Over its first century, ownership of Wentworth-by-the-Sea passed from Jones to Smith. After NH millionaire Frank Jones at the turn of the 19th century ownership passed through Harry Beckwith who closed the New Castle, NH resort during World War II. It reopened in 1946 thanks to Margaret and James Barker Smith, who purchased the historic property for $200,000. Three years later they purchased the Rockingham Hotel in nearby Portsmouth, also once owned by Jones.
New Hampshire's version of a high-society resort continued much as it had in the past. While talent like Cab Calloway and Xavier Cougat performed onstage, the guests remained largely white and Gentile. James Smith Sr. 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 "univite" the speaker. But slowly, 20th century attitudes found their way into Wentworth policies.
An extensive archive of publicity photos from the 1950s and 60s depict gala costume balls, tennis tournaments, formal dinners, debutante parties and beach scenes. It is an era seemingly untouched by the youth revolution sweeping the nation.
In 1969 a fire in a dormitory killed one person. In 1973 new construction was timed to celebrate the hotel's centennial and the 350th anniversary of the first settlement on the NH Seacoast. After 35 years, the Smiths sold the property to a Swedish company in 1980 for $5.6 million. The hotel was closed in 1982 and has been in the hands of a number of companies since.
By J. Dennis Robinson and Maryellen Burke
© 1999 SeacoastNH.com
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