Trolleys to the Casino: The Exeter Street Railway

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Chapter 1

Development of the System, 1889-1900

The oldest of three predecessors of the Exeter, Hampton & Amesbury Street Railway, the Exeter Street Railway Company was chartered in perpetuity by special act of the New Hampshire Legislature on Aug. 7, 1889 and was authorized to build and maintain a street railway, to be operated by any power other than steam, for the transportation of persons and property from the Boston & Maine Railroad depot in Exeter to any points in the neighboring towns of Hampton and Epping.

Among the incorporators of the company, which had an authorized capitalization of $100,000, were John J. Bell, an official of the Exeter Manufacturing Company, producer of cotton sheeting and fine cambrics; Atty. Edwin G. Eastman, who served as the state attorney general from 1892 to 1912; Atty. Henry A. "Plupy" Shute, presiding justice of the Exeter municipal court and a well-known author of boys' books; Daniel Gilman, head of the Exeter Rubber Step Manufacturing Company; Eben Folsom, treasurer of the Exeter Brass Works; William H. C. Follansby, Rockingham County treasurer; William H. Fellows, owner of Fellows Box Factory; Albert S. Wetherell, a druggist, and John Templeton, owner and publisher of the Exeter News-Letter.

The Exeter Street Railway proposed to build initially from Exeter to Hampton Village and Hampton Beach, a distance of slightly more than 1 1 miles, with an extension from Exeter to Epping to come at a later date, and it planned to propel its cars by electricity.

Despite seeming enthusiasm, fund raising efforts by the Exeter Street Railway met with little success and early in 1891, a group of Hampton men, apparently feeling that the Exeter-Hampton Beach line never would materialize, organized the Hampton Street Railway to build from the Boston & Maine depot in Hampton Village to Hampton Beach and northerly along the shore to North Beach, near the Hampton-North Hampton boundary. This new company was chartered by the State Legislature on April 11, 1891 and among its incorporators were Col. Stebbins H. Dumas, owner of Great Boar's Head Hotel at Hampton Beach; Otis H. Whittier, proprietor of the Whittier Hotel, a noted wayside inn at the junction of Lafayette and Winnacunnet Roads in Hampton Village; Charles Philbrick, Atty. Warren Brown, Jacob T. Brown and S. W. Dearborn.

Nothing more was heard from the Hampton Street Railway after its incorporation and the Exeter Street Railway remained in a dormant state, maintaining a legal existence only, until early in 1897 when one Wallace D. Lovell, an enterprising promoter from West Newton, Mass., only recently returned to the United States after a series of costly business failures in Mexico, chanced to hear of the Exeter Street Railway's unused charter and decided to investigate. After several weeks of negotiations, Lovell and a number of associates acquired control of the rights for a token payment of $500 although the men were required to post a $5,000 performance bond - and then events began to move rapidly.

While negotiations were in progress, the Lovell group formed the Franklin Construction Company to handle the building of the railway and, at the same time, the syndicate organized the Rockingham Electric Company, chartered on March 19, 1897, which was to purchase power from the Exeter Street Railway and sell the energy to the towns of Exeter and Hampton and to the residents of those towns, a business which the street railway's charter did not empower it to conduct. A week after the electric company was incorporated, it signed a street lighting contract with the Exeter selectmen., providing for the installation of 70 arc lights in the town at a rate of $78.50 per light per annum.

Meanwhile, the railway company sought and obtained locations and franchises in Exeter and Hampton and the construction concern placed orders with suppliers for rails, ties and other materials needed to build the new line; contracted for the erection of a power station and car barn, and ordered rolling stock from the Briggs Carriage Company of Amesbury, Mass. This equipment consisted of five 10 bench open cars, Nos. 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9; five 20-foot closed cars, Nos. 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10, and a 20-foot freight car, No. 12. All were of the four-wheel type. Later in the year, a four-wheel snow plow was ordered from the Taunton Locomotive Manufacturing Company of Taunton, Mass., a second four-wheel plow being aqua red in the fall of 1898 from Smith Wallace of Woburn, Mass.

(All the rails and other materials for the line reportedly were ordered on credit by the Franklin Construction Company and when payments were not made within the specified time, the suppliers filed attachments against the property. At this critical point, so the story goes, Lovell "providentially" met several parties who had money to invest and they supplied him with the cash he needed to meet the most pressing obligations. With this backing, Lovell was able to continue without further serious pecuniary difficulties.)

