Hampton Union: North Hampton goes back in time for Town Hall Day
By Amy Kane
May 21, 2013
NORTH HAMPTON — The bell tolled noon on Saturday as town officials in top hats rode an ox-drawn cart to town hall for a re-enactment of the opening of the historic municipal building.
In front of the landmark hall, accompanied by the three members of the current Select Board, town moderator Bill Boesch, with gavel in hand and garbed in the latest 1840s fashion, urged residents to act “in a similar manner as their forebears did” when they voted to accept the completion of Town Hall on March 12, 1844 and, further, to celebrate the restoration of the building and its acceptance into the National Register of Historic Places.
“How say ye, assembled? Yea or nay?” he asked. The small crowd of residents responded with a chorus of yeas.
The re-enactment and dedication was part of North Hampton Town Hall Day, held on May 18 to celebrate the importance of the building to the town and its people.
“Your tax dollars, efforts, enthusiasm and energy brings us to this fine day,” said a dapper and dignified Jim Maggiore, chairman of the Select Board. “You should be proud. We have a very significant building — one we will enjoy for many years to come.”
The single-story white clapboard hall with the distinctive clock and bell tower was declared unsafe for use in 2004. The Town Hall Building Committee formed in 2006 and a multi-year rehabilitation project began. In 2013, the renovated North Hampton Town Hall was named to the National Register of Historic Places. The building is currently used for board meetings, voting and other civic events. It houses the town’s recreation department and cable TV station.
The Saturday ceremony also included presentation of an award for outstanding achievement from Pat Meyers and Peter Michaud of the nonprofit New Hampshire Preservation Alliance.
“The alliance commends the significant decision to embrace rather than avoid the preservation project when the building was considered unsafe in 2004,” said Michaud. “The commitment to fund this out of the town budget, rare to happen in New Hampshire, is an incredible example for other towns.”
After the ceremony, there were activities, refreshments, and displays both inside and outside Town Hall.
Jeff Hillier, of North Hampton, demonstrated a hand printing press in front of the town clerk’s office. The North Hampton School Band played in front of town hall. The oxen stood calmly yoked and available for petting behind the library. American Legion Post 35 sold hot dogs, hamburgers, and pulled pork sandwiches next to Joe’s Meat Shoppe.
Inside, the Historical Society had antique town treasures on display, including town hall’s original lock and key. Curator Priscilla Leavitt also shared a binder cataloguing barns, including one that had been in her family since the 1700s. She is a descendant of John Leavitt who built Town Hall in 1844. Joe Butler manned a table with artifacts and a model of the town railroad station. There were demonstrations of chair caning and rug braiding, fiddle and guitar music, student artwork on display, and Irish moss pudding and Election Day cake to taste.
First-grader Molly Robie pointed out a small clay replica she made of the famous 1815 Revere bell that is housed in the town hall’s tower. “I drive by it on the way to school every day,” she said.
The bell rings every hour between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. George Chauncey, president of the North Hampton Historical Society, was wearing a tri-cornered hat and buckle shoes, when he told the story of how the Revere bell was in storage for 15 years after delivery because two factions in town could not agree on which end of the town hall, front or back, to build the bell tower.
“Selectmen refused to pay Paul Revere because they weren’t using the bell. Finally he sent them a very nasty letter, which we have a copy of, demanding payment,” said Chauncey.
People could peer through bars into the musty old town jail in a cellar below the hall, accessed from outside the building on the right. A couple of skeletons wearing hats, sitting on a straw bale, were inside. The town hall is a short distance from an old railroad depot. “Police used to let hobos spend the night in jail,” said Chauncey.
The North Hampton Heritage Commission organized Town Hall Day with help from many local individuals and business donors. Heritage Commission chair Donna Etela declared the outcome “fantastic.”
“There was a part for everybody,” she said, “and the weather was perfect.”