HAMPTON: A CENTURY OF TOWN AND BEACH, 1888-1988
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Chapter 9 -- Part 2
Some of Hampton’s more progressive individuals had begun planning for a water system as early as October 1889. A company was formed by General Gilman Marston of Exeter, Samuel W. Dearborn, Horace M. Lane, C. M. Lamprey, and others to provide water for Little Boar’s Head in North Hampton and Hampton Beach. Springs in the northern section of town owned by General Marston, who had organized Exeter’s water company, were to be used by the Hampton company, but little was accomplished for a number of years. In 1891, shortly after Marston’s death, the lot containing the spring -- plus Leavitt’s Hampton Beach Hotel in which Marston, distant cousin of the Leavitts, was a major investor -- was offered for sale by Edwin Eastman, Marston’s executor.
The water company’s directors continued to meet, and although he the Exeter News-Letter’s Hampton correspondent continued to express optimism that water mains would be installed soon, the company had little capital for construction and was existing in name only. In February 1902, the Union editorialized, "It is the opinion of many that the town ought to construct any water supply system within its limits. The Union agrees with them and we believe it would be a serious mistake if it permits a private company to own 1and control its street mains. But a canvass of the town shows that it is practically impossible to secure a two-thirds vote in favor of a municipal system, and if citizens have to wait for the town to lay pipes it will be a long time before this great need is supplied."
The newspaper’s prediction proved accurate. The Town did not support the concept of a municipal system and even voted several times against authorizing the selectmen to contract with the water company for a water supply for public and fire-protection purposes. In 1902, the town meeting indefinitely postponed an article raising $2,500 for hydrant rental. It was explained to the voters by New Hampshire Attorney General Edwin Eastman of Exeter, a company investor, that the water company would pay almost half the rental fee in taxes and that fire insurance rates would be lowered, but most of the voters apparently supported the belief of J. Freeman Williams, who said having hydrants was a good thing but "we should take our time to consider it." Hoping for the best, in August 1902, the Hampton Water Works Company purchased the Lane spring and announced plans to begin laying mains soon. It also opened an office (adjacent to the Hampton Beach Improvement Company office) in the Buswell (now Marelli’s) building in the center of town.
At the 1905 town meeting, the vote on a water company was 92 in favor, 52 against, just missing the two-thirds vote necessary. At the 1906 meeting, another article regarding the water company was indefinitely postponed. The stubborn attitude of town meeting voters has led to the oft-quoted comment that "the town turned down the chance to buy the water company and instead bought the streetcar line." Of course the two votes were years apart, but, in both cases, the Town probably made incorrect decisions. At the time of the water vote, the Town also was rejecting expenditures for fire-fighting apparatus. Had the Town been more responsible in providing for what many people considered to be necessary Town services, especially to the Beach, the community might have owned the water company and there would not have been a Hampton Beach Village District, commonly called the Precinct.
Beach property owners in particular were angry with the Town’s decision on water and fire protection, and some people began to discuss secession from the Town. The newspapers of the day give few details explaining the creation of the Precinct, but apparently there was a serious movement for a new town. Concerned that this was the wrong approach, several men with Beach interests -- among them future governor John H. Bartlett, future United States senator George Moses, George Ashworth, and John White -- supported instead creation of the Hampton Beach Village District for the purposes of fire protection. The establishment of the Precinct on June 26, 1907, coincided with the formation of a new water company. In April 1907, the Union proudly announced that the Hampton Water Works Company would begin operations soon and it promised to have a portion of the system ready for summer guests by July 1. "With this great necessity supplied, the development of Beach property will be much more rapid than in the past and the whole town will be the gainer," the Union predicted.
In an August 1958 Union column, James W. Tucker suggested it was more than coincidence that the Precinct was formed just as the water company was organized and began installation of its mains. He wrote, "Difficulties in financing were apparently overcome in 1907 when the Hampton Beach Precinct was formed and immediately contracted with the infant water company for a dozen or so hydrants along the beach front. Because the transaction helped to promote the sale of a water company bond issue, it is often related that officials of the utility were behind the plan to form the district." Tucker may have been correct. Town and Beach businessman Ernest G. Cole, Beach hotel owner John G. Cutler, Village hotel owner Otis H. Whittier, and Boar’s Head property owners Edwin G. Eastman and Captain William H. Jacques were all officers in the water company. Jacques was the directing engineer and the first president, while John Scammon was clerk.
