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Friday, June 5, 2009

Hampton Beach - New Hampshire

Above we have a World War I-era view of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. The popular beach was just as popular then, even though it looks as though only a few brave souls splashed in the waves in their modest bathing costumes.

By “brave”, for those not familiar with northern beaches, I mean the ability to submerge one’s warm body into water cold enough to elicit physical as well as mental shock. Every summer thousands of New Englanders standing chest-deep in temperatures cold enough to keep your tuna fish sandwich from spoiling in the car on a hot day, shout with shaky voices to their apprehensive loved ones on the beach, still in the stages of removing sweatshirts:

“It’s all right once you get used to it!”

I’d often though this should be the slogan on the tourism brochures for our beaches in the summer: “It’s All Right Once You Get Used To It.”

But others on the beach, by the looks of this postcard, have no intention of disrobing. The ladies sweep the beach in their long white dresses (the days when everyone, man, woman, and child switched to uniform white after Memorial Day), and sip perhaps a lemonade under wide straw hats to keep cool, lifting their chins to catch the salty breezes.

Here we have the rates for the Hampton River Bridge toll of the same period. Automobiles, those such as were around, could pass for 5 cents. Same for a bicyclist, a horse and rider, or a single horse drawing a carriage. Two horses would cost you another nickel. If you were to drive your herd of cows across the bridge, you’d be out one cent per head, same as for sheep or pigs. According to this interesting article, it is reported that the Hampton River Bridge was the longest wooden bridge in the world at the time.

It seems to me I’ve not seen any herds of cattle, sheep or swine crossing the current bridge these days, which replaced the old wooden bridge in 1949. Could be I just wasn’t paying attention.

Hampton Beach developed into a summer vacationer’s Mecca probably in the late 19the century. Hotels along the coast had opened in the decades before, but it probably wasn’t until trolleys, and later the automobile that made getting to Hampton Beach easier for common folk, newly discovering what wealthier classes had enjoyed for decades. Some time around the turn of the 20th century, the year-round inhabitants of Hampton Beach must have seen the handwriting on the wall and developed the Hampton Beach Village District to create infrastructure and attractions to bring the beachgoers.

Today there are festivals and sand sculpture competitions, and still that tangy ocean breeze to lick from your lips under the seductive wide brim of your straw hat. Here, and also here, are a couple of sites to learn more about Hampton Beach, and to make your summer plans.

Remember your bathing costume. It’s all right once you get used to it.


John Hayes said...

Oh yeah, I remember "it's all right once you get used to it" for sure! What a great post. My eighth grade class went to Hampton Beach for our big outing.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Wow, I can just imagine a busload of eighth-graders let loose on Hampton Beach. Must have seemed like a pretty big world, and a junk food Shangri-La.

Tony said...

My family used to rent a cottage apartment and vacation there for an entire week almost every year when I was growing up, and I spent many a formative summer there...

I still try to return at least one day a year. I LOVE that beach. So glad you posted about it.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, Tony, thanks for stopping by. You must really have a lot of memories, spending so many summers there. Funny thing about our beach vacations, we have our private moments of coming of age, and at the same time, our family gatherings that linger in our memories. We are never so bold taking our first exploratory walk by ourselves down the long stretch of beach or boardwalk, and never so safe as with two and three or even four generations on the beach blanket.

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