Summer Cottages…Large and Small
By Kathi Caldwell-Hopper
When we think of a summer cottage, a tiny, one or two room wooden structure comes to mind. The cottage might fit more than one vacationing family, with everyone spending long, lazy days on a nearby beach or boating on the lake.
Another type of summer “cottage” brought wealthy people to the Lakes Region, where their version of a summer place was quite different. If you were a wealthy Bostonian or upper-class member of New York society in the late 1800s to mid 1900s, your summer cottage might have up to 10 rooms, a luxurious screened porch and every amenity possible.
When upper-crust members of society built summer homes in the Lake Winnipesaukee and White Mountain areas of NH, they brought with them what their idea of “cottages” and vacationing should be.
Undoubtedly the most famous estate in the Lakes Region is the property known as Lucknow or Castle in the Clouds. The castle’s original owner, Thomas Plant, was a wealthy inventor and businessman who bought the mountain property in about 1911. The Moultonboro site was perfect for Plant’s ultimate home, which he envisioned as sitting high on a mountainside with incredible views of the lake and mountains. The mansion was made of cut stone and had every modern-day amenity such as state-of-the-art showers, central vacuuming, a cooled wine cellar, forced hot water heating and more.
The Castle welcomes the public daily for tours in the spring, summer and fall, as well as offering the estate for many activities.
Elsewhere in the area, the Schrafft family, owners of a famed candy company, came to the Squam Lake region and put down summer home roots in the early 1900s. According to Squam by Rachel Carley, Robert Herman Otto Schulz (of Boston) and his wife, Louise Schrafft, built a home on a cove in the area. They named their summer home Indian Carry after a supposed Indian trail on the land. Not one to do things sparingly, the couple’s estate had seven buildings, including the large home as well as a boathouse and bunkhouse.
Most likely Louise’s family visited her summer home and fell in love with the area as well. Her brother, William Schrafft and his wife built nearby on a rise with breathtaking views of the area. The home was called Chimney Pots and was designed in a chalet style, probably large and well furnished.
Other Schrafft family cottages were Lochland, later to be purchased by television broadcaster William S. Paley (Frank Sinatra and other Rat Packers were said to be among the guests to the home) and the former Sunset House (inn). Benjamin Moore paint chairman Livingston Moore once owned the property.
In nearby Tamworth, an old Boston family built a summer cottage in the 1890s. Elliott Channing Clarke liked the area and began to buy and consolidate small farms, which he built into one large country estate called Great Hill Farm.
A successful engineer, Clarke added on to a one-and-a-half story, circa 1790s home. He filled the estate with gaming tables, beautiful furniture and big game trophies from his hunting expeditions.
According to Summer Cottages in the White Mountains – The Architecture of Leisure and Recreation 1870 to 1930 by Bryant F. Tolles, Jr., among the first houses built with the express purpose of becoming a summer “cottage” in the Squam Lake Region was that of engineer William Norton. The Nortons were so impressed with the beauty of the Squam area that they bought land in Holderness. On the site they built The Pines, a wonderful summer home. According to Squam by Rachel Carley, it was the custom to build summer homes away from the lakes and ponds in the late 1800s. It was thought that insects around water bodies carried illness; the Nortons built their cottage near the top of Shepard Hill, which gave them great views of the lake and mountains.
Friends and associates of Mr. Norton soon followed to the Shepard Hill Area. One of the enterprising groups built the Asquam House hotel. The hotel would become a busy spot with summer tourists over the years.
One visitor, John Nicolay, was private secretary to Abraham Lincoln and later a marshal of the U.S. Supreme Court. The cottage that Nicolay built for his family’s summer use was called Tannenruch. The property remained in the Nicolay family until the death of John’s daughter, Helen Nicolay, a respected artist and writer.
Occasionally a famous person or family built or bought a summer home in the Lakes Region. Actor Claude Rains was one such personage that settled in the area. Rains was well known in the 1930s and 1940s as a character actor. He was quite a famous movie star in his time, perhaps best known for his role as Inspector Renault in the 1942 film classic, “Casablanca”. Towards the end of his life, he resided at the former Weed house at the junction of Route 109 and Little Pond Road in Sandwich.