On May 13, 1907, "a gang of fifty Italians" began laying extra-heavy 8-inch cast-iron pipes from a temporary water plant at Gill Springs on the Reuben Lamprey property on Winnacunnet Road to the Beach. Water was turned on just 52 days later, July 3. In a June editorial, the Union said, "Visitors at Hampton Beach will have an added inducement to come for another season after they have a taste of the pure wholesome water which the Water Company will supply, for, strange as it seems, there are still some people who come to our beaches who drink and appreciate good water."
The first water line was a 5-mile-long single main extending down Ocean Boulevard probably as far as the Casino, with several 4-inch-diameter extensions including one to Boar’s Head, where a 90-foot-high, 15-foot-diameter water tower was built. The Precinct’s 10-year contract called for 17 hydrants (rented for $50 per year, $50 for each additional hydrant), three of which were installed at the Casino properties. The Precinct paid $50 each for the hydrants. In 1911, Beach growth caused the company to build a 600-foot line to Nudd’s field (now Nudd Avenue), where cottages were being constructed, an 800-foot addition at Boar’s Head, and the extension of service south to the White Island section of the Beach beside the river.
Since nothing was done by the Town to establish a public water supply, the water company in 1914 decided to expand service to the Village on its own. "A force of 100 Italians" laid pipe, with provision for 60 hydrants, and constructed a 260,000-gallon-capacity water tower atop Hemp Plain Hill on Mill Road. When the work was completed, either of the two water tanks had the capacity to throw a water stream of 1,000 gallons per minute. Lane’s or General Marston’s spring in the northern part of town supplied the water using two, 310-gallon-per-minute pumps.
With water lines in place, the 1915 town meeting had little choice but to deal with the private company, and residents voted to rent 50 hydrants at $40 each per year for 10 years, with $20 per year to be paid for each additional hydrant. In 1916, the water company announced at a Board of Trade meeting that water meters would be installed, because, while the company said 300,000 gallons per day was adequate to meet Town and Beach needs, some 450,000 gallons was being pumped, and the company believed much water was being wasted. The company said 2,000 gallons per month would be the basic amount supplied to each house, and there would be an additional charge for everything over that amount. Perhaps the threat of meters was enough to cause some people to conserve water, because no meters were installed until many years later.
If townspeople were relieved to have a reliable source of water at last, that relief was short-lived. Since 1916 -- perhaps coincident with the threat to install water meters -- relations between the company and town residents and officials have often been strained. Rate hikes, approved by the State public utilities boards following hearings, and complaints about service have led to several unsuccessful efforts by the Town to take over the company.
The first petition against the company was filed by a Beach group headed by businesswoman Florence Munsey, who about 1921 asked the State for better service and a rate reduction. Since the company was spending money to extend its lines to North Hampton and Rye Beach and it needed income for the work, the petition was denied, but the company was directed to improve service.
In 1927, following another petition to the State, the company made a "voluntary" reduction in its fixture rate, a charge it was making against each faucet, toilet, etc. Year-round residents paid the same annual fee as the 10-week summer cottagers. The local waterworks was sold in 1928 to the Atlantic Public Services Company, but complaints from residents continued. A 1929 petition from Precinct commissioners was rejected by the State, but another filed by property owners, known as "The Group of Thirty," in 1931 resulted in a slight reduction. The 1934 annual Precinct meeting appointed a committee to meet with company officials. The company again refused to reduce rates, resulting in a complaint to the Public Service Commission, which, in December 1934, ordered a formal hearing into the company’s affairs. After two and a half years of engineering studies, meetings, postponements, and delays, the hearing was finally held, and it resulted in the company’s decision to install meters and a PSC plan to prepare a rate structure that would guarantee the company a $30,000 annual profit.
The new rates, however, produced more than the expected profit. Following unsuccessful meetings in July 1938, after which the company submitted an even higher rate structure, a formal hearing lasted seven months. The PSC in June 1940 ordered a rate reduction that would have given relief to all classes of water users, but the company successfully appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court and the 1938 rates remained in effect. The company became part of the American Water Works System in 1942.
