He may not have said, “The greatest use of life is to spend it on something that will outlast it,” but Oscar Bryan Harriman’s life stands as a testament to that famous statement. Harriman was an intriguing combination of entrepreneur, humanitarian, and businessman whose life and accomplishments are closely linked to the history of Hampton.
During the 40 years he spent in Franklin County (1865-1905), his enterprising spirit and interest in progress greatly contributed to Hampton’s growth. While he is primarily remembered as a prominent physician whose countywide medical practice served hundreds of people, he also gained notoriety as a civic leader.
Born in Warner, New Hampshire, in 1836 to John Harriman and Jane Colby, Oscar and his six siblings (Edward, Henry, Walter, Henry, Clara Jane, and Charlotte) were “people of substance and education.” Their grandfather bought each of them land in Iowa after the family moved to Iowa in 1860.
Before he left Warner, NH, in the early 1850s, Oscar taught school and was his town’s superintendent. After earning degrees from Dartmouth College and Bellevue Medical College in New Hampshire and taking post-graduate courses in New York and Chicago, Harriman came to Franklin County in 1865 to begin his medical practice. Dr. Harriman’s arrival in Hampton coincided with two historic events in 1870: the town of Hampton was officially incorporated and the first railroad entered Hampton.
Along with practicing medicine in Hampton, Dr. Harriman operated the town’s first drug store in partnership with his younger brother, Henry, and later with his son, J. Edward. In 1876, Dr. Harriman became the first president of the Franklin County Medical Association.
Rather than using his wealth, which included 500 acres in and around Hampton, exclusively for personal gain, Dr. Harriman invested much of it in his community. A good deal of downtown Hampton was a reflection of Harriman’s vision of growth and progress. He founded the town’s first drug store in 1868, and ten years later built the Harriman Block, a structure that was four storefronts wide and housed his offices. He operated the Harriman Opera House on the building’s second floor. Dr. Harriman also founded and served as editor of The Globe, the first newspaper in Hampton.
One of Harriman’s most notable plots of land was known as his One-Mile Horse Track, where horse racing was a popular recreation. That area is now the location of the high school football field and track.
Perhaps Dr. Harriman was proudest of the elegant two-story Italianate “T Plan” house he built on a 45-acre tract of land on the west edge of Hampton. There he lived for 24 years with his wife, Ellen, and his five children (J. Edward, Jeannie, Lillian, Vera, and Dea). The home, which was part of Evergreen Park, was built in the early 1880s and remodeled in 1889.
Dr. Harriman’s work as a respected physician and his investment of time and money in the community helped him become a three-term mayor of Hampton, as well as its postmaster. He served as Franklin County’s coroner for six years and county physician for 10 years. In 1892 he was a delegate to the National Democratic Convention.
While the house in Evergreen Park is the only surviving building associated with his productive life, Dr. Oscar Bryan Harriman left an enduring legacy as a man who cared deeply about his community and dedicated his life to helping it grow and prosper.
written & submitted by Brian Thies