Trolleys to the Casino: The Hampton Beach Casino

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The Hampton Beach Casino, as built in 1899, was a 21/2-story wood frame building about 190 by 36 feet in area, with porches running entirely around the structure at both the ground and second floor levels. Reporting on the official grand opening of the casino on Saturday, July 15, the Exeter-News Letter of the following Friday said in part:

"The casino of the Exeter, Hampton & Amesbury Street Railway is excellently supplying a need long felt by visitors to Hampton Beach. Its conveniences and attractions are many and fully appreciated. Upon any pleasant afternoon or evening, crowds may be seen resting upon its piazzas. They are 14 feet broad and to travel their entire length requires a walk of more than a fifth of a mile, which amply indicates the immensity of the building. The upper piazza especially commands a wide, charming and varied prospect and is an ideal resting place. By night, the casino is brilliantly illuminated by electric lights, which, viewed from a distance, make a spectacle of striking beauty. Every courtesy is extended to visitors and patrons and the fact that the first order of 500 chairs was found to be not half enough attests to the casino's popularity.

"The casino has in part been open to the public since the Fourth but finishing work is still in progress. In the top story, eight sleeping rooms are being arranged for the help, and at the south end, Wallace D. Lovell will have a pleasant suite of rooms, perfect in all appointments.

"The second story is utilized for the great dancing and entertainment hall and for the spacious dining room, with a handsome open fireplace of sea stones and shells at its end.

"The dining room and the cafe on the lower floor are under the personal direction of Mr. H. C. Tanner, Haverhill's noted caterer, and are most excellently conducted. They are furnished with every convenience, as are the kitchen and pantries. A very beautiful art tile soda fountain is being set up . . . "Much of the lower floor will be devoted to billiards and bowling, with an equipment of one billiard and two pool tables and two alleys."

An athletic oval, with facilities for baseball, tennis and other sports, was laid out at the rear of the casino and a building containing 100 dressing rooms for bathers was erected at the south end. Also provided was a kiosk for band concerts, this being located opposite the casino on the water side of Ocean Boulevard.

The EH&A's facilities at Hampton Beach were increased in 1900 by the construction of a 57-room hotel, the "Ocean House," to the north of the casino and a 21/2-story convention hall addition at the south end of the pavilion. The hotel, a 21/2-story frame structure, connected to the casino by a "bridge" at the second floor level, had 47 sleeping rooms and the railway, in its advertising, boasted that there were electric lights in every room, hot and cold running water and an electric bell system to summon room service.

The convention hall had a frontage of 47 feet and was 110 feet deep. The lower floor contained a billiard room with three tables, and four regulation bowling alleys, while almost the entire second story was occupied by a large hall, to be used for conventions, family gatherings and dancing.

Another addition to the casino was provided in 1901 with the construction of a large "Opera House" or theater on the south side of the convention hall. This addition was 58 feet wide and 120 feet deep and, like the original casino and the convention hall was 21/2 stories in height. On the first floor were 156 dressing rooms for bathers and on the second was a large auditorium, seating 700, with an inclined floor and large stage. Hexagonal towers at the front corners of the new addition "lent a graceful air to the structure and, on the practical side, furnished cool and commanding observatories for the sightseer." The casino porches had been extended along the front of the convention hall and they were further extended along the new "Opera House."

(With the construction of the "Opera House" addition, the original bath house building was moved to the rear of the casino and was joined to the latter to form an ell running along Elizabeth Avenue.)

A new band stand was erected, a boardwalk was laid along the sea wall on the shore opposite the casino and the original casino building was extensively renovated to provide additional dining room facilities. Two privately-owned hotels, including the Hampton Inn, were leased to supplement the accommodations offered by the Ocean House and there were several cottages, built by Contractor Joplin for the EH&A, which could be hired for the week or season by family groups. At the rear of the casino, a merry-go-round was provided for the children and a gun cottage, with a clay pigeon shoot attached, was constructed.

The finest in vaudeville and specialty shows were presented in the casino theatre; there were frequent baseball games on the athletic oval; the popular band concerts were continued, and the EH&A initiated the now-famous Carnival Week, which has been an annual late summer event at Hampton Beach for more than 60 years. Conventions, outings and picnics of fraternal, social and religious organizations were actively solicited and various "special days'.' were held for residents of surrounding communities and for various mercantile, agricultural and professional groups.

Naturally, the best way to travel to and from the beach was by the EH&A and there scarcely was a day (during the summer when at least one chartered car did not arrive at the resort from Exeter, Portsmouth, Amesbury, Newburyport, Haverhill or some other town or city within convenient trolleying distance. Everything possible to attract visitors to Hampton Beach was done by the railway and it can be said without fear of contradiction that the EH&A's promotional activities around the turn of the century contributed greatly to the present day popularity of New Hampshire's foremost summer resort - one of the best known in New England.

The electricity for lighting the casino, Ocean House and other EH&A buildings at Hampton Beach was generated at the railway's Hampton plant and was transmitted to the resort over a 2,300 volt 60 cycle alternating current primary circuit. This power line passed other hotels and numerous private cottages at the beach and the owners of many of them made haste to install electric lights, using current purchased from the EH&A. This enabled the railway to expand its commercial power business, which previously had been restricted to street lighting in Exeter, thus contributing greatly to the development of the service which is conducted today by the Exeter & Hampton Electric Company.

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