Most of this recent history comes from a Tucker column in August 1958. At that time he identified himself as one of the leaders of the opposition to the company in the 1930s, a group composed mainly of Beach people. In 1941, he called for the Town to take over the company; otherwise, "Hampton citizens would always be under the heel of a group of out-of-towners who controlled the supply and cost of their water." In 1946, hotel owners complained that on their busiest days they had to use booster pumps to get water up to their second- and third-floor rooms. New mains were installed in 1947 in an effort to improve service, but complaints continued. Finally, in 1950, Tucker and Edward S. Batchelder were appointed as a committee to meet with other appointees from Rye and North Hampton to study the feasibility of creating a three-town water district. There might have been little company response to the Town’s decision, but in July fire hit the Beach, resulting in a $500,000 property loss. Charges of low water pressure were leveled at the water company. At a hearing in late July, Precinct officials charged that the company had held up the Precinct’s development of the saltwater system, fearing a loss of revenue from hydrant rentals. Company Vice President Allen Symonds admitted that the local system of mains and water towers was not adequate to supply the Town’s needs, but he said that the company needed more revenue to do the work. Symonds said running a larger line to the center of the Beach and the construction of a larger water tank would increase the average water consumer's bill $24 to $35 per year.
The Union editorialized, "Right now the utility is on the defensive. It stands accused, and, by admission of its own officers, guilty of not adequately serving its customers on Hampton Beach to the point of the recent disastrous fire loss and a definite health and sanitation menace. The citizens of Hampton would be justified in any step taken to insure the future of Hampton Beach. The time to act is now."
In December, following meetings with the Town, the company announced improvements that included a new Beach water tank and new main, but with a proposed 34 percent rate hike. The 1951 town meeting responded by authorizing the continued study of the water district plan. Additional meetings with the company finally produced a compromise proposal. A new 500,000-gallon water tank was completed in 1953 on what is now Church Street and more and larger mains were installed, particularly to service the southern section of the Beach. These improvements were made without an immediate rate hike and apparently cooled the plans of residents who had been asking for a Town-owned company, because the 1952 town meeting was not asked to act on any articles related to the water company.
In 1958, however, following another rate-increase request by the company, a regional water committee was formed to oppose the hike. In December, they again decided to seek municipal ownership of the water company, and the 1959 town meeting voted $25,000 to study the matter. This resulted in Hampton State Representative Douglass Hunter, Sr., filing a bill to authorize the Town purchase of the water company. Rye and North Hampton opposed the measure and even some Hampton residents objected to various aspects of the legislation. The measure failed to pass because the House Public Works Committee members hearing the bill felt that adequate legislation was already available. At that point, the selectmen failed to follow up on the issue. In 1962, the company reported a capacity of 4.514 million gallons per day. The old Boar’s Head water tower, long a mariner’s landmark, was taken down in 1966. A 1973 proposal again to study the feasibility of the Town’s acquiring the water company was the first non-zoning article to be sent to the Planning Board and it was "not recommended" to the voters at town meeting.
Hampton Water Works Company has continued to request and receive rate hikes while at the same time expanding capacity to meet Hampton’s growing population. Hampton accounts for about 75 percent of the 6,700 customers, including part of North Hampton and most of Rye Beach, served by the company. Some 2,000 customers are seasonal, requiring the company to install meters in the spring and remove them in the fall. There are 105 miles of water mains and 368 hydrants in the three towns. Of the company’s nine wells, four are located along Mill Road; one of these is in North Hampton. In 1982, the company built a 12-story, 750,000-gallon water tower on Exeter Road. The construction of this new tank, installation of larger new mains, and the purchase of the Precinct's saltwater system were ordered by the PUC as a result of a hearing held at the Beach because of complaints of low water pressure and the selectmen’s desire for upgrading. A large rate hike accompanied the improvements. In July 23, 1955, the company pumped 2.07 million gallons of water, and by 1988, the peak day, July 7, required 3.91 million gallons. The average 1988 summer daily delivery was 3.094 million gallons, while the average daily delivery in 1988 was 2.166 million gallons.