Roadside History: Bound Rock in Hampton is one of the oldest boundary markers in U.S.

March 18. 2017 6:40PM
N.H. Historical Marker 
Number: 120.
Date established: 1978 in Hampton.

Location: Woodstock Street. To get to Bound Rock, take Route 1-A south toward Seabrook. Take the first left past the bridge over the Hampton Harbor Inlet, which is Eisenhower Street. Follow Eisenhower to Campton Street, turn right, then turn right onto Portsmouth Street, then left onto Woodstock Street.

What the sign says: “This rock, originally in the middle of Hampton River, indicated the start of the boundary line surveyed by Capt. Nicholas Shapley and marked by him ‘AD 1657-HB and SH’ to determine the line between Hampton and Salisbury. HB meaning Hampton Bound and SH, Shapley’s mark. 
“Lost for many decades due to the shifting of the river’s mouth, the original course of the river and the Bound Rock were rediscovered in 1937. This historically important boulder, still serving as a boundary marker, was enclosed by the State of New Hampshire that same year.”

The back story: Bound Rock is one of the oldest boundary markers in the United States. The area where it sits has been disputed since the 1600s when both the New Hampshire and Massachusetts Bay colonies claimed the land and the taxes owed from it. Capt. Shapley’s surveying set the border line between Hampton and Salisbury as a ledge in the middle of the mouth of the Hampton River. The ledge became known as Bound Rock.

Another border dispute emerged later between Hampton and Seabrook, which was incorporated in 1768 as a separate town between Hampton and Salisbury. Eventually Bound Rock was found, excavated and inscribed with 
“H B 1850” to indicate when Hampton’s southern limit was set and also with 
“S H 1861.” 
Through the years, as the river changed its course, the rock would also disappear. It was lost from 1912 when it was surrounded by water until the 1930s. Hampton River had shifted north and the rock was found south of the river in an area of sand dunes.
Controversy over which town owned the small slice of land from the rock to the river emerged in the early 1940s when plans to replace a wooden bridge there got underway. Hampton wanted the border line to be the rock, meaning it would own access to both approaches to the bridge. Seabrook wanted the border to be the river. The case finally went before the state Supreme Court in 1953, which ruled in favor of Hampton, citing Bound Rock as the reason. Sand and water had shifted, but the rock’s location was fixed.

The feud didn’t end there. Hampton now owned the land, but it had to provide services to an area that was difficult for the town to reach. In the 1950s, Seabrook built a public water system that stopped south of the new town line, and it had no interest in Hampton’s request to extend water to the Hampton section.

The state of New Hampshire placed a concrete wall around Bound Rock in 1937 to protect the boundary marker. Hampton purchased the site from a private landowner in 1956 and covered the concrete enclosure with a steel grate in 1962.

Bound Rock was nominated as a National Historic Site in 1978, the same year the historical marker was placed.

Sources: Hampton’s Lane Memorial Library and Peter Randall’s “Hampton: A Century of Town and Beach, 1888-1988.”  


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