Looking back on 50 years of Rye and Rye Beach

Some things never change, although that can't be said about beachwear

Bob Dunn: story and photos

Jenness Beach on a rather quiet day.

Jenness Beach changes a bit every year but, for all intents and purposes, is still physically the same as it was 50 years ago. Storms each year make small changes to the area, but their impact tends to fade rather quickly, and beach appearance remains largely the same over time. The more significant change has been in those who frequent the beach and in the get-ups that some display. Bikinis and briefs were not around 50 years ago but are very popular these days — although I often wonder if those wearing the get-ups ever look in a mirror. The sunken forest at the north end of Jenness usually pops up once in a while after a big storm, but the Trans-Atlantic cable has been seen only a couple of times.

A tough bike ride through the Jenness Beach area.

The numbers of people enjoying the north end of the beach has increased in recent years, probably because the Town of Rye allows free parking along many of the streets and even along both sides of Route 1-A north of the public parking lot at mid-beach. The State of New Hampshire made a big thing out of widening 1-A about 40 or 50 years ago, saying that it would enable bicycle riders to enjoy the coast. These days, it seems very dangerous to ride a bike on 1-A, with cars parked on both sides of the road, a constant flow of automobile traffic, and the number of beach goers walking along next to the parked cars. So the beach has changed due to the large number of sunbathers — and this does not even count the number of surfers who show up regardless if the waves are only a foot high.

The site of the Old Farragut Hotel and DeMoulas construction looking out to sea with the old flagpole for the DeMoulas project.

The Farragut Hotel, torn down in 1974, was located at the corner of Route 1-A and Central Road overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. In its day it was the start of the Abenaqui Golf Club with two holes along Central Road right out to the Club House across the Street from the Farragut. The DeMoulas Family (of the DeMoulas Food Stores) bought the location in the 1970s and tore down the old Farragut after an auction of the contents. They built a large, two-story, semi-circular building purportedly with the intent of opening another hotel, but rumor was that the real goal was to develop the building into a large number of condos. The Rye Beach Precinct fought their plan, and the building stood vacant and unfinished for about 30 years until it was torn down, never having been put to use. The land still sits vacant.

When my wife and I purchased our property across from Jenness Beach, it was frequented only by those people who owned cottages and homes in the area (not by day-trippers), and we would rake the beach so that our children would have a perfect spot to play. The area near the beach was only populated during the summer months except for a few year-round families. When we started living here year round in 1989, there were only four other families who wintered on Old Beach Road out of 32 homes. Presently I believe the number is 20 year-rounders.

Present day market, formerly Carberry's and Philbrick's.

Philbrick’s Market, the local shop to pick up food, papers and drinks, has changed hands and names a few times over the years. I remember when Herb Philbrick (of “I Led Three Lives” fame) was the cashier and his mother and he lived next door on Old Beach Road. Next door on the other side lived Cecile Philbrick, who when she was a young girl worked at the Cable House for the telephone company that received the overseas calls via the Trans-Atlantic cable. She told me that at that time the Cable House (on present-day Old Beach Road) was reached via a wooden walkway from Cable Road as the entire area was a swamp. Another story that Cecile told me was about a couple of oceanfront places that were purchased by brothers and they closed up the Right of Way to the beach between their land and planted grass and shrubs along the way. Cecile called John Philbrick to come down with his bull-dozer, and he plowed up the grass and shrubs and took them away. Cecile ended up in court being sued by the brothers. She won and passed along to me the court Records in case anyone else tries a similar trick.

The place to celebrate the end of the summer or to have an excellent seafood dinner during the summer was Saunders Restaurant at Rye Harbor. Dorothy Saunders and her husband originally ran the restaurant. They served the best seafood and boiled lobsters. In the old days, it was a simple, bring-your-own-wine spot, as they did not have a liquor license. With a hard-to-beat location and a simple menu, the Saunders ran the restaurant successfully for many years. Eventually, they sold it to the Zechel family, who tore down the original building and built a new, larger restaurant and bar with entertainment. Doug Zechel has run the place for many years, and has recently sold it to a development group who have obtained permission to build four homes on the site

The Old Library from the front on Central Road.

The Rye Public Library was a small building 50 years ago and has been enlarged with a new wing and a large parking lot for patrons and visitors to the Rye Historical Society building. The Library is popular with residents and visitors of all ages and hosts many popular events, including lectures, concerts, book club meetings, and movies for all ages. The staff helps out everyone. If you can’t find what you want, they will certainly find it for you.

The new Library wing from the parking lot.

Rye and Rye Beach have changed in fifty years, but they are still great places to live and go to sleep counting the waves. Also a great place to visit is Rye Reflections. See: (www.ryereflections.org and click on Previous Issues)


September, 2010