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Lovely Lake Wentworth

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - September 10, 2012

The lake was so beautiful it lured one of the most famous New Englanders of the 1700s: Governor John Wentworth. The Royal Governor built a dazzling summer home on the shores of Lake Wentworth not far from downtown Wolfeboro (although at that time, there was not much settlement in the town).

Before the Governor’s time, the area was indeed uninhabited. That did not mean, however, that Native Americans were unfamiliar with the area. Along what is today the Main Street of Wolfeboro, there once ran an important trail linking from the east and west between today’s Fryeburg, Maine and Concord. NH. The trail also linked Canada and south central New England. Small tribes lived around the Lakes Region and traveled the trail for trading with other tribes.

By the time Governor Wentworth arrived on the scene, there was the beginning of settlement in the area. He must have loved the lake, because he chose to build his summer home on the shores of what would become known as Lake Wentworth. The shore of his property was about a two-mile stretch. At the landing, supplies for the mansion came from the seacoast area or Boston. The bustling property had a sawmill and barns for cattle. The Governor often entertained for weeks at a time, bringing important dignitaries from all over New England and perhaps Europe to rural NH.

It is said that Frances, the Governor’s wife, had a favorite picnic spot atop nearby Mount Delight. On this hill, many years in the future, Camp Birchmont would be born.

Although she entertained often when in NH, Frances was said to hate the country and found it isolating and boring. Frances would not have to endure the country life for long; the family fled America and settled in England during the Revolutionary War.

The estate on Lake Wentworth was put up for public auction in 1780. The 67 acres of land included the mansion and all its furnishings. It passed through many owners over the years and was razed by fire in 1820. In 1933, landowner Lawrence S. Mayo gave 100 acres and the site where the mansion had stood to the state of NH. The Works Progress Administration restored the cellar walls of the former mansion and had the land cleared.

Elsewhere on Lake Wentworth, the Point Breeze Camp was among the oldest on the lake and a casino at one time entertained vacationers at the Point of Pines area. Not far away, the Crescent Lake Land & Livestock Company was thought to be a great new business. However, it came to be known as the Great Sheep Raising Scheme of 1910. The ranch failed to prosper in the business of wool, meat and breeding stock; investors lost money when the business dissolved.

On Lake Wentworth’s Kenney Shore, another business venture did quite well. In the winter, ice was cut from the lake and shipped by the ton to Boston, where it could be sold to restaurants and private households.

There are about 18 islands on the lake: Stamp Act Island, Bass Island, Cate Island, Mink Island, Goose Island, East and West Jockey Cap Islands, Triggs Island, Turtle Island, Fanny Island, Brummet Island, and a group known as the Seven Sisters Islands: Sister Island, Poplar Island, Loon Island, Flo Island, Wal Island, Min Island, and Joe Island.

Poplar Island belonged to C.B. Edgerly and J.M. Cate until 1881, when Rev. F.H. Spear purchased it in 1910. Spear erected a boathouse on the island.

Sister Island was originally owned by Daniel “Old Dan” Kimball. He built a small cabin in the middle of the island where he stayed in the summer. Sister Island at one time was called Wakefield Island after John F. Wakefield, who set up a system of buoys with the help of an island guide.

Loon Island was home to the Estes Hotel, which was run by John Estes. The hotel must have been a thriving place, because it was once known for its crazy parties!

The second largest island on Lake Wentworth is Triggs Island, named for a family that owned the property for years. It was also known as Minister’s Island because of the large number of clergymen who summered there. The island was sold to Thomas W. Clow in 1904. He then sold the island to three Methodist ministers. The ministers had five cottages built on the island, but sold a house on their land on the condition that the new owners not drink alcoholic beverages on the island. Triggs offered electricity from an underwater tube with multiple wires running through it.

Stamp Act Island has an interesting history; Governor John Wentworth once owned it. The Governor was influential in repealing Britain’s Stamp Act, and although he was a loyal British subject, even locals who supported the Revolution loved him. (This was probably because Wentworth moved to repeal the British Stamp Act.) It was because of his support that the lake was named for him.

In 1975 the Lake Wentworth Association became aware of and concerned about the island’s potential for development. They knew the rich land could well be the site of house lots and development. The Association asked the Nature Conservancy to help protect the island. At the time, Mrs. Virginia Davenport owned the majority of the island. She was planning to sell the island and agreed to give the Lake Wentworth Association time to raise the necessary money to purchase the island.

The Nature Conservancy recognized the abundance of wildlife on the island, including a heron rookery. In 1975, the Conservancy was able to buy the entire island from Mrs. Davenport and a second landowner, Mrs. Maude Cate.

Today, Stamp Act Island’s shoreline remains undeveloped. Loons and other waterfowl live in the surrounding waters while the island’s interior supports a rare black gum swamp. The island has about 100 acres of land and is around 4,000 feet long and about 1,200 feet wide at its broadest point.

Governor Wentworth’s brother, Thomas Wentworth, and another man, Joshua Brackett, originally owned the area that would become Pleasant Valley. About 150–200 years ago, a large settlement formed in this area. It was originally known as Racoonborough, but in 1900 a traveling minister, not liking the raccoon name, dubbed it Pleasant Valley.

On Lake Wentworth, Baptists held meetings on Jesse Whitten’s farm property. The land was first settled in 1788, and there was a clay pit and kiln, very helpful to those who were living in the area.

The Lake Wentworth Association was formed about 1930 by a group of campers who wanted to protect their property. They also wanted to improve lake navigation, conserve the waterways and land and the wildlife. The Association has dealt with everything from offering rewards for winter break-ins of cottages to the huge effort to protect Stamp Act Island.

Lake Wentworth’s long history includes Native Americans, ministers, campers, nature lovers and many others. When traveling around the shores, it is easy to see why so many people, from humble cottagers to a Royal Governor, were drawn to the lovely lake. 

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