The Hampton Marshes

By John M. Holman, Contributing Writer

Man in boat in the marsh

The Hampton Town Seal bears two landscapes -- Great Boars Head at Hampton Beach and the Salt Marsh. Each has played a prominent part in the development of the community, but in this day of automation, the significance of the marsh seems easily forgotten.

"In the 'Official Pictorial Magazine' commemorating the Hampton Tercentenary of 1938, the late Reverend Edgar Warren, recounting the town's settlement, said: 'The reason they selected Winnacunnet, or Hampton as it later came to be called, as the site of their settlement, was due to the fact that the great marshes, covered with a luxuriant growth of grass, would furnish an inexhaustible supply of feed for their cattle. The original settlers of Hampton were farmers, although they supplemented their meagre support from the soil by the products of the sea.'

"Seeing the marsh through a poet's eye, John Greenleaf Whittier described it in 'Snowbound' as a place:

'Where merry mowers, hale and strong
Swept scythe on scythe, their swaths along
The low green prairies of the sea.'

"The Hampton marsh, which once included the wetlands in Rye, North Hampton, Hampton Falls and Seabrook, was apparently a vital source to early settlers. The abundant salt hay harvest served as food for horses, cattle and oxen, as well as a material for building and other purposes.

"In later years, as the population increased and horse-drawn vehicles became the primary means of commercial and private transportation, salt hay was in great demand in numerous stables, where it was used as a bedding material for the beast of burden.

"But the number of farms declined, and the horses disappeared, and the marshlands seemed destined for oblivion. Even renewed commercial interest in salt hay did not seem to justify a large harvest.

"Recently, however, conservation groups have stimulated public consideration of the inherent values of all unspoiled lands, including the marshes. In a publication on the 325th Anniversary of Hampton in 1963, RUTH STIMSON of Hampton, wrote: 'The foremost value of salt marshes anywhere, wetlands in land use classification, is their economic worth in:
1. Reduction and prevention of erosion.
2. Stabilization of runoff of excess water from inland.
3. Forage fish habitat in tidal estuaries, and source of nutrients for shell-fish harvest.
4. Home of waterfowl and shorebirds with recreational value, and scientific habitat of flowers and animals.
5. Buffer for storm tides that damage houses and move rock.'

"The marshes have, therefore, found a new revelance in this time. They are important not only for the history they represent, but for the services they perform."

(From Hampton Union edition of March 20, 1966)

[See also, The Hampton Marshes,
and Haying the Marshes in Hampton
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