In the Lakes Region
By Stacy Milbouer and Tom Long / Fiddlehead Contributing Editors
Gunstock Mountain Resort has drawn visitors to the Lakes Region in winter since Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House, a loaf of bread cost nine cents and “They Can’t Take that Away from Me” was at the top of the music charts, but there’s more to the region than winter sports for visitors and locals alike.
“We enjoy the serenity and beauty of the lake here in the winter months,” said year-round Gilford resident, Mary Ellen Dutton. “The population of Gilford drops down to 7,000-ish like-minded residents, which makes it very, small-town quaint and peaceful. Going out to eat, to the grocery store, hiking, skiing or the post office, you run into familiar faces everywhere, and you feel part of a little village-like community.
“Being away from traffic and the hustle and bustle of the southern part of the state is very relaxing. There are a lot of indoor and outdoor winter activities and events, so it is never boring.”
We have some tips for mid-winter visits to Gilford and the adjoining towns of Gilmanton and Alton.
In the beginning…
The town of Gilford is often misspelled and rightfully so, it has always been thus. Originally part of Gilmanton, it was called Gunstock Parish. In 1812, Captain Lemuel B. Mason, who had fought in the Battle of Guilford Court in North Carolina during the Revolutionary War, prevailed upon his fellow residents to name the newly incorporated town Guilford after that battle, but the spelling was changed by a clerical error.
It’s All Downhill from Here
Gunstock Mountain Resort was built in in 1937 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) laborers during the Great Depression, and, when the ski area was created, it had the first chairlift in the east.
Gunstock is a county-owned ski area, which bills itself as the “New Hampshire’s Family Friendly Resort.” The 2,267-foot mountain has 55 novice, intermediate and expert trails, a new panorama high speed quad lift as well as two other quads, two conveyors and a handle tow, with a total lift capacity of 12,400 passengers per hour.
In addition to downhill skiing and snowboarding, there are miles of cross-country ski trails and areas to tube, snowshoe or ride fat-tired bikes. There is also winter camping and night skiing. And to celebrate its 80th ski season, the resort is selling special anniversary passes with discounts on lift tickets and rentals.
A half-mile down the road from the ski area is the Gunstock Inn and Resort. The Colonial-style, two-story inn has 25 rooms and an Olympic-sized indoor salt water swimming pool. The original building was constructed in the 1930s as the “barracks” for the WPA workers, who built Gunstock ski resort.
The adjoining Schuster’s Tavern and Steak House with its huge fireplace is a beloved watering hole for locals and visitors alike, where they take their beef seriously and dry-age the strip steaks in-house.
Not only does the inn have an authentic, cabin vibe and arguably the best view from a common room ever, it also is committed to the community and supports Camp Reliance – a retreat for disabled veterans, which takes place at the inn.
The tavern will offer a wine and chocolate heart-healthy dinner for Valentine’s Day.
Fun, Food and Games
Another year-round gathering place, Patrick’s Pub & Eatery, by Lake Winnipesaukee on Weirs Road, is like the “Cheers” of the Lakes Region. Not only does everybody know your name, they probably know your favorite burger and favorite game.
There’s different entertainment every day, including dueling pianos, trivia nights, comedy, sports events, open mics and live bands. The menu, developed by co-owner Jeff Beetle and chef Stephanie Kirk, is huge, featuring American fare, great burgers and sandwiches, and some Irish faves like shepherd’s pie and fish and chips. There’s something for everybody, from children to those who eat gluten-free.
Patrick’s is an integral part of the community. Each December, it hosts Pub Mania, a 24-hour-pub-stool-sitting event that raises money for less fortunate children and families in the Lakes Region. In the eight years the event has taken place, close to $1.5 million has been raised with 100 percent of the proceeds going to those in need.
The Lyon’s Den Restaurant and Tavern is also popular restaurant and watering hole on the banks of Lake Winnipesaukee, where they invite you to “come for the view, stay for the food.”
It’s a family-owned restaurant where Roland Lyons is chef-owner; his wife, Lauren, is manager; and their daughter Nikki, for whom the Chicken Nicole is named, is on the staff. Roland, the former chef at Lake Sunapee and Manchester country clubs, has a way with seafood.
Kitchen Cravings restaurant is situated at the south entrance to the Laconia Municipal Airport in Gilford. It boasts an “upscale dining experience with a home town feel” and serves breakfast and lunch. It was named the state’s Best Breakfast of 2017 by New Hampshire Magazine, and the airplanes make it a fun place to take the children.
You Better Shop Around
New Hampshire-made and themed gifts are featured at the Gilford Country Store and Consignment Shoppe, situated on Lake Shore Road in a 19th-century brick building, which was once a theater (Phyllis Diller slept here). You can’t miss it. There is a seven-foot tall green Adirondack chair built by the husband of owner, Kathy Tognacci.
Do some crystal gazing at Pepi Herrmann Crystal, 3 Waterford Place. Hermann is one of the few independent master crystal cutters in the country. He moved here from Austria more than 40 years ago and ever since has been creating exquisite heirloom-quality punch bowls, glassware, ornaments and jewelry using old-world techniques.
