house and hid nearby, escaping the further wrath of the mob. A week later, the Chronicle carried a letter in which the writer said the raid was carried out because of a complaint that 14 places in Hampton were selling intoxicating liquors in violation of the statute. Twelve of the places were acquitted of the charges, one place was closed, and no proof of guilt was found in the last place. Apparently hotels at the time could serve liquor but the places without rooms for rent could not sell it.

In 1883, the Portsmouth Chronicle reported that the town meeting instructed the selectmen "to prosecute, at the expense of the town, every person selling intoxicating liquors in violation of the statute." Three years later, June 1886, the Chronicle said that Sheriff Kent had raided five places in Hampton on search-and-seizure warrants sworn out by temperance women," resulting in four persons being charged with having liquor for sale, pleading guilty and fined. The local chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was formed in that year, remaining active in Hampton through the years of Prohibition.

An item in a February 1887 Portsmouth newspaper reported on Hampton’s "spicy breezes," commenting that on a recent Sunday the air "in Hampton was fragrant with that curse called cider, -- for the beverage is abused in this town; many families were disturbed by those who were filled up." During October 1889, a Hampton man was brought to the Portsmouth jail, charged with breaking windows at the depot. In court the man explained that he had been drinking and thought he saw a "flock of birds flying over the building; a bucket of coal being handy, he commenced throwing chunks of anthracite, which resulted in a general smash of glass. Hampton should stop the sale of the stuff," the Portsmouth newspaper concluded.

Although the News-Letter reported in October 1891 that a few people had considered ending the WCTU meetings in order to work against liquor sales in other ways, "so many were present and the members were so full of hope and enthusiasm that it was not thought of for a moment to discontinue the meeting as had been done in the past." Joining the women were two other temperance organizations. St. John’s Council, No. 50 Knights of Temperance was led by local physician Dr. William T. Merrill, who was assisted by "forty-five of our most promising boys." Correspondent "Onyx," in reporting on a meeting of this organization, predicted, "I believe it to be the foundation of an Episcopal Church which Hampton will be proud to acknowledge." The young men and boys (none under age 14) who were members had "pledged against spirituous liquor, tobacco and all impurity of speech and behavior." The Royal Templars of Temperance had 60 or more members of all ages. Correspondent "L. E. D." predicted, "There is quite good temperance work progressing in town, which is going to be felt by and by."

Sadly, however, the News-Letter reported that on the night before the Fourth of July 1890, a young man and his wife, both intoxicated, were recklessly driving their horse and buggy around town when it overturned. "The ruined carriage was a greater loss than would have been the occupants -- at least to a better class of society. Intemperance is sadly prevalent, in this otherwise moral and quiet community."

Newspaper correspondent "Celia" reported in 1890, "Liquor is sold in this town on Sundays in a private house and people are reeling through the streets before noon." The writer continued optimistically, "The temperance workers are doing well and if they continue there will be a manifest improvement in the present aspect of affairs. In August, when Simeon P. Towle, "a man of considerable wealth [died] under disgraceful conditions," the News-Letter reported that coroners "ascribe the death to natural causes, superinduced by negligent habits, manner of living and the excessive use of intoxicants."

In February 1894, former governor David H. Goodell was to address a temperance audience for which the men of town were especially invited to attend. "It is time," the Exeter News-Letter said, "public sentiment were aroused to such an extent that drinking places in this town would no longer be tolerated." Later in September, the former Hoyt farmhouse was opened for the Huse Inebriate Cure Program, developed by Dr. Edward C. Huse of Illinois. In December, however, the Portsmouth Chronicle reported, "The Hoyt farm .... has been given up, as but few patients applied for treatment."

In June 1895, the News-Letter stated, "The selectmen will hereafter tolerate the sale of liquor at but two places in the village and but four at the Beach." These establishments had to close by 11 P.M. on weeknights and were closed on Sundays. In August, officials led by Secretary Wheeler of the state Law and Order League raided six places where liquor was being sold. Later, four proprietors paid fines of between $10 and $50. Following another raid in August 1897, the president of the WCTU, denying that the organization had received any of the money collected from liquor fines, said,

"The WCTU wishes it to be understood that it is not to be called their "raid." What a pity it is that we cannot settle this liquor business without calling or having outsiders come in to help. Are we to continue to let whoever will open saloons wherever they will. How many times has the question been asked this summer who drinks all of the beer that comes into town? Every day the beer wagons with their loads of slops (this is not original but most expressive) come into town and leave their contents for whom? We hope that some of it is carried out again and not all consumed by our citizens."

