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Carrying On A Tradition: Vacationing At Proctor’s Lakehouse Cottages

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - September 9, 2013





Proctor's Lakehouse Cottages.

Proctor’s Lakehouse Cottages.

What do a former Ziegfeld’s dancer, a young couple with two small children, and a former insurance executive and his wife have in common? Not much, one would assume at first glance.

In reality, these people have one huge, life-changing thing in common: At one time or another, each owned a group of cottages and a large home on Lake Winnipesaukee at Weirs Beach.

These days, Proctor’s Lakehouse Cottages is owned and operated by Fred and Maureen Clausen. With two grown children and a desire to own a hotel or lodging establishment, Fred and Maureen began, some years ago, to shop for just such a business. Fred had worked in the insurance industry for years but was ready for a change in the late 1990s.

“We had been looking for a property for about three years,” Fred recalls as he and Maureen sit on the spacious porch of Proctor’s office building on a busy summer Sunday afternoon. (The building also is their residence.)

“We heard that Proctor’s was on the market, but we had been burned before. By that I mean that we made offers and got our hopes up on other properties, only to have someone come in with a better offer. So I wouldn’t even look at Proctor’s at first because I didn’t want to go through being disappointed again.”

Fred and Maureen Clausen

Fred and Maureen Clausen, owners of Proctor’s Lakehouse Cottages.

Maureen laughs as she says, “We saw the property and Jean, the owner, really liked Fred. They sat and talked and she liked his ideas; our plans fit with what she wanted for Proctor’s. So Jean accepted our first offer!”

That was in the spring of 1999 and, certainly, Fred and Maureen could have no idea of the new relationships they would build once they took over.

Because Fred grew up in the hospitality industry (his father ran The Balsams for years and his brother is in the hotel business), he had some idea of the commitment involved.

In those first years, Maureen commuted from their home in Massachusetts to help Fred as much as she could, but she was not at Proctor’s full-time. “I had a job in Massachusetts and a child still in school, so I continued to live there and commute to help at Proctor’s until 2003,” she said.

“When we bought Proctor’s, there were 22 units,” Fred said, “but they were ‘tired motel rooms’ that needed to be updated. We began to renovate and update and, every year, we put money back into the business by continually upgrading things.”

early proctors sign

An early version of the sign at Proctor’s.

At this time, there are 20 units, eight of which are family suites with kitchenettes. Twelve cottages sleep between two and seven people.

One of the big changes that Fred and Maureen made to the business, which fronts bustling Weirs Boulevard, was to install a new sign and to rename the lodging establishment. Originally the business was named Pine Tree Lodge, owned by Ludie Williams in the 1930s. (Ludie was a former Ziegfeld Follies dancer.) When John and Mary Proctor purchased the business, they renamed it Proctor’s Pine Tree Lodge and then Proctor’s Motel and Cottages. John and Mary eventually sold the business to daughter Jean and her husband. Once the Clausens purchased the business from Jean, Fred renamed it Proctor’s Lakehouse Cottages to better reflect the lakefront aspect.

Both Fred and Maureen stress that Proctor’s is a family-oriented business and most vacationers return year after year to enjoy a week or longer at the lakefront spot.

Fred says. “We do not book online (although we have a great website). We want to talk to the people who call to inquire about staying with us because we are a family-oriented business. I can get a feel over the phone if we are a good fit for a vacationer. We know many of our guests because they come back year after year and some stayed here as children and are now bringing their kids here for vacations.”

As they talk, Maureen and Fred pause now and then to wave to a departing family that has just spent a week at Proctor’s, or to chat with others who are currently enjoying a stay. Clearly, the Clausens appreciate their guests and work hard to make a vacationer’s stay a great experience.

Beach

The large, 350-foot beach is one of the main features of Proctor’s.