There’s more to do than just check out a book at the Gilford Public Library on Potter Hill Road. There are conversational French classes, knitting sessions, line dancing and you can play bridge and mahjong.
In the Beginning…
Alton is named for a small market town in Hampshire, England. Our Alton is where 19th-century swells disembarked from trains and hopped on steamships for their lakeside summer sojourns.
Photographs of the steamboats that once cruised Lake Winnipesauke, the hotels and camps that once dotted the shore, old postcards and other local memorabilia are on display at the Alton Historical Museum in the basement of Gilman Library, which is open from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on the third Saturday of the month.
Speaking of the past, in 1883, Old Tom, Major George Savage’s faithful Civil War steed, a fellow veteran of the battle of Chancellorsville, died. Savage asked that his horse be buried in Riverside Cemetery in Alton, where he, Savage, would join him later. But the cemetery trustees wouldn’t allow it. So, the Major had Tom buried near the cemetery. Over the years the cemetery has grown, and Old Tom’s grave is now within the resting place, a sign and memorial stone marking its place – not beside the Major, but close enough.
Park Your Pet
Speaking of beloved companions, some of us like to know our furry friends are close by and comfortable when we visit other places, even if it’s for one night. If you intend to stay for a while, Alton Bed and Biscuit is a family-run boarding facility where Fido can air himself out at three outdoor play areas, chill out in a climate-controlled individual room or visit the dog lounge with a couch and flat screen TV to catch up on the goings on at Animal Planet. And, if your kitty is easily bored, there are plenty of toys with which to play.
Just Wing It
In winter, when the ice becomes thick enough, usually in late January or February, the end of Alton Bay becomes the only ice runway in the lower 48 states approved by the FAA. On some days as many as 50 pilots from throughout the Northeast fly into the icy strip to enjoy the unusual experience and grab lunch at the Old Bay Diner or Shibley’s at the Pier, which will reopen on Jan. 19.
Paul LaRochelle, a resident of Alton Bay, volunteers his time to maintain the runway. He starts checking the ice in January, and when it’s one-foot thick, he takes his truck onto the lake and plows a runway and parking area for the planes.
You can join them and have a meal with a front row seat to the ice runway.
Love me Like a Rock
Facet Jewelers, 14 Mt. Major Highway, Alton Bay is the anti-mall shop, run by locals, and is frequented by a dedicated clientele of Lake-area residents, tourists and those who fly into the ice runway on Alton Bay. It just so happens that Paul LaRochelle, who maintains the ice runway, co-owns the shop with his wife, Donna Marie, who was once crowned the Ice Princess.
The shop carries jewelry of all types, including some made with native New Hampshire stones, Alton Bay sweatshirts, Alton Bay Ice Runway souvenirs, handmade scarves and much more.
Eat and Sit a Spell
Situated at the base of a four-mile long harbor in Lake Winnipesaukee, the Alton Bay Corner Store on Main Street has been a local meeting place for generations. Grab a window and sip a hot cup of Joe and nosh on a house-made apple cider donut. Catch up on the news of the day or just watch the cars round a hairpin bend of Route 11. If you’re an out-of-towner, grab an Alton souvenir or a copy of “Bear & Katie Lost in the White Mountains,” a tale of two black labs written by New Hampshire resident Loni R. Burchett.
Shibley’s at the Pier, 42 Mt. Major Highway, Alton Bay, has been chef-owned and operated by the Shibley family for a quarter century. The bar has the original General Motors reach-in refrigerator and an all-marble soda fountain, which dates to the 1920s. The building was constructed circa 1900. The menu is wide and varied and the view is to die for.
The Old Bay Diner, 12 Mt. Major Highway, Alton Bay, is open for breakfast and lunch and is snugged up to the lake like white on rice. An Internet posting says it’s a “cute little diner, you’ll meet some friendly people here.” And who are we to argue?
Ice, Ice, Alton
There’s nothing like a good old fair on ice to cure the winter blues in New Hampshire. That’s why Alton Bay holds its annual winter carnival in mid-February right on frozen Lake Winnipesaukee. This year the festivities will be held on Sunday, Feb. 18, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and are organized by the Alton Business Association, according to president and event organizer, Roger Sample.
The carnival is attended by hundreds of locals as well as those who fly into the celebration on the ice runway. The day starts with a pancake breakfast and activities include ice fishing, snowmobile racing, a hockey puck shoot, sleigh rides, a bob house decorating contest, helicopter rides, a chowder festival, a crazy hat contest, skating, food, campfires and the much-anticipated Great Alton Bay Bed Race across the ice.
And, yes, it’s just what it sounds like. Made up beds, with sleepy passengers, are pushed across the frozen lake.
For more information, go to altonnhbusinesses.com.
In the beginning …
Gilmanton, which includes the villages of Gilmanton Corners and Gilmanton Ironworks, was incorporated in 1727. Twenty-four members of the Gilman Family from Exeter received land grants in the new town. At one time it was the second largest city in the state after Portsmouth.
