1897: Construction Begins on a Streetcar Line in New Hampshire

May 19, 1897

In southeastern New Hampshire, construction on the Exeter Street Railway — an electric streetcar line that would link together the towns of Exeter and Hampton as well as the highly popular Hampton Beach resort — officially began with a late-morning ceremony. 

At around 10:30 a.m., Judge Charles M. Lamprey spoke to those in attendance about the new railway and specifically its significance to the area’s history. “Today, May 19, is the most important of all the days of the past one hundred years,” he proclaimed. “The people have come together to lay the first rails connecting Hampton and Exeter whose settlement was contemporaneous in 1638; one, the oldest beach town east of Boston, and the other, the shire town and one of the most beautiful places of all New England.” Lamprey then drove the first spike for the new railway in front of the Hotel Whittier on Winnacunnet Road in Hampton.

Over the next several weeks, the Exeter Street Railway was built by more than 100 Italian laborers. Thanks to the rapid pace of their construction efforts, the railway was completed and opened for regular service in early July. Thousands of people were soon using the streetcars, especially as the means for traveling to the Atlantic coast at Hampton Beach. Along with transporting passengers, the Exeter Street Railway hauled freight to Hampton Beach since the roads leading to that resort were in generally poor condition. 

The Exeter Street Railway reflected in a small but significant way the extensive use of those electric transit systems nationwide towards the end of the 19th century. This railway was eventually consolidated with two other transit systems in the region to form the Exeter, Hampton & Amesbury Street Railway, which remained in operation until the mid-1920s.

(The above image of a streetcar en route to Hampton Beach was created sometime around 1910.)

Image Credit: Public Domain

Additional information on the Exeter Street Railway is available at https://www.nhstateparks.org/getmedia/9ad1ba31-6adc-4764-9969-6a4e8379346d/Hampton-Beach-Turn-of-20th-Century.pdf

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