The News-Letter’s Hampton correspondent questioned another Beach raid and trial in September 1898. Several places, including J. W. Locke’s store, Mary Hastings’s Manchester House, and William Babcock’s popcorn stand, were charged under the State~ s new itinerant vendor act. All were suspected of selling liquor in bottles labeled "Moxie." Locke’s store and the Manchester House, both in operation for the previous quarter century, clearly did not come under the provisions of the law, according to the correspondent.

A State prohibition law became effective in January 1902 and the selectmen ordered all saloons closed on January 14. In June, however, the Boston Herald reported that Sheriff Marcus M. Collins and his deputy of Portsmouth had visited the Surf House and told the proprietor that a complaint had been filed about his place and that he had until Tuesday to close up and get out of business. On Tuesday he went to Portsmouth and told the sheriff he would comply, "but you have not heard the last of me. I have cancelled my government license, and from now on will make it warm for the violators of the liquor law. Hampton will have a dry Beach from now on if it costs me every dollar I have. If I can’t sell, no one else will." Later in the summer, Mary Hastings, proprietor of the Manchester House, was arrested again after the county deputy sheriff found a large quantity of malt liquor there on a Sunday afternoon. "The proprietors of the Manchester House had been warned several times, but gave the warnings no heed," the newspaper said. In November 1902, the Town voted in favor of allowing liquor licenses, approving the question by 36 votes.

The State Legislature passed a new liquor law in the 1903 session and communities were required to vote on the question of serving liquor in the town. In early May, a Sunday rally was held at the First Congregational Church, and, the following Sunday, Exeter police court judge Henry A. Shute spoke at the Methodist Church, "of the misery and degradation that inevitably follows the free use of rum." On the day of the election, the Methodist Church was open for prayer, while the Hampton Union predicted, "Hampton will not be allowed to fall into the license ranks without a vigorous protest." Based on the new State law, every saloon in Rockingham County, other than in towns and cities having a police commission, was closed on the Saturday before the mid-May election and no place was allowed to open until it had a regular State license. Despite the rallies, Hampton voted 157 to 121 to have licenses, as a majority of the towns in the state also voted, although Exeter voted no. The Union expected that except for the hotels, only three other licenses would be requested in Hampton.

In June, the Union reprinted an article from the Manchester Union Leader entitled "Hotels and the Law." The article questioned whether a hotel could serve liquor on Sundays, but it said the holder of a first-class license in a city or town could operate a barroom and sell to anyone -- resident or not, guest or not. Late in June, according to the Hampton Union, hotels at the Beach and Town were stocking up on beer, even though none had yet received a license. By the end of the month, first-class licenses had been issued to Whittier’s, the Franklin, Cutler’s, and the Hampton Inn, making Hampton the first town in the state to get licenses. By mid-July, the local paper reported, "It is claimed that enforcement of the law regarding the sale of wet goods on Sunday has had a tendency to drive many to Salisbury Beach who in former years were patrons of this resort." Although a petition was circulated in the Town and the Beach asking that no more liquor licenses be granted in Hampton, an additional first-class license soon was given to Green’s Inn; a second-class license was awarded to George F. Felch, Jr., manager of Locke’s at the Beach; and third-class licenses were acquired by Melzar W. Dunbar of the Franklin House on Exeter Road, and David O. Leavitt, who operated a pharmacy and store at the corner of Lafayette Road and High Street. In all, 13 licenses were granted in Hampton: five first class, five third class, two second class, and one fifth class.

By the end of the summer of 1903, however, several Beach hotels were charged with selling liquor on Sunday, August 16. John G. and Hattie A. Cutler of Cutler’s were charged at Concord before the liquor commissioners meeting in the Senate chambers. Cutler said he thought it was permitted to sell if the person registered and ordered at least a chowder for 20 cents. Also charged were James A. Swift of the Hampton Inn, Lemuel C. Ring of Newmarket Inn, and G. P. Green of Green’s Inn. The violations revolved around what constituted a dining room and whether or not people served were bona-fide guests. Apparently if a person wanted to get a beer, he had to sign the register and order a chowder or sandwich. All the charged hotels except Cutler’s had their licenses revoked.

