Rye Beach Village District
(Also known as the Rye Beach Precinct)
In 1900, the Portsmouth Electric Railway passed through Rye Beach on its way from Portsmouth to Hampton Beach. Rye Beach encompasses approximately one square mile in the Town of Rye. In 1902, Ocean Boulevard was constructed connecting and opening up the waterfront. In 1905, the Rye Beach Village District was established through legislative action in response to a petition of the land owners within the area of the current Rye Beach Village District or Precinct. Rye Beach became known as the Gold Coast of New Hampshire. It was a bustling, densely developed Victorian summer resort, distinguishing itself as a commercial area apart from the broader agrarian and fishing communities of the rest of the Town of Rye.
The Precinct, also known as a Village District, was formed to meet the needs of its summer residents’ for the sidewalks, lighting with the distinctive lollipop streetlights, and hydrants for a central water supply which came from a source other than Hampton Water. By 1915, Rye Beach had its own water main and fire hydrants, the first in the Town of Rye, as well as a sewer system on Sea Road and the lower end of South Road which consisted of two straight pipes that became a single pipe that extended to an ocean outfall. The rest of the town was not interested in developing the infrastructure and services needed for the hospitality industry of summer hotels and boarding houses found in the Precinct. The Rye Water District did not exist until the 1950’s.
The Precinct built its own community, or Precinct, building in 1919. It houses a U.S. post office, zip code 03871, separate from the other 5,000 occupants of the Town of Rye. Rye Beach hired the first Special Officer to police the Precinct, who later became the policeman for the Town of Rye and its Chief of Police. The Rye Beach Precinct had the first volunteer fire department in Rye, which existed until 1942, when the Town formed one and bought its first fire truck. That truck, a 1930 Model A Ford exists today and is preserved by the Rye Firemen’s Association. It carries Santa in the Rye Christmas Parade each year.
The New Hampshire Seacoast is eighteen miles in length, about half being within the Town of Rye. Only Bass and Sawyer’s Beaches are within the Rye Beach Precinct but Sawyer’s Beach is now a Town beach with parking for Rye residents by permit only. The turn-of-the-century trend of building “cottages” as seasonal residences in the Rye Beach Precinct area of large wooden hotels and boarding houses continued throughout most of the 1900s. Today, most are year- round residences.
Historical landmarks include St Andrews-by-the-Sea, an Episcopal church built by Philbrick-Abbott families which is still used seasonally. In 1903, the Abenaqui golf course was laid out and remains an active private club. There is also a private beach club built by the Jenness-Locke families in 1900 at Sea Road.
Over the years the Precinct’s functions have expanded. The Rye Beach Village District has a population of several hundred. It has its own Moderator, Planning Board, Clerk, Treasurer, Auditor, Board of Adjustment, and Zoning Administrator. It is governed by its three volunteer Commissioners, who are currently Frank Drake, Betty Smith and John Clifford. There is a Village District Office above the post office.
The Precinct is also governed by departments, commissions and boards of the Town of Rye. The Rye Beach Village District Master Plan clarifies that the Precinct has primary land use regulatory powers over the Rye Beach Village District under the State legislative action in 1937 which empowered the Precinct through its charter to have “exclusive power within its territorial limits to enact and enforce zoning and planning regulations.”