As approved by the municipal authorities of Exeter and Hampton, the route of the Exeter Street Railway was to begin at the Exeter depot on Lincoln Street and extend through Lincoln, Main and Water Streets, across the Exeter River bridge (known locally as Great Bridge) and out High Street to the junction of the Hampton and Hampton Falls roads. From this point, the line was to run in a southeasterly direction, paralleling Hampton Road (which became Exeter Road after crossing the Hampton boundary at Dow's Hill) to Hampton Village, crossing the tracks of the Boston & Maine's Eastern Division at grade on Exeter Road, near the Hampton depot. There were to be occasional short stretches of private right of way to avoid sharp curves along the route.

In Hampton Village, the tracks were to extend southerly on Lafayette Road (the present U. S. Route 1) a short distance to Whittier's Corner (named after the Whittier Hotel) and then curve easterly onto Winnacunnet Road, continuing on to the present Ocean Boulevard (U. S. Route I-A) at Hampton Beach. Turning southerly, the railway was to extend along the seaward side of the boulevard, passing Great Boar's Head, and terminate at a point opposite Cutler's Sea View House (later the Hotel Allen).

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Construction of the Exeter Street Railway began during the week of April 18, 1897 when a crew of laborers started grading between Hampton Village and Hampton Beach. Track laying commenced a month later, on the morning of May 19, with judge Charles M. Lamprey of Hampton driving the first spike, and from then on, progress was steady. Service between Hampton Village and Hampton Beach commenced Sunday, July 4, and by the following Saturday, July 10, the line was basically complete all the way from Hampton Beach to Great Bridge at Exeter. On Sunday, July 18, the first car from Hampton entered Court Square (the junction of Water and Front Streets) in Exeter, and about two weeks later, on Monday, August 2, at 8:45 a.m., the last rail was laid and the final spike driven on Main Street and the Exeter Street Railway was complete from the Exeter depot to the Beach.

(During the building of the railway, the town of Exeter constructed a new Great Bridge, fabricated of steel, which replaced an old wooden structure which was not sufficiently strong to support the weight of an electric car.)

But construction was not yet over! On November 1, the Exeter Street Railway began laying rails from Court Square up Front Street as part of a proposed Exeter loop which was to extend through Front and Washington Streets to Brentwood Road; on Brentwood Road and past the westerly side of the Plains Common to Main Street, and on Main Street to connect with the existing tracks at Lincoln Street. There were to be grade crossings of the Boston & Maine's Western Division on Front Street and on Main Street.

However, work was suspended after the tracks had been completed as far as the Public Library and nothing more was done until mid 1898 when the company announced it would build a substantially smaller circuit than that planned earlier. The new proposal called for the tracks to extend along Front Street to a point near Arbor Street, cross Front Street and run through a corner of the Boston & Maine freight yard to Garfield Street, and continue through Garfield and Lincoln Streets to the B&M depot. Track laying was resumed August 23 and work on the loop was completed late in September, operation commencing October 1. The total distance around the loop was 2.10 miles and it was about 10.5 miles from Court Square to the end of the line at Hampton Beach. At some later date, a short spur track, with space for two or three cars, was built westerly along Front Street from Arbor Street toward the B & M crossing.

Additional trackage proposed but never built in Exeter was to extend from Main Street (near the foot of Town Hill) northerly along Water Street and Newmarket Road to the Boston & Maine Railroad crossing; a circuit from Front Street through Pine and Court Streets to Front Street at the Squampscott House, then Exeter's leading hotel, and a second circuit from Main Street through Cass Street to Park Street; on Park Street to Winter Street, and through Winter Street to Front Street.

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Both Exeter and Hampton sought to be the location of the Exeter Street Railway's power station and carhouse, with the former town offering a site at or near the foot of Franklin Street, on the bank of the Exeter River. But it finally was decided to construct the facilities approximately midway on the line, on the southerly side of Exeter Road about 1 1/2 miles west of Hampton Village. The land, purchased from one Walter Drake of Hampton, "at a reasonable price," was located near a small pond (known to the present day as Car Barn Pond), deemed to be an adequate source of feed water for the power station's boilers.

The laying of the foundation for the power station commenced on April 11 and about two weeks later, on April 24, in apparent appreciation of the railway's action in locating the carhouse and power plant in the town, residents of Hampton voted to exempt the two buildings from taxation for 10 years. The contract for the construction of the carhouse was awarded early in May to Abbott L. Joplin of Hampton and both buildings were complete early in July. The power station was of brick construction while the car barn was a wood frame building covered with metal shingles.

Further details about the power station and car barn, as well as the rolling stock, will be given in later chapters.

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