In November 1904, Hampton voted "no license," 154-118. The "no-license" people were well organized, holding many meetings with speeches by the ministers and others, and, according to the Union, the election was the town’s largest-ever vote. There were 421 names on the checklist, with 356 votes cast. As a result of this no vote, on April 30, 1905, 24 communities, including Hampton, changed from being license to no-license towns. All barrooms had to close, although first-class (hotel) licenses still could be granted under restricted conditions. In November 1906, however, the Town voted yes on liquor licenses, 169-115. A Union editorial reasoned that "Hampton people decided to change the policy of their town. It is assumed by many that a successful summer resort necessitates the sale of liquor. The reputation of the town, however, may be worth more in the end than the present dollar."

By 1907, Prohibition fever was sweeping Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, where most of the towns were dry but Hampton was "wet." The Herald predicted, "Hampton Beach therefore looms up to the drinking fraternity bigger than an oasis in the desert and as the resort is easily accessible from all the large places in this section of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, lively times for the Summer of 1908 are promised for staid old Hampton Beach in advance."

Residents changed their minds again in November 1908 as Hampton voted" no license." As a result of the state wide elections, only 25 towns in New Hampshire could have saloons or wholesale liquor sales. In October 1910, a Union editorial urged a continued "no license" vote because "Hampton is a country town and no place for a saloon.., because Hampton is surrounded by 'dry’ country, and with three trolley lines feeding into the town, to vote license is to make Hampton the objective point for every man with a thirst for miles around. Do we want in our streets the rough element of Exeter, Seabrook, Amesbury and other places .... Do we want to make Hampton the dumping ground for drunkards from all over southern New Hampshire?" Apparently voters agreed with the newspaper, because Hampton voted no by 83 votes. Following the election, the Union editorialized, "We believe that for a town the size of Hampton the policy of no-license is unquestionably the better one. The small town is no place for a saloon. Morals are purer, the streets quieter and the property safe where the saloon is abolished. The future of Hampton is as a residential town. The class of people we wish to attract here, the class of people who spend money and employ labor, is not the class that supports saloons." The paper urged strict enforcement to support the voters’ wishes.

In May 1913, liquor complaints moved to the Village as Everett P. Sanborn's drugstore in the Odd Fellows Block was raided for illegal liquor on a Saturday afternoon by County Sheriff Ceylon Spinney and County Solicitor Ernest L. Guptill. They seized two barrels and 36 bottles of whiskey. Sanborn was taken before Judge Howell M. Lamprey, where he pleaded guilty, was fined $25 plus costs, and ordered to get the unseized liquor out of town by Tuesday. Saturday evening he was raided by local policeman Gerald Smith on a complaint by William Blake and charged for selling a single serving of brandy. This time Sanborn was represented by a lawyer and his case was postponed for a week. On Tuesday evening, he shipped "a large and varied assortment of liquor out of town." The following week, a newspaper comment suggested that pharmacist Victor H. Garland was the new operator of Sanborn’s Drug Store. In November, Garland acquired the store, which had been operated for the previous seven years by Sanborn. "Whatever may have been thought or said of him ... his place of business was looked on as the finest in town," the paper concluded about the departed Sanborn.

In 1920, Prohibition became federal law under the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, but New Hampshire had enacted Prohibition two years earlier. The first case to be heard under the state law was tried at Hampton in June 1918. Enrico Vincenzo, a contractor working on the highway with 12 men, was charged with bringing in a keg of beer from Massachusetts and selling the beverage. The Reverend Jonathan Lewis, the author of New Hampshire’s law, came to Hampton to try the case, but he lost it when Judge Lamprey ruled there was not enough evidence to hold Vincenzo.

Clear evidence of illegal liquor sales was established in June 1921, however, when two men employed by Beach hotels were found guilty of having 12 bottles of whiskey and sherry wine in their possession. They were fined a total of $150 and court costs. During Prohibition, Hampton Beach was the scene of occasional rum-running activities, because Hampton River apparently was a favorite place for illegal liquor dealers. In October 1925, a rum-runner entered Hampton River at dusk and was sighted by Coast Guardsmen, who shouted at the boat’s crew to surrender. The boat turned and headed back to sea under a hail of gunfire from the Guardsmen. In July 1926, the Lorna, a 60-foot rum-running boat, was caught at high tide in the fog at Hampton River with 2,000 gallons of Belgian rum aboard, some of which had been taken ashore to a shack on the marsh. The crew had disappeared. The same boat had been recently caught with $26,000 worth of liquor aboard.

