The Southeast New Hampshire Land Trust has launched a full-on effort to preserve the Governor Dale Farm, former home of Governor Charles Dale in North Hampton, N.H., which was slated to become a housing development. The effort is well on its way, with more than $120,000 of the $150,000 final goal in hand. You can read about the effort or contribute to it here. The irony in this is that if he was alive, Dale would probably be firing up the bulldozers not lying down in front of them.
Charles Dale had a lengthy political career. He was a Minnesota lawyer who married the daughter of Portsmouth’s mayor and he somehow miraculously landed the position of Portsmouth city solicitor in 1921. He became mayor himself in 1926-28 and 1943-44, state senator in 1933 to 1938, and governor of the state in 1945-1949. After that, he dropped out of politics. Dale was also successful in banking and radio, as the onetime owner of Portsmouth’s WHEB and Concord’s WKXL. He didn’t think much of historic preservation, however.
Dale personally demolished Portsmouth’s Jacob Treadwell mansion, which stood on Congress Street across from the library. He put the centuries-old historic home of a colonial era tanner under the wrecking ball to give the city a bowling alley. And he was an outspoken opponent of the effort to create Strawberry Banke, calling the venture a “pig in a poke.”
His destruction of the Treadwell house did, however, manage to so aggravate history lovers that it galvanized the early efforts to protect Portsmouth’s historic properties.
Perhaps his greatest legacy to the city is Prescott Park. If you’ve ever heard the lilting melodies of the musical Annie wafting across the city night after night from the summer performances there, you have Dale to thank. As a lawyer, he represented the Prescott sisters of Portsmouth. Their brother Charles Prescott, a wealthy Erie, Pennsylvania businessman, had willed his estate to a hospital in Erie. His sisters, however, contested the will. With Dale’s representation, they broke the will and won the estate, valued at $2.5 million (of which Dale received as much as $1 million.) With their money, they cleared out a section of Portsmouth waterfront and created Prescott Park in 1939.
It was the proceeds from this victory that probably allowed Dale to buy his North Hampton farm and build his new house there in 1940. A full description of the property can be found here. Dale used the farm primarily in the summer to get away from the city, though he and his wife lived there fulltime after retirement.