Rains had an impressive resume as an actor; he was known for his roles in “The Invisible Man” and as Sir John Talbot in “The Wolf Man”. He also had a role as a Nazi spy in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious”, and he earned four Academy Award nominations during his career.
When Rains and his wife sent their daughter to camp in New Hampshire, they were introduced to the area, according to written accounts. A family friend who resided in Sandwich each summer invited the Rains family to visit.
The couple must have decided to relocate to New Hampshire and it is said Rains missed the country life when he resided elsewhere. Eventually, Rains approached Denley Emerson, a Sandwich real estate agent, about finding a manor-style in the Sandwich area, and Emerson successfully brokered the sale of the Weed house. Rains bought the property from Dorothy Weed, age 84 in 1963.
The Rains family modernized the home somewhat, but every effort was made to maintain the original. Rains believed in keeping the integrity of historic houses and barns. The kitchen was updated, and he had a small porch enclosed, and an icehouse turned into an art studio for Mrs. Rains. Other alterations were cosmetic, such as painting the walls. Rains also took pride in the yard, planting lilacs, magnolias, hydrangeas, and crabapple trees. Claude Rains enjoyed his time in the area, and passed away in the late 1960s.
In the Newfound Lake area, a farm in the Whittemore Point (Bridgewater) locale was purchased by E. P. Lindsey of Boston. Refurbished from top to bottom, the farm had a cottage for hired help and a modernized barn. Many renovations were made to the brick farmhouse. Lindsey may have been originally from the Newfound area, and it is known that as a young man he worked as a common laborer in Bristol. Eventually, he amassed a fortune, and when his wife died in the 1930s the estate was valued at over $1 million.
While the wealthy upper class were settling in the Squam and other lake areas, farmers and innkeepers were starting to take in summer vacationers on a more modest scale.
In 1880, the first summer boarding house was built in Bridgewater on the eastern side of Newfound Lake. Originally called Lake View House, the structure was three stories high, with a dining room, dance hall and 75 bedrooms.
Soon other hotels sprang up in the area, according to Newfound Lake, by Charles Greenwood: Elm Lawn; Bayview House, and later, Pasquaney. Large farms continued to help meet the demand for lodgings, and just a few were Ackerman House, the Silas Brown property known as Newfound Lake Farm, and the Norman Smith farm. The largest town in the area was Bristol, and it boasted the Hotel Bristol and the G. G. Brown Hotel in the mid-1800s.
Cottages were also springing up around the lake in the late 1800s. One area on the eastern side of Newfound Lake near Bridgewater became known as "Cottage City." Owned mostly by professional and local businessmen, the summer homes were at the time the largest grouping of private cottages.
By the early part of the 1900s, housekeeping cottages sprang up in the area to meet the demand for inexpensive tourist housing. The cottages were rented to visitors for a week, or sometimes for an entire summer.
W. F. Darling of Bristol built a large group of cottages in the 1920s. The colony was first known as Hiland Park with about 100 cottages. Guests could rent a cottage, cook their own meals, and best of all, relax on their porch and take in the wonderful views. Eventually this cottage colony would become known as Bungalow Village.
About this time, at the foot of Newfound Lake, Walter Prince bought over 1,000 feet of shore property, on which he built a cottage colony. Prince saw further opportunities for income by building a store, restaurant and gas station. Everything the vacationer could want—from a dip in the lake, to dinner in a restaurant and gas for the family car—was at Prince's.
On Lake Winnipesaukee, cottage colonies, as well as private summer homes/cottages have come and gone over the years. There was the Terrace Hotel in Laconia, a stately inn overlooking the water; the Sweetwood Cottages, Little Cape Codder Cabins, Look Off Rock Cabins, to name but a few of the summer lodging establishments that offered overnight or longer accommodations to the vacationing public.
Whether a modest wooden structure or a cottage colony or inn establishment, or a grand private summer home for a wealthy person, the Lakes Region attracted all sorts of people. Their homes may have been different, but the thing that brought them here: the beauty and tranquility of a summer spent by the water, is something they had in common.