As the nation was moving toward ending the "noble experiment" of Prohibition, Hampton people were worried about the effect of renewed liquor sales. In June 1933, Union editor Edward Seavey, Sr., argued against repeal. He wrote that the vote to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment was moving so fast "it would seem the country has gone mad ... Neither life nor property will be safe when unrestricted drinking becomes lawful." Anticipating future liquor sales in Hampton, 10 businesspeople reportedly asked for a special town meeting to see what could be done about a clause in the lease of the Hampton Beach Improvement Company that prohibited the sale of "intoxicating and spirituous liquors" on the leased land.

In June 1933, when most of New Hampshire voted for repeal, Hampton went against it by a margin of 285-266. A Seavey editorial praised Hampton voters, saying, "There must be some way out, some way must be found to prevent the curse of any nation, the open saloon." A Letter to the Editor signed by "E. W." (possibly the Reverend Edgar Warren) said Hampton’s no vote on repeal meant the Town had the possibility of keeping dry: "Should the town ever vote license, it would become one of the wettest places in the State."

On June 30, 1933, Hampton was scheduled to vote to permit beer sales. A week before the referendum, the Union editorial column was devoted to letters to the editor. The first one, from the Chamber of Commerce, discussed the Beach, where, under the terms of the HBIC lease, permitting liquor to be sold on the leased land would cause leases to be terminated. Under certain conditions, the buildings could be forfeited to the lessor. The letter writer said that in recent years people had been convicted of selling liquor on HBIC leased land and yet their leases had not been questioned by the Town. The HBIC was also opposed to selling 3.2 percent beer, even though the chamber writer said that it was not intoxicating. The writer asked that lessees of HBIC land be permitted to sell 3.2 beer if it was allowed elsewhere in town. A "bone dry voter" pointed out that when the leases were signed, the country was "wringing wet" and the lessees did not complain then so why complain about unfairness now. "There is no competition between Hampton Beach and any other beach on the coast, it is the cleanest on the coast, so proclaimed. I do not believe the people of Hampton want it anything else," the letter writer concluded.

In December, after the Eighteenth Amendment had been repealed, trucks from Portsmouth’s breweries began spreading out over the state, bringing beer and ale to those communities that had approved 6 percent beer for drinking on the night of the repeal. "Hampton Beach, however, on the leased land, will be limited to 3.2 beer, which the courts have ruled is non-intoxicating." The 1934 town meeting, by one vote, 313-312, approved beer licenses for Hampton. A recount held in the Portsmouth Court changed the vote to no, 316-314, but, in May, Hampton was scheduled to vote again on the issue. An advertisement from local ministers supported continued Prohibition in Hampton, but a letter from liquor proponents said that even if the Town voted against liquor, registered guests at Hampton hotels could have liquor if they ordered as much as a sandwich. They said liquor was needed in Hampton to continue to attract recreational business.

The special town meeting, the fourth held since the regular March meeting, voted yes on liquor, 477-412—again the largest vote held in Hampton. The meeting was held as the result of a petition by Paramore’s Restaurant, located in the Square. The restaurant owners bought an advertisement of thanks, told voters their campaign was sincere and that the "future conduct of our business will warrant their continued confidence. It has always been the aim of business people in Hampton to live up to the slogan, 'Cleanest Beach on the New England Coast."’ So beer was sold for a while in Hampton.

A November 1934 guest editorial written by the Reverend Norman J. Langmaid urged a vote in the upcoming election against the sale of beer in Hampton. "Do you want your child to be poisoned or to become a drunkard? This will absolutely happen to some if you allow a beer joint to operate in our town." Continuing its pattern of changing its mind about the liquor question, Hampton voted against State liquor stores 473-305 and against beer sales 421-384.

The margin between yes and no votes widened in the November 1936 and 1938 elections as voters overwhelmingly rejected moves to have State liquor stores in town and to permit the sale of alcoholic beverages. In 1940, the Union editorialized, "There is no spiritual, moral or economic need for the sale of beer or the location of a State store within our town. Without any undue boasting we can say we live in one of the finest and most progressive towns in the country and have the cleanest Beach resort on the coast. Let’s keep it that way." Voters rejected a State liquor store 815-228 and beverage sales 897-249.

Despite these strong votes from the public against liquor, socalled first-class hotels could apply for restaurant licenses from the State Liquor Commission. In June 1941, there was a great outcry against granting a license to Cutler’s Hotel at the Beach. Opposing the licensing were the Kiwanis Club, the Union, and the Chamber of Commerce, whose board of directors unanimously voted to ask the State Liquor Commission not to grant any liquor licenses at Hampton Beach. There was so much opposition that Cutler’s withdrew its petition, but in a letter to the editor, F. M. Lane charged that liquor was being openly sold at the Beach by "a man from a neighboring town who says he cannot pay his taxes unless he can sell liquor and we understand he has been granted the privilege from the State licensing board."

