Wentworth by the Sea after WWII
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Written by Maryellen Burke and JD Robinson

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WENTWORTH HOTEL HISTORY

A young couple from Colorado bought the sprawling Wentworth by the Sea just as World War II ended. Working as a team, they kept the wooden Victorian complex running for 34 seasons. But the age of the building, its guests and its owners eventually let to its closing.

 

 

 

 

 

The Smith Era 1946 to 1980

Over its first century, ownership of Wentworth-by-the-Sea passed from Jones to Smith. NH millionaire Frank Jones bought the hotel from its builders late in the 1879s. Ownership passed through Harry Beckwith who closed the New Castle, NH resort during World War II. It reopened in 1946 thanks to the young Margaret and James Barker Smith, who purchased the historic property for about $200,000. Three years later they purchased the Rockingham Hotel in nearby Portsmouth, also once owned by Jones.

wbsbooklink.jpgNew Hampshire's version of a high-society resort continued through the second half of the 20th century much as it had in the past. While talent like Cab Calloway and Xavier Cougat performed onstage, the guests remained white and Gentile, at was known as an "exclusive" resort. The Smiths carried on a similar schedule of performances, tennis and golf tournaments, clambakes, formal dinners and costume balls for 34 years. The owners campaigned against the new fifty-cent minimum wage and, when a black writer was invited to lecture at the hotel, canceled the speech when hotel guests voted to "uninvite" the speaker. But slowly, 20th century attitudes found their way into Wentworth policies and the hotel was integrated in 1964. S

The couple collected an extensive archive of publicity photos from the 1950s and 60s. Although the hotel’s publicity photos largely show a youthful clientele, in fact, the regular visitors were aging. While hotel staff left in droves to attend the Woodstock concert in 1969, guests were re-enacting a gala ball from the Civil War era. Time seemed not to touch the grand hotel.

But in 1969 a fire in a dormitory killed one staff member. In 1973 new construction was timed to celebrate the hotel's centennial and the 350th anniversary of the first settlement on the NH Seacoast. Agining themselves, the Smiths sold the property to a Swedish company in 1980 for $5.6 million. The hotel was closed in 1982 and moved through the hands of a number of developers for two decades before it renovated, modernized and re-opened by Ocean Properties in 2003.

By JD Robinson & Maryellen Burke
Copyright SeacoastNH.com. All rights reserved.
All photos (c) Portsmouth Athenaeum. All rights reserved.

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All photos of Wentworth by the Sea in the Smith era
(c) Portsmouth Athenaeum from the Smith Collection
All rights reserved.