by Mary O'Neill
Sales Associate at Roche Realty Group
"The island had come to seem one of the places seen from a train that belong to a life which we shall never take part." These words of author Arthur Ransome reflect the notion that living on an island is a sublime fantasy reserved for the fortunate few. However, the islands on Lake Winnipesaukee make this way of living a reality for thousands. Countless homes and camps dot the shoreline on many of the over 250 islands on the lake, from around 200 residences on the largest unbridged island (780-acre Bear Island) to Welcome Island, where, according to Winnipesaukee.com, its one home is said to cover 99.9865 percent of the island.
Winnipesaukee is New Hampshire's largest lake and covers 72 square miles. The number of islands it contains is a constant source of debate. Currently there are thought to be around 261. According to Bizer, a company that makes navigational maps of the lake, the combined shoreline length of all the islands is over 100 miles. The largest is Long Island, covering over 1,100 acres, and the smallest is Becky's Garden, which is only about 10 feet wide, though this varies with the water level. The other largest islands include Bear Island (780 acres and the only one with its own church), Cow Island (522 acres), Governors Island (504 acres), Rattlesnake Island (368 acres), Welch Island (187 acres), Little Bear Island (143 acres), Timber Island (136 acres), and Mark Island (102 acres). Six islands are connected to the mainland by bridges, including the largest (Long) and exclusive Governor's Island, which was a royal grant to Provincial Governor John Wentworth in 1772 (governorsislandclub.com). Rattlesnake Island has the highest elevation on the lake – the rocky summit is about 900 feet high (rattlesnakeisland.net). There are three Cove Islands, 3 Loon, 3 Rock, and 6 with the word "pine" in their name (winnipesaukee.info).
With titles like "Upper Shoe," "Gichigumi," "Little Whortleberry," and "Scavenger," one may wonder how some of these islands came to be called by their present name. Each probably has a story behind it, such as Horse Island. As the tale goes, many years back a summer resident of Center Harbor had to transport his horse by boat to the Weirs. A sudden storm came up and the craft sank. Unfortunately the man disappeared, but after days of searching the horse was found living happily on the island (Heald, 2001).
In the 1800s, Diamond Island featured the Diamond Island House, a popular destination for summer guests which included a restaurant and bowling alley. At a later date the structure was moved across the ice to the Weirs and became part of the Hotel Weirs (rocherealty.com). It is believed that Guernsey cows were first brought to America in the 1840s. According to reports, Cow Island received its name because it was used to quarantine this first herd of Guernsey cows. In fact, many of Winnipesaukee's islands were once used as safe pastureland for cows and sheep, including Mark, Bear, and Timber Islands (Hopper, 2011, thelaker.com).
Stonedam Island is a breathtaking 112-acre wildlife preserve protected by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust. There is docking on the northeast shore, a beach, picnic areas, and a beautiful network of hiking trails. The island derived its name from an old stone causeway that at one time connected it to the mainland on Meredith Neck. The remains of the causeway are still visible when the water levels are low. Today the waters around the old causeway are known as Sally's Gut. It is a notoriously difficult area to navigate (lrct.org). Inevitably, the more you read about the history of the islands, each one begins to take on a personality.
On Winnipesaukee, there is an island property to appeal to anyone's idea of the idyllic island life. Large family compounds with bunkhouses supporting the main house provide an escape where family and extended family can gather to enjoy summer rituals. You can still find rambling, nostalgic residences that hearken back to old New Hampshire summers filled with simple pleasures. Many seasonal camps command stunning private shoreline on countless islands. Parcels of land are available and provide the perfect excuse to build a custom getaway exactly as you imagined. And then there are the private islands with only one residence – the ultimate retreat for those fortunate enough to own them. Winnipesaukee's variety of island homes is vast. Even tiny Becky's Garden has one minuscule New Englander, porch and all – literally only big enough to accommodate Barbie and Ken.
In his book, Lake Winnipesaukee, author Bruce Heald writes, "Winnipesaukee lacks nothing that pleases the eye of the outdoor devotee...in its glorious ensemble there is water, mountain, island, river, meadow, wilderness, cloud effect, and sunrise and sunset pictures – the most beautiful imaginable" (Heald, 2001). For those blessed to live on one of Winnipesaukee's many islands, this description is all the more significant. In the words of author M.T. Anderson, for island dwellers "life in all its operations seems unspeakably generous."
Please feel free to visit www.rocherealty.com to learn more about the Lakes Region and its real estate market. Mary O'Neill is a sales associate at Roche Realty Group in Meredith and Laconia, and can be reached at 603-366-6306.
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