In an unusual June 1946 case, a local taxi driver was found guilty of bootlegging by the municipal court. He had been charged by federal officers with accepting money from an undercover agent for driving to Salisbury Beach to bring back two pints of whiskey. A year later, the Chamber of Commerce again indicated its opposition to liquor on the Beach, with its board voting 24-2 in favor of a motion to appoint an official committee to represent the Chamber’s position at hearings before the State Liquor Commission on any Beach liquor petitions. Apparently it became a sort of local gentlemen’s agreement for the first-class hotels not to apply for licenses, while the Town continued to vote as much as 4-1 against beverage sales and liquor stores in town. Most of those opposed apparently were concerned about the impact of liquor on local efforts, which the Union, in an August 1956 editorial, cited as working "to keep Hampton a clean and wholesome place in which to bring up a family. Not only is the town involved, but Hampton Beach has won a wide-spread reputation as the cleanest beach on the Atlantic coast and the absence of beer and liquor establishments makes it a Mecca for families from all 48 states and Canada."

The unofficial agreement ended in 1956 when the Dunfey family, who in May 1954 had purchased Lamie’s Tavern, the famous restaurant in Hampton Center, announced plans to apply for a license. State officials said that if the Dunfeys did apply, assuming they met the State requirements, a license would be granted. Opposition to the license was immediate and widespread. The selectmen, claiming they had a mandate from the people because of previous "dry" votes, filed a formal protest, but Jim Tucker in his column said the Board of Selectmen was stirring up "a tempest in a cocktail glass." He argued that the selectmen were charged with enforcing laws, not nullifying activities allowed by a law that, in Hampton’s case, happened to have met with local disapproval. While Tucker did not condone alcohol abuse, he said there was nothing wrong with people having a drink before or with their meals at a restaurant. If the license was granted, Tucker said, Hampton residents could not drink at Lamie’s; only nonresidents would be permitted to buy a drink there, the same condition that was in effect at restaurants in Seabrook, Exeter, and Portsmouth. It is a tribute to the editorial responsibility of Union editor Edward Seavey, who, while opposing the liquor license, allowed popular columnist Tucker to support the concept.

In August 1956, nearly 300 Hampton residents journeyed to Concord for the hearing. Most of the people attending were in support of the 52 speakers who opposed the license. Many of the Town’s elected officials, presidents of various civic groups, Casino owner John Dineen and other Beach businesspeople, representatives of churches, Judge John W. Perkins, and Police Chief John Malek all expressed their concerns over the potential impact of granting Lamie’s a license. Judge Perkins cited local elections, which since 1934 had showed that the percentage of votes in the biennial elections had risen steadily against liquor sales. In 1954, when more than 87 percent of residents casting ballots voted on the two liquor questions, over 70 percent voted no. Supporting the license were Dunfey brothers John and William, who said they had spent some $25,000 renovating the rooms and that some 95 percent of their business was from tourists. Also speaking in favor was Beach businessman Norman Royal, who said there was plenty of liquor on Hampton Beach, brought in by "nightly caravans" from across the state line from "wet" Salisbury Beach.

Under the enormous pressure from Hampton residents, the liquor licensing board voted 2-1 against granting a license and denied a petition for a rehearing by the same vote. The Dunfeys appealed to Superior Court, claiming that the State’s denial was "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable," but their plea also was denied. Meanwhile, Hampton State Representative Douglass Hunter filed a bill in the House to change the State law that provided for a local option for the State licenses. In effect, none would be granted in towns that had voted against the sale of alcohol. The bill was amended several times, but finally was killed by the House.

In the November 1956 elections, nearly 80 percent of those voting on the liquor issues were in opposition to liquor sales. In a surprising vote, Salisbury also went dry. By midsummer, Beach businessman and Precinct commissioner Ralph Harris said Hampton Beach was being hurt by the Salisbury vote, since it had resulted in the closure of the high-caliber nightclubs at Salisbury. "People come to Hampton Beach for their vacation and go to Salisbury for their entertainment. Now where will they go?" he asked.