The Famous and the Infamous – Amazing Grace and the Devil Incarnate
Gilmanton was the home of Grace Metalious, whose 1956 novel, “Peyton Place” portrayed the residents of a small, conservative New England town and dealt with the issues of hypocrisy, social inequity, incest, abortion, lust and murder. It was on the best seller list for more than a year and was made into a movie and a TV soap opera.
It may be hard to believe, but the publication of “Peyton Place” did not endear Metalious to her neighbors.
“A lot of the people thought she was writing about them, but, of course, she was not,” said Sue Christie, a volunteer librarian at the Gilmanton Corner Library.
The library is a story itself. It is a tiny building originally built in the mid-1800s as a cobbler shop by students at the Gilmanton Academy next door. It then was a horse tack shop before becoming the library in 1912. It’s a diminutive space with an autographed photograph of Albert Einstein on the wall and a semi-circular front door that was liberated many years ago from a home that burned down.
Christie, who has been a resident of town since 1962, when Metalious was still alive, says the town got a lot of attention on the 50th anniversary of the publishing of the book in 2006.
“A short time before there was to be a live broadcast on national TV, a producer asked the librarian if the library had a copy of ‘Peyton Place’ and she said it did not. During the live broadcast, the TV personality presented her with a copy of the book,” said Christie. “She didn’t take it. She just stood up and walked right off the set.”
The library now has a copy of the eighth printing of the book published in 1956.
Metalious died in 1964 at the age of 39. They townspeople were still upset when she died.
“She was buried in the back of the cemetery so she would be all by herself,” said Sunny Bishop, who lives in the author’s former home, which is now a winery and restaurant.
Gilmanton is the birthplace of another famous, or rather infamous, character – Herman Webster Mudgett, aka Dr. Henry Holmes, aka H.H. Holmes, a 19th-century cur thought by some to be the country’s first serial killer. Mudgett’s boyhood home still stands in Gilmanton, across the street from the academy where he went to school and which now houses the town offices.
He is the subject of Erik Larson’s 2003 best-selling book, “The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America.” Holmes was the proprietor of a hotel in Chicago during the 1893 World’s Fair, and built a torture chamber in the basement of the building where he dispatched and deposited his victims before selling their skeletons to medical schools, or so they say.
Holmes, 34, was executed on May 7, 1896, for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel. During the trial Holmes confessed to many other killings. He is reputed to have racked up 200 victims, though this figure is likely inflated and traceable to 1940s pulp magazines.
Leonardo DiCaprio has bought the rights to “Devil in the White City” and Mudgett’s story is presumably about to become a major motion picture.
The Days of Wine and Roses
Marshall and Sunny Bishop are proprietors of the Gilmanton Winery and Restaurant in Grace Metalious’ former home on a winding dirt road on a hill above the Gilmanton Corner. Marshall is a former U.S. Marine, who worked for the department of public works in North Carolina, and Sunny is a former flight attendant.
They bought the house and parlayed a hobby of making wine into a profession. The tasting room has a 75-year-old Hotpoint refrigerator, and service memorabilia behind the bar. The lobby is a mini-Metalious museum with framed photographs of the author, a TV Guide cover featuring Mia Farrow in the 1960s “Peyton Place” television series and a black and white print of the cast of the movie, filmed mostly in Maine and released in 1957.
The couple produces about 1,300 bottles of wine a month in oak barrels imported from France in a winery in the former garage in the hillside home where Metalious kept her Cadillac. Vintages include Grace’s Red, a cabernet blend; Jack the Ripper, a Carménère; and Girls Night Out, the house wine. They also bottle a selection of fruit wines made from raspberries, strawberries, apples and even a pumpkin vintage.
The restaurant offers a five-course meal with a jazz singer once a month and will hold a Valentine’s Day dinner with sleigh rides, if the weather permits. We had steak and cheese and chicken salad sandwiches at a table in front of a woodstove in the room where Metalious kept her grand piano.
Sunny said the author’s children have dropped by and said they didn’t really miss Gilmanton, but they did say they loved their trips to Hollywood.
Yes Sir, Yes Sir, Three Bags Full
Badger Brook Farm, “where women gather and create,” is a wool shop in an 18th-century barn, which specializes in hand-dyed and Australian wools. There are racks of wools in saturated colors, hundreds of hues of threads and embroidery floss, ribbon, shiny buttons, hand-dyed wool yarn, flannels, stitching fabrics, hundreds of patterns and walls of samples and appliques.
A recent visit was like visiting an earlier era – a woodstove was warming the shop that was redolent of potpourri. And you couldn’t drop a hand without getting nuzzled by adorable rescue pooches.
The shop is owned and operated by Connecticut transplant Patti Lynn Bradley, who is usually accompanied by her shop dogs, Owen, Shelby and Junie. The store is filled with Bradley’s creations.
“I just love to make things,” she said.
Bradley also gives workshops and classes on all kinds of wool and other crafts including rug hooking, embroidery, punch needle and stitching.