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5/17/07 - Lady of the Lake Revisited

Written by: Elizabeth A. Mead

While attending a Directors Meeting of Gilford’s Thomson-Ames Historical Society my eye (not my mind!) kept drifting to a glass fronted display case and, in particular, to a very large ceramic pitcher. This pitcher had “Lady of the Lake” printed on its front. After the meeting, I asked curator Diane about it. She said indeed it had come from that steamer. She also showed me a life preserver, some photos, a shutter and a Register that also came from the steamer. In one of the photos the figure-head of the Lady of the Lake can be seen. A statuesque women holding a paddle in her right hand. Well now, needless to say, my curiosity hormones started to kick in!

A great deal of information happened to be available to me right there in the archives of the Society. Of course, a trip to the library was added to my agenda as well. Many of you, especially those whose families have lived here for generations, probably know all about this Steamer. However, those of us who migrated from elsewhere may be completely unaware of this marvelous piece of history.

It was in 1849 that the steamboat Lady of the Lake was christened and launched on Lake Winnipesaukee. She was 125 feet long with a 35 foot beam. She was the largest as well as the first completely new boat to be built for the lake. The boilers, engine, and all equipment were custom-made for her particular requirements. She was well-received by the public and was running a regular service between The Weirs, Long Island and Wolfeborough. Her maximum speed was 16 miles per hour. During the period 1868 thru 1876 she was very popular as an excursion boat. Diamond Island was, at that time, a famous picnic resort and boasted a good-sized hotel, bowling alley, dancing pavilion, etc. The Lady’s financial success brought attention from officials of the Boston, Concord and Montreal Railroad. She was sold to the railroad at a large profit to her builders and Centre Harbor was added to her scheduled run. None of my research indicated what year this sale took place.

During her lifetime she underwent numerous repairs and changes to the point that some folks would swear that every part of her had been built and re-built several times! Although she never was in a fatal accident she did have her share of troubles.

Sometime past her twenty years of service she was lying at her wharf at Wolfeboro one night when the entire top of the boat was burned off to the waters edge. Another major trouble was on a moonlight party excursion in 1865 when she struck a rock near Witch Island and it was necessary to run ashore and beach the craft on Governor’s Island. The repairs and loss of the season’s business from this accident were very costly.

Another great steamboat, the Mt. Washington, made its first trip on July 4, 1872. From then on the Lady and she were rivals for eighteen (18) years with the Mt. slowly and steadily displacing the older boat. In September of 1893 The Lady’s active service ended with a final trip from Wolfeboro to the Weirs. A few days later she made a short trip out into the broads and, on her return, was towed to Lakeport where she docked. In 1894 she was condemned by the proper authorities and was dismantled and her machinery removed. The hull, with the decks and cabins intact, was taken to Glendale where she was tied up to the shore and used as a boarding house for workmen engaged in the construction of Kimball’s Castle. When the Castle work was completed the hull, with holes bored below the water line, was being towed out into the Lake to be sunk when, low and behold, she sank herself, unassisted, near Belknap Point. It is now a very popular diving site on Lake Winnipesaukee. I’ve been told she is in 60 feet of water. I wondered to myself, do people really dive that deep? And if so, what other wonders might they encounter?

As mentioned above, with the exception of the figure-head, the artifacts from the Lady of the Lake are in the hands of Gilford’s Historical Society. The figure-head rests with the New Hampshire Historical Society, where it may be seen in Concord, NH.

Even though I never found out how and where the ceramic pitcher that first piqued my interest was used, I thoroughly enjoyed what I did learn about this memorable “Lady”.

Gilford’s Thompson-Ames Historical Society welcomes comments on, or suggestions for articles. You can reach us at Thomames@worldpath.net and visit our web site at gilfordhistoricalsociety.org.