In August 1957, the Dunfeys again filed for a license, but the opponents were less organized, perhaps because they expected another denial. This time the State Liquor Commission voted 2-1 in favor of granting the license. In 1961, the Legislature removed the prohibition against Sunday sales of liquor and permitted residents to order a drink in restaurants located in towns where they lived. Despite the dire predictions of the Beach being ruined, there was little impact as a result of the Dunfey license. As Tucker explained, few if any of the Beach establishments could qualify for such a license. The Chamber of Commerce was still opposed to Beach liquor licenses, and still in effect was the clause in the Hampton Beach Improvement Company lease from the Town that prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages on the leased land.

In an effort to make selling liquor at the Beach more difficult, the 1962 town meeting adopted a zoning amendment that prohibited the sale of intoxicating beverages by the glass, can, or bottle in the newly created Seasonal Business and Recreational District of Hampton Beach. An effort to remove the liquor amendment was rejected in 1963 and 1968. By the latter date, however, Beach businesspeople were convinced that Hampton Beach was not going to be able to compete successfully with other summer resorts without being able to serve liquor in first-class hotels and restaurants. No one wanted so-called beer joints, but Beach businessman and selectman Walter Vanderpool reasoned, "Everyone knows Hampton needs more income and [if liquor sales are allowed], Beach property owners will feel it worthwhile to make additions and improvements." The Chamber of Commerce had ended its opposition to liquor licenses by this time, and it supported the zoning amendment.

Nevertheless, the 1968 Planning Board had voted 4-2 against the amendment, so it was "not recommended" to voters, who kept the ordinance as it was written. The 1969 town meeting also rejected changing the ordinance, but in April 1969, by the simple expedient of applying to Hampton’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) for a variance, the Ashworth, the Boar’s Head Inn, and the Aqua Rama Motel dining room and the Spindrift, both at North Beach, all received variances permitting them to serve liquor subject to State laws.

Sensing a mandate from the townspeople, the selectmen, voting 2-1 (Selectmen Lawrence Hackett and Edmund Langley, Jr., for, with Walter Vanderpool against), decided to take the ZBA to court. Judge Perkins, who was also Town counsel, predicted the case would go to the State Supreme Court. Before that could happen, however, Selectman Hackett resigned from the board in June and was replaced by Robert Danelson, Jr. When the selectmen voted again on the court case, Danelson joined with Vanderpool to discontinue legal action against the Board of Adjustment. Some people had argued that the zoning amendment was illegal anyway, since the Town could not vote to supersede the State liquor laws.

In July, the Aqua Rama opened Hampton’s first cocktail lounge, followed soon after by the Boar’s Head Inn, Kennedy’s Restaurant at North Beach, and the Ashworth. In August 1976, the Boar’s Head Inn became the first cocktail lounge at the Beach to have its license lifted for violation of the liquor laws.

At the 1970 town meting, voters approved a zoning amendment sponsored by the Planning Board to permit the sales of liquor in first-class restaurants at the Beach, but on another article voters decided to indefinitely postpone the question of permitting the sale of liquor in first-class restaurants in the "Town of Hampton." At the 1971 town meeting, by margins of 1,109-560 and 982-688, voters approved articles permitting first-class liquor licenses and the sale of beer on land leased by the HBIC. In exchange for rewriting the leases with their tenants, the HBIC asked for a percentage of the liquor revenues. Several businesses took the HBIC to court over the liquor payment issue, but the HBIC won the cases, thereby permitting the company to benefit from liquor sales without having a liquor license.

By the 1980s, the Union and other area newspapers were filled with stories of problems at Hampton Beach caused by excessive drinking. In 1980, when the Town had 71 places licensed to sell or serve alcoholic beverages, 56 of these were at the Beach. Many of the license holders were grocery stores, some of which were established primarily to sell beer, as they carried only a limited stock of foodstuffs. Other Beach and Town businesses also were greatly expanded and renovated in order to qualify for licenses. Notable expansions have been the Ashworth, the Lincoln House, and the Galley Hatch. In the November 1980 election, the Town voted about 4-1 in favor of allowing State liquor stores (one of which opened along Route 1-95 in December 1981) and to permit sales of beer and wine. In 1981, an open-container ordinance -- coupled with the prohibition of drinking in public places -- gave the police more power to confront drinking problems at the Beach. The result was an increase in drinking-related arrests in May 1980: 210 com pared to May 1981, when 687 were arrested.

Drinking and driving continue to be serious local as well as national issues. In 1983, Winnacunnet High School students formed a branch of Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD). Local police continue to focus on alcohol-related offenses.

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