A major part of the experience of staying at Proctors is the private, 350-foot sandy beach with five boat slips. From the porch, one can look down to the beachfront area, which is the height of family-friendly recreation. A large raised deck offers lots of seating for sunbathers or families who are enjoying the beach area. The deck is a recognizable part of Proctor’s and many old photos and postcards show the raised area that has been enjoyed by guests for generations. (The original deck has been replaced with a newer model.)

“The water gets deeper gradually, so it is very safe for children at our beach,” Maureen adds. The beach is a gem and Fred explains that it was formed in the 1950s when the US Army Corps of Engineers dredged the Weirs channel because it was too shallow. By doing so, a happy bonus was that businesses along the channel, including Proctor’s, were given a lot of sand. The sand created the wonderful beach still enjoyed by guests at Proctor’s today.

Guests love the fact that the owners “live above the shop” so to speak; Fred and Maureen reside in the old lake house that also serves as the guest registration office. The rambling house has five bedrooms and was built about 1910. Known as one of the Knight Houses, it was named for Colonel Knight. (The Colonel is a bit of a mystery to the Clausens; “We assume he was a military man in the 1800s,” Maureen surmises. A number of homes, which came to be known as the Knight Houses, were built in the Weirs area.)

“We did structural changes to the house,” Fred says. “We updated wiring and took the sinks out of the bedrooms. In former days, those five bedrooms doubled as hotel rooms when necessary, which is why they needed sinks in the rooms. Jean told us that, at one time, if a guest stopped by and needed a room for the night, she would rent them her bedroom and she would sleep on the couch!”

Clearly, those days are long gone, but the house does see various guests sitting and chatting in the registration office with the Clausens.

Beach deck

The large deck overlooking the shore is another of Proctor’s most popular features.

Fred also had the house upgraded with blown-in insulation. Two units with their own entrances are attached to the main house and were approved to go condo five years ago.

Times do change and it is with a bittersweet feeling that Fred and Maureen have made the decision to place their beloved business on the market. “It’s time to do some different things,” says Fred as he gazes over the lake.

Clearly the Clausens did not come to the decision lightly but they are also pragmatic about moving on. “We do have other things we would like to do and this business takes up all our time right now,” Maureen adds. “We have wonderful kids and grandchildren that we want to spend more time with. And I would love to volunteer; I love to read and I would like to volunteer to teach reading.”

It takes a great deal of energy to run the busy lodging establishment. Fred refers to a story he wrote called “The Proprietor’s Views: A Day in the Life of a Motel Operator Couple”, which describes a crazy-busy typical day for Fred and Maureen at Proctor’s. From pre-planning what would need to be done on Saturday change-over day to office filing to answering emails and phone inquiries to groundskeeping and housekeeping and laundry, stopping to have their photos taken with children for guest memory albums, to checking in and attending to the next round of guests, the cycle may be fun, but it is never-ending.

As for Fred, the can-do guy who is never so happy as when throwing his energy into a project, how does leaving the business he nurtured since 1999 make him feel and how will he eventually bid all those vacationing families a fond farewell?

“We’ve told some of our guests,” he says with a catch in his voice. Maureen steps in and explains that this is not easy for Fred, but they both blink back tears. “No one works harder than Fred and he has put his heart and soul into Proctor’s.”

She too, is clearly emotional about moving on. But soon, as they begin to talk about where the future will lead them, excitement replaces sadness. “There is a group that is trying to put together a Retro Tour, and I would like to be involved with that,” Fred says. (This will be a tour of the lesser-traveled, off-highway route still lined with old motels and cottages in the Lakes Region and White Mountains.) With Fred’s love and knowledge of old lodging establishments and tourism, this project seems a perfect fit.

Wherever the visionary, energetic couple heads in the future, they will be sure to leave their mark of generosity and friendliness. In the future, Fred and Maureen will join the list of former Proctor’s owners who have one very important thing in common: welcoming generations of families for a memorable summer vacation at the lake.

For listing information on Proctor’s Lakehouse Cottages, call Ruth Neidhardt at 603-455-0176. 

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