The little business that could

Started in 1908

The insurance business was started by the Reverend Edgar Warren in 1908, at a time when the world was in the midst of vast and exciting changes. Automobiles and telephones were gaining in popularity, with Henry Ford’s Model T debuting that year. Americans were reading Jack London and Henry James, and flocked to see nickelodeon picture shows. Unrest was brewing in Europe, but the United States was still at peace. Amidst this backdrop, the little insurance company took hold, and became a solid part of the Hampton business community.

In 1915, Reverend Warren sold the business to Herbert L. Tobey. Tobey was basically looking for something new to do. He had a successful dye selling business, but with the advent of World War I, could no longer get the dyes he required. Insurance seemed like a sound venture, and for good measure, Tobey also opened a real estate business. In 1916, with the business continuing to grow, Tobey hired C. Ruth Noyes as his assistant. In 1917, she married Dean B. Merrill, who has just returned from the war. Soon after, Merrill joined Tobey in the agency. By 1920, they had become partners, and the agency became formally known as Tobey & Merrill.

Herbert Tobey died in 1955, but his son, Lester, followed in his footsteps, purchasing his father’s stock and continuing in the business. Lester’s son, John, would also join the firm, but would leave the business in 1988, selling his interest in the company to the Merrill family. (Lester’s other son, Herbert, did not join the firm, but also sold his stock to the Merrill family.) In 1987, Lester died, and in 1988, Dean Merrill passed on as well.

In 1948, Dean Merrill’s son, Russell, had come into the agency, carrying on his father’s work. Norman, Russell's brother, became a shareholder, but did not enter the business. Russell would later be joined in the firm by his sons, Dean (in 1975), and Geoffrey (in 1988). In 1948, the firm formally became a corporation, retaining the name Tobey & Merrill.

As the town of Hampton grew, and the needs of its citizens changed, Tobey & Merrill changed with them. For most of its years, the company was principally involved in Property and Casualty protection, but in March 1989, the business expanded its offerings into Life, Accident, and Health coverages. Today, Tobey & Merrill is a full service agency operating in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts. A Trusted Choice Insurance Agency, the firm serves 4,000 customers throughout the Greater Seacoast area, and represents 20 major insurance companies.

Long-time Hampton residents know that Tobey & Merrill has been a community landmark for many years--and in many locations. As the agency grew, it occupied various sites within the town. The company spent the early years at 449 Lafayette Road in a space that is now a barbershop. In 1936, the firm moved across the street to 430 Lafayette Road, and the old Oddfellows Building (which has since burned). By 1965, Tobey & Merrill had located at 42 High Street, at the Hampton Cooperative Bank Building. In 1987, the company moved once more to its present location at 20 High Street, into a building owned by Norman, Russell, and Dean Merrill.

Early on, Tobey & Merrill made a commitment to be active in the community, and that commitment has carried on through the generations that have run the business. The firm is either members of, or involved in, the Hampton Historical Society, the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, local school boards, Children’s Weekend, the Hampton Chamber’s Seafood Festival, and the annual holiday parades. The firm has sponsored via donation 30 organizations in the Hampton and greater Seacoast area, and each Christmas, provides an annual donation to their employees to use as a “Giving Gift.” Their prominent, lighted sign on High Street is regularly used by local organizations to promote nonprofit events, auctions, theater plays, fundraisers, community events, and more.

TobyMerrill Business Tree outlines

Today, Tobey & Merrill Insurance, Inc. has 11 employees, representing more than 200 years of experience, with nine staff members having their agent’s licenses. Seacoast residents, and their families, are comfortable dealing with a firm that served not only their parents, but their grandparents as well. And because Tobey & Merrill is a family-run firm, clients know that the agents they talk to truly understand the insurance needs of families today.