Rails Bring New Life To North Hampton

September 28, 1999

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Rails Bring New Life To North Hampton

By Steve Jusseaume, Staff Writer

Like many towns in the 20th Century, North Hampton experienced rapid growth, particularly in the area of transportation.

The arrival of the first train of the Eastern Railroad which pulled into North Hampton in 1840 set the stage for development in the 1900s.

The coming of the railroad shifted the town’s center from North Hill to the depots east of the village. The railroads brought people to North Hampton and the Seacoast, and Little Boar’s Head became, over a short amount of time, a tourist destination. One day late In June 1901, 130 trunks were handled at the North Hampton station, more than a few destined for Albert Batchelders Hotel, which had been built at the Head. In 1890 the Boston & Maine assumed ownership of the Eastern Railroad and lines were improved.

Ten years later, on March 30. 1900, it was reported that Mr. Morris H. Smith will on Saturday, the 31st, complete 43 years of continuous service as station-master here."

Typical fares at the turn of the century ranged from $1.19 to Boston, to 25 cents to Portsmouth. "Portsmouth offered a change of scenery and of activity," Hobbs wrote. There they could mingle with the sidewalk crowds, contemplate the wares shown in the store windows, perhaps make a few purchases, and do whatever else might be a change from the hard facts of everyday life."

Another development in the year 1900 proved as important to the community as the advent of the railroad was half a century before. It was the trolley car.

While the Boston & Maine was busy building a bridge in town, the Portsmouth Electric Railway opened for business and offered access from the town to the ocean. Trolleys had been getting more and more popular across the nation. In 1900 there were 15,000 miles of track and 30,000 cars in operation country-wide. Lines sprawled out in every direction.

Unlike the steam railroad, which in northern New England tended to travel only north-south, trolley lines ran east-west as well. This opened up the Seacoast to vacationers from Manchester and northern Massachusetts towns such as Haverhill and Lawrence.

In 1903, it was reported that 52 members of the North Hampton Grange went by trolley to Amesbury, Mass., to present a program for the Grange of that place.

The electric railway In North Hampton began when the Rye Beach Electric or Horse Railroad was incorporated on March 29, 1893, to build a line from the Boston & Maine station down Atlantic Avenue to Little Boar’s Head and Rye Beach. Three North Hampton men -— Albert Batchelder, George A. Batchelder and George A. Boynton — along with others from Rye, were among the incorporators, according to Hobbs’ history. Eventually, the trolley brought "a new mode of transportation to cities, towns, and less populated places in between, many of which had no steam railroad service," Hobbs wrote.

Hobbs continued: "When a North Hamptoner and his family wanted to enjoy a Sunday afternoon at Hampton Beach, they could board a car anywhere along the Atlantic Avenue route, and by changing at either the "Y" or Portsmouth Junction, arrive at their destination in less than a half an hour. As the early 20th Century progressed, however, more and more "horseless carriages" arrived at the Seacoast, and use of the trolley system began to decline. The Atlantic Avenue run was ended in 1920 and the tracks torn up. Fewer cars offered service between points, and in 1926 the last car ran into the barn in Portsmouth.

North Hampton was home to sawmills from its earliest beginnings into the 20th Century. In February 1904, David Lamprey sawed into lumber 150,000 feet of logs. Originally water-powered, Walter Clark set up a mill in 1920 that generated power from a one-cylinder Maxwell automobile engine. The 1920s saw a rebirth of dairy farming and cattle breeding in town. Alvan T. Fuller built a modern, well-equipped dairy barn on the south side of Atlantic Avenue in 1923, and bred Guernsey cattle. Called Runnymede Farm, the dairy company operated until the mid-1970s. Poultry was also a popular business — and profitable.

A newspaper story in 1903 noted that a Hampton Falls man had 40 hens that produced 6,258 eggs in 1902, and a North Hampton man claimed to have 20 hens that produced 4,214 eggs that year.

North Hampton’s agricultural past included sheep raising, and in the 1940s more than 100 head were counted, principally sheep belonging to Norman Leavitt and Paul Hobbs.

An extensive trade in homes was also a vital part of the town’s economy, until the automobile made dealing in homes and oxen unprofitable. The 1890 town report listed 34 oxen in use, but by 1951 that number dropped to 2, and after that no oxen were listed.

The number of horses peaked about 1907, when 301 were listed in the town report. In 1953, only 27 were listed.

In the 1950s, however, Morris Lamprey began raising colts and showing horses, and his Belgians received citations and ribbons at regional shows, including in 1976, when his entry was judged Grand Champion Mare at Fryeburg and Skowhegan, Maine shows.

Horse owner Peter Fuller also bred horses, and his 3-year-old Dancer’s Image won the Kentucky Derby in 1968. Fuller kept horses at Runnymede Farm until the early 1980s.

The economy of North Hampton began to change drastically by mid-century, when agriculture was supplanted by other businesses. Charles E. Seavey built the town’s first blacksmith shop in 1861, however by the the 1950s was no longer an economic necessity.

In 1971, the local papers reported that the North Hampton Historical Society planned to restore the shop, but the following year the shop, fallen victim to a heavy snowfall the previous winter, was torn down.

Centennial Hall fared much better than Seavey’s blacksmith shop. The hall was built on North Hill off Post Road by John W. F. Hobbs In 1876, and for many years was a school and a center for social life in the town. Into the 1940s the hall was the scene of dances, plays and dinners.

But by 1948, the hall, still a schoolhouse, was hopelessly over-crowded (built to accommodate no more than 90 students, the school had an enrollment that year of 130 students) and a new elementary school was built on Atlantic Avenue.

The building fell into disrepair, but in the mid-1990s a group was formed and eventually purchased the building in 1998. Today the hall is being restored and is becoming the center of cultural and artistic endeavors as it was 50 years ago.

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