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PHOTO
Bruce Brown, owner of Brown's in Seabrook, has served in his town's government every year since 1965.
Staff photo by Jay Reiter

'Last of the Yankees'

By Susan Morse
smorse@seacoastonline.com

Seabrook, south Seabrook, is old Yankee, and we�re not talking about the bane of the Red Sox.

The Fowlers, the Eatons, the Southers, the Browns, the Knowles began settling the town called "Brook by the Sea" in 1638. They farmed, they fished in large numbers, they later worked in the shoe factories. Many never left. Most still have their clamming pails and are darn glad of it, fiercely proud to call themselves, "Seabrookers."

This newly vocal pride in their heritage may be the best thing residents - natives and new - can take away from the police chief controversy, an issue many say has divided the town like never before.

Henry Boyd, a local surveyor who represents developers before the Planning Board, got the ball rolling at the now-infamous May 5 selectmen�s meeting, which dealt with the resignation of former police chief Bill Baker.

"Old Seabrook to me is unlocked doors, unclogged roads, self-supporting, self-contained, proud, free of outside influence ... it�s never been just a place to live. ... Some don�t understand how a town can have so much root in somebody�s heart."

Someone whispered that if Boyd laments clogged roads so much he should stop bringing new development to town, but had there been a mayoral position that night, Henry Boyd would have won it.

Others spoke.

Margaret Gynan: "The clam digger and the clam pail are still in that garage and they will not leave."

Seabrookers also will not leave.

A town�s growth

Bruce Brown, owner of Brown�s Lobster Pound, has served as supervisor of the checklist since 1965, except for five years when he was a selectman.

"If you look at the checklist, there�s large groups of these families," said Brown, meaning the familiar Seabrook names.

The town is changing - and growing. The most recent U.S. Census report released on June 24 shows a 6.2 increase in Seabrook�s population, the largest increase on the Seacoast and almost double that of the national average.

"When I first went on, there were 1,500 registered voters," Brown said. "Between the three of us (supervisors), we knew every single person on the list."

Now there are 5,300 people on the checklist.

"We might know half," Brown said.

Before the mid-1950s when the townwide elementary school was built, Seabrook was divided into neighborhoods of the community elementary schools. Smithtown is the area where the Town Hall is located. Smithtown got its name in the late 1800s because a lot of people named Smith lived in the area, according to Eric Small, president of the Historical Society of Seabrook.

Crow Town was the sparsely populated section on the western side of Route 1.

South Seabrook is the area south of Walton Road where many of the old families live.

Those moving into town aren�t buying land, said Building Inspector Paul Garand. There�s none left since townwide sewer opened up development 10 years ago. Instead, people are replacing existing homes.

Seabrook is being renovated, its neighborhoods looking much like any other.

Valerie Brown was born in the south end of Seabrook and wouldn�t think of leaving. She cleans houses and the Police and Fire departments for a living, and also owns real estate. She now has 12 rental units, many within walking distance of her home on South Main Street.

Each time she buys, Brown said, she tears down what�s there or renovates. Most of what is going in is manufactured housing.

"Someone said to me a few years back, they came from Hampton: Don�t they have a lot of little clam shacks in Seabrook? This was about eight years ago. A lot of people got the wrong impression."

Most people in her neighborhood are native Seabrookers, though a new family just moved in down the street, coming here from Plaistow.

"I couldn�t leave here, it�s just not the same," Brown said. "I love my neighbors, couldn�t ask for better neighbors. I wouldn�t trade it for the world."

Brown referred to Boyd�s speech at Town Hall in May.

"My husband still has his clam digger," she said. "I still have my shucking knife. I could be in a big housing development, but I�d rather be here."

Li�l Abner

Planning Board Chairman Susan Foote can trace her family in Seabrook back to the 1600s. Her great-great grandmother lived on the property on South Main Street where she now lives with her husband Vinnie.

"When I first married 17 years ago, Vinnie�s son drove up to see us." He was driving down South Main Street for the first time, Foote said, and said, "Dad, did you move to Appalachia?"

Appalachia is the setting for Al Capp�s comic strip Li�l Abner, so most people would assume who have read it. It features clannish country folk who live in Dogpatch, a place, Capp said, where the men are ferocious and the women beautiful.

People in Seabrook claim it as their own. Capp called Seabrook the model for Dogpatch back in 1966, according to a history of Seabrook which is on the Lane Memorial Library�s Web site.

Seabrook bragged the claim in a bicentennial booklet.

True or not, what is known is Al Capp spent summers at a relative�s house on River Street.

Foote said Capp used to visit her grandfather, sitting on the grass with him and drinking cold, hard cider.

"I was told Grammy Yokum was my great-great grandmother Caroline," Foote said. "She sat in her rocking chair with a corn cob pipe with a quart of beer every night at 5 o�clock."

Foote still has her great-great-grandmother�s recipe for "Home Brew Elixir."

"It looks like a damn-good beer recipe," Foote said.

The hop plants are still in the back yard.

Are people proud of the Dogpatch connection?

"Yes and no," Foote said. "The younger generations get a chuckle out of it."

Those who were friends of Al Capp were "sort of teed off some of their family laundry was getting aired in comic strips," Foote said.

Marrying Sam, the justice of the peace in "Li�l Abner" who would marry anyone for $1, was named after a retired judge in Smithtown named Chase, Foote said. Chase had a sign on his property, "Justice of the Peace, marrying done on short notice."

Seabrook is changing

Foote�s own motto is on the bumper of her vehicle: "Get Involved, The World Is Run by Those Who Show Up."

Foote laments it�s still the old-time residents for the most part who get involved in local politics and serve on boards.

"We really need more people to be more actively involved. That�s part of democracy, not just showing up to vote the day the polls are open."

"New Seabrook wants to know who their state reps are, want to know who is their senator and congressman," said a town official who did not want to be named. "They�re professionals coming up from Mass., they�re used to mayor and aldermen. They�re registered to vote all right, registered to vote for president, not selectmen."

In Seabrook, politics and jobs are still well connected.

"The people in town here have a big stake in the town because they�re working for the town," Small said.

Selectmen Chairman Asa Knowles admits to having numerous relatives in town jobs, a total of 22 connections if one source is to be believed.

Knowles has made no secret of wanting Seabrook to remain independent of state influence.

Bruce Brown summed up the old Seabrook attitude this way: "They take pride they take care of themselves; they don�t want help from the government, neither do they want the government to tell them what to do."

Seabrook is changing, said resident Donna Bowlen at a June 2 selectmen�s meeting. What old-time Seabrookers don�t understand, she said, "is we�re not little Smithtown anymore. We need to move on with the times. The old, the new, can�t be. It has to be the now."

Said Brown, an influential Republican who hosts candidates at his lobster pound each presidential season: "A number of us took a trip to Vermont. A sign says, �Welcome to Vermont, the last stand of the Yankees.� Now Vermont is gone, Vermont is pretty liberal."

The sign should pertain to Seabrook, Brown said: "The last stand of the Yankees."

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