Historic Taverns In North Hampton, New Hampshire

Halfway Tavern North Hampton, NH

North Hampton’s Historic Taverns

The North Hampton Historical Society's exhibit in the Library that showcases China from the Half-Way Tavern will be coming down soon. Now seems a good time to note what we know and don't know about the first three taverns in North Hampton.

The earliest tavern predates the 1742 incorporation of North Hampton. Moses Leavitt established one soon after 1700 and his marriage to Mary Carr. It was located just north of the intersection of Route 1 and Post Road in North Hampton.

Moses' widow continued to run the tavern until the not uncommon event of fire destroyed the structure in 1733. The fire broke out on a Sunday when everyone was at church which, at that time, meant in Hampton. No one was around to assist in snuffing out the flames but the next day residents pitched in and built within "a few days" a two-story tavern near the site of the original one.

Mary's son, Captain John Leavitt, succeeded her as tavern master. By 1751, North Hampton had become a parish of Hampton and then a town and had built in 1738 a single story Meetinghouse on what is now known as the Town Common.

Thirty-six land-holders (in other words, the men with clout) petitioned Leavitt to move the tavern closer to the Meetinghouse. Eager to oblige and perhaps to have a favorable outcome to a tavern license renewal, John built a brand-new tavern that he called the Leavitt Inn.

It was right across from the Town Common, just north of today's Rev. Jonathan French house at 100 Post Road. The tavern no longer exists, but a portion of its barn survives as part of a structure on Hobbs Road.

The Leavitt Inn prospered. In 1761 a regular public stagecoach service began between Portsmouth and Boston. Shortly after that in 1763, regular mail service via coaches started.

North Hampton was in just the right place geographically, ten miles from Portsmouth. As coaches usually traveled by "stages" of ten miles, taking on fresh horses, the Leavitt Inn became an even busier center of activity. Passengers would refresh themselves in the taproom and could have a meal. More thrifty passengers often brought food with them -- sounds like today's plane passengers for other reasons -- and gridirons hung by the Tavern's fireplace for free use in warming meals.

There were no private rooms in the Inn, and beds, several to a room, would accommodate two or three people, often strangers to one another.

Simon Dearborn saw a business opportunity and opened a second tavern at the corner of Exeter and Stage(nowPost) Roads in 1792. The twenty-six-year-old Dearborn had to prove himself to the selectmen for several years before he was permitted to sell liquor and have gaming on the premises. This tavern also was a success.

It was a selectman, Nathaniel Batchelder, who bought the Dearborn tavern in 1824, naming it the Half -Way Tavern (half-way between Boston and Portland).

On the first floor there was the taproom and a room where a traveling judge could hold court. An open room or dormitory on the second floor accommodated most travellers and served as a dance hall. Wealthier travellers used a bedroom known as the bridal chamber.

In 1826 Abbot and Downing introduced the famed Concord Coach. It was both stronger and lighter than the old coaches and revolutionized the industry. In 1829 there were 106 coach lines operating in and out of Boston and the run from Portsmouth to Boston could be covered in eight hours, resulting in heavy traffic flowing through North Hampton.

Drivers from as far away as Canada came with wagon loads of produce for the Boston market and assorted types of drovers cluttered the road, herding cattle, sheep, hogs, and even flocks of turkeys, all of which might be kept in either one or the other tavern barnyards overnight. Teamsters would stop to load their wagons with bags of raw wool from the local farmers as sheep raising had become a significant part of the local and state economy.

The good times, however, did not continue to roll. Lafayette Road opened in 1830 and the Eastern Stage Company of Portsmouth shifted its operations and mail deliveries to that road because it offered a more direct route. Leavitt's Inn closed in 1836 while the Half-Way Tavern continued until the close of the nineteenth century.

A third tavern made its appearance in 1840 on the triangle between Elm and Lafayette Roads with the aim to attract travellers from along the changed traffic pattern. Known as the Lafayette Tavern, it was owned by John Hobbs but the person with the knowhow was his wife Lucinda, a daughter of none other than former tavern owner Simon Dearborn. Between the temperance movement and the competition of the railroad, its days also were numbered.

No one took photographs nor, apparently, made drawings of the Leavitt Tavern and later Leavitt Inn or the Lafayette Inn.

The Historical Society has two images of the Half-Way Tavern from the late nineteenth century long after its heyday and, thanks to the generosity of Bruce Dow, the china set that was used in the mid 1800s at the tavern.

If you or your family has documents or information about these taverns, please share with us all.