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Preserving the History & Heritage of Lake Winnipeasukee & Vicinity



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Reprinted from Lake Winnipesaukee, Compiled & Published by By Ronald W. Gallup, 1969

Before Governor Wentworth launched his sloop from the Eastern shore of Lake Winnipesaukee, all water travel was by Indian birch-canoe and dugout, with the possible addition of crude rafts.

Soon after the first settlement at Alton, John Smith and Stephen Adams of Moultonboro constructed the first gundalow type freight boat, a flat-bottomed, rectangular, barge with one to three masts for three cornered sails. Though clumsy and slow (below three miles per hour under favorable conditions, and impossible to operate during bad weather), they connected the Lake settlements and took the place of the inadequate trails until the horseboat took over. The last one known to be built was by Nathaniel Shannon of E. Moultonboro in 1837.

When a Mr. Patten built at Meredith a barge like vessel with double paddlewheels connected to a treadmill for one or two horses to walk on, Winnipesaukee had its first horseboat. Many more were put into operation, effectively caring for the Lake traffic from 1837 until after the first steamers were proven practical and put on regular schedule. The last one of record was owned by Captain Leander Lavallee from 1878 to 1890.

Steam powered freighters and excursion and passenger boats be­came a realization with the launching of the four-boiler Belknap, a slow, clumsy, 96 foot vessel with an engine from a saw-mill in 1833. After eight years of reasonable success, it was wrecked on Steamboat Island in 1841.

The next craft of account, designed for lake traffic, was the at­tractive Lady-of-the-Lake launched in 1848, with a length of 125 feet. Though the Weirs channel was deepened in 1833 after the Belknap made its first perilous "buoyed" passage, the Lady could enter and return from the Big Lake to its winter Lake Village quarters only by having the Weirs bridge removed each time for several years. After 44 exciting and reward­ing years of service, thousands of people were saddened by having the boat condemned and beached at Belknap Point at Glendale. From 1896 until the Lady was towed out to the East end of Governors Island and sunk with rocks, the final insult was its use as a barracks while Kimball's Castle was being built. The figurehead from the Lady is in Concord at the Historical Society of N. H.

Many thousands of people observed the launchings of the above vessels, but the real excitement came with the launching of the Mount Wash­ington in Alton Bay in 1872. A specially designed excursion and passenger boat of 178 feet, the longest, fastest (20 mph), and one of the most beautiful sidewheelers on any American inland water, The Mount, as thousands of people knew it, created a special place in history which was interrupted only by fire. After 67 wonderful years, the steamer Mount Washington burned along with the railroad station and dock in 1939, end­ing an impressive record of over 800,000 miles.

A change came to the Lake about 1877 with the first screw type boats the Nellie and Mineola. The next big innovation was that of gasoline engines and open power launches in or near 1900.

Meantime the Swallow was freighted to the Lake by rail, the first such event for a large boat. This private yacht was once the property of the Whitney family, a beautiful ship used to carry the flag of the Eastern Yacht Club of Marblehead. After an 1890 launching at Fall River, two years in salt water, and 76 years of prideful travel on Winnipesaukee, this craft can be seen on the Lake today.

The steamer days waned, ending the exhaust noise that carried up to ten miles, the soot and sparks of the wood burners, the coal engine dust and plumes of smoke and steam, the "walking-beams" of the side-wheelers, the frequent races (often between the competing passenger and excursion boats; the Mount Washington was never beaten), the galas of the late 19th century, the numerous big shipyards, and the romance of the steam boat-whistles.

Many other early boats churned to and fro: Dover (rebuilt to the Chocorua), Jenny Lind, Long Island, Dolly Dutton, Mayflower, Naugutuck, Seneca, Winnipesaukee, Gazelle, Lamprey, Maid-of-the-Isles, Belle-of-the-Waves, Cyclone, Eagle, James Bell, Roxmount, Meredith, Iroquois, Gilnockie, Windemere, Columbia, and many more.

The last of the large competing boats to be built was the impressive Governor Endicott, owned last by the Capt. Leander Lavallee family, launched in 1907, and retired in 1937.

Following the lamentable burning of the Mount, plans were laid by Mr. Lavallee to replace it by the unusual Chateaugay. A steel-hulled side-wheeler launched in Red Bank, N. J., in 1888, moved to 110 mile long Lake Champlain by Rutland RR for years of famed use, it was chopped out of the ice during the winter of 1940 and cut into 21 huge sections after being stripped for its "voyage" by rail to Lakeport. By August the multitude of problems had been surmounted, and the new Mount Washington II slipped off the ways on its trip to the Weirs for decking and finishing. The shores of Lake Paugus were carpeted with thousands of spectators, 500 hundred of which were allowed on board at Weirs bridge to ballast the vessel under the bridge. Few people today know that the ship was docked permanently during the 1942-3-4&5 due to the War fuel shortage, that the steam engines were removed for the Coast Guard (never used), and diesel engines were installed for the 1946 reactivation. The Mount Washington sails today in real favor in spite of the wide use of private boats, a relic of the past, since few such craft remain in use anywhere.

Mail began to be carried on the Lake in the late 1800's, but the first official date was 1892 when Rural Free Delivery Route #7 was set up under contract to Dr. George Saltmarsh with the vessel Robert and Arthur the first mailboat. In 1896 the Dolphin replaced it in service, and in 1906 the mail contract put the newly launched Uncle Sam onto the run as the third mailboat. In 1916, by Act of Congress (the only such incident in the United States to date), the Uncle Sam became the only floating-post office. For the years 1932 & 3 the Marshall Foch took the honors, but it was displaced in '34 by the Uncle Sam I, which ran uninterrupted until destroyed due to old age after the end of the 1961 season. 1962 saw a new Uncle Sam II, a 72 foot converted PT-Boat, brought in by rail and launched for the increased traffic from many countries.

Only one other mail route exists officially on the Lake, that which started about 1910 under Capt. Oscar York in the Columbia out of Wolfeboro, with the Wolfeboro postmark. The route today is run by the Gray Ghost. Freighters are a thing of the past; the excursion vessel Mount Washington has no competition; our Lake is the playground for vacationers, with water-skiing, speed, tiny sail et al that would make the fathers of Winnipesaukee shipping gasp for sure. They who were so familiar with the King's Pines and monstrous rafts of virgin timber would be amazed also at our modern navigation charts and the N. H. Boating Guide avail­able to all. The present canoes and the Appalachian Mountain Club canoing guide might delight them.
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