History of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire
Article by: The New England Blogger
In the First half of the Century
Barnstormers would use the sands of Hampton Beach as their runway, “bathing censors” were on the beach stopping people from wearing scandalous swimsuits and trolley service flourished and then disappeared.
If anyone has photos or more knowledge of the barnstormers on Hampton Beach please contact us as we would love to see photos or learn more information about this. Actually, we can’t get the picture of an early 1900’s barnstorming plane landing on the crisp clean Hampton Beach at this timeline. Sounds like the beginning of a great movie…doesn’t it?
In the Beginning
Long before the arrival of the English in 1638, Native Americans, mostly the Pennacooks, had used the area as their summer camping place. They fished in the river and planted corn and beans in the rich upland meadows. After the harvest, when winter drew near, they moved inland to spend the winter hunting. Numerous artifacts found near the Taylor River are silent witnesses to their long occupation of what became the fourth English settlement in New Hampshire.
English Puritans from Massachusetts were drawn to this area by the lush salt meadows which were ideal for raising cattle. Although Winnacunnet was officially established on October 14,1638, most of the settlers, led by the Rev. Stephen Bachiler, arrived in 1639 to begin building their new town. Bachiler was a colorful character who was eventually forced to leave the town because of his scandalous behavior. However, he gave the town its permanent name of Hampton and one of its leading families, whose descendants still live here.
Isolated from the other towns of New Hampshire by the lack of good river communication, Hampton was more closely allied to the Puritans in Massachusetts. Its residents shared with them many of the same anxieties and pressures of life in 17th century New England. Hampton was the only town in New Hampshire to bring women to trial for witchcraft. Goodwife, or Goody, Eunice Cole was jailed several times as a witch and in 1680 was reindicted along with two others, Rachel Fuller and Isabella Towle. This last accusation was dropped, and witchcraft stories became only part of Hampton legend.
In the 1850’s a trolley line and railroad connection made Hampton Beach a popular resort that included a white, sandy beach; many shops and restaurants and various types of seasonal accommodations. Hampton Beach was still a farming community at this time. Native Americans camped out on the beach at this time.
The coming of the railroad in 1840 changed Hampton forever!
Now it was possible for tourists to travel easily from the city to stay in one of the hotels in town or at the beach. The Union House, later renamed the Hotel Whittier, was the first new hotel uptown, while the Leavitt and Nudd families operated early inns at the beach and were active in promoting the beach as a vacation destination. In the last half of the century the beach’s popularity grew, and a number of hotels were built to accommodate the crowds of visitors.
For the first 200 years of its history, Hampton Beach was an isolated part of the town, frequented only by a few fishermen and farmers bringing their oxen to graze on the Great Ox Common at Boar’s Head. Gates were even installed across the roads leading to the beach to protect the sea grass and the seaweed, which were valuable commodities. The gates were removed in 1846, just as tourism at the beach became an economic force in the town.
The first visitors to the beach came by train to the depot in the village and then were driven to the beach in horse-drawn wagons. These visitors normally came for an extended stay at one of the hotels which were quickly built to accommodate them. However, the picture of the beach as a place of leisurely resort changed forever in 1897 with advent of the trolley. The Exeter, Hampton, and Amesbury Street Railway connected the mill towns of the area with the beach and brought thousands of visitors for a single day’s enjoyment. That same year the Hampton Beach Improvement Company leased a large part of the beach and built the Casino and other businesses to serve these new visitors. Within a few years the beach had developed much as we see it today.
Although the trolley went out of business in 1926, the automobile had already replaced it as the main transport to the beach. Today on a good summer day 100,000 people may throng the sands and boulevards of Hampton Beach.
Fireworks, Concerts, Master Sand Sculpturing Festival, Seafood Festival & More!
Fireworks every Wednesday evening at the Beach, May – Labor Day Weekend and at special events including New Years Eve!
In the middle of June about 300 tons of imported sand are brought to Hampton Beach for the Annual Master Sand Sculpting Competition that started in 2001. Millions of people come to watch sand sculptures work on their sculpture and the judging and viewing of the finished sculptures.
One of the top 100 events in North America! In May, 1988 a small group of the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce business owners and merchants assembled at the State Park on the southern tip of Hampton Beach to put on the 1st Annual Seafood Festival as a way to promote Hampton local restaurants and offer samples of their seafood specialties. While the weather did not cooperate and held crowds at bay, the spirit of the organizers was not dampened. In 1990 the Hampton Beach Seafood Festival changed location & date to where it is presently held at the center of Hampton Beach, the weekend after Labor Day.
It began shortly before the 1900s, when Massachusetts businessman, Wallace D. Lovell, owner of the Exeter, Hampton and Amesbury Street Railway Company financed the construction of a two-story wood-frame building in the hopes that it would draw people to the Hampton Beach area and stimulate business. The building, which opened its doors on July 15, 1899, was christened the “Hampton Beach Casino.”
At that time, the word “casino” did not connote a gambling establishment as we understand it today. The word is Italian for “summer-house” and came to describe a social gathering place, a room or building where one could dance, listen to music, and gamble. Lovell likely chose the term because, at the time, all things European were vogue in America.
The Casino Ballroom’s popularity reached a new peak in the mid-1930’s big band era. Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington all headlined the ballroom. Though liquor was prohibited and the dress code strict – men rented ties for a nickel – thousands crowded onto the dance floor to dance. Patrons lined a fence outside and bought tickets or “checks”, usually five for a quarter, that admitted them onto the dance floor. The “check-dancing” rage had begun. The Casino Ballroom became one of the highest-grossing ballrooms in the country. Sammy Kaye, Frankie Lane, the Dorsey Brothers, Bing Crosby and numerous other internationally known orchestras filled the hall.
Today, there is a state of the art new casino ballroom with top acclaimed rock bands appearing regularly.