Above is a rare, 1885 map of Lake Winnipesaukee, showing the route of the Lady of the Lake. The map was bound into the first edition of the Boston & Lowell Railroad’s “Summer Saunterings“, a guidebook to “pleasant places among the mountains, lakes, and valleys of New Hampshire, Vermont and Canada.”
In 1852, in a shrewd business move to increase rail passenger traffic to Weirs Beach, the Boston, Concord, and Montreal railroad purchased the steamship the Lady of the Lake from the Winnipesaukee Steamship Company. She had been launched without her engines on May 16, 1849 from the shipyard in Lake Village (Lakeport). By the middle of June of 1849, she was completely ready, and made her first voyage to Weirs Beach, where she was an instant success.
The BC&M moved the Lady’s home port from Lakeport to Weirs Beach, where she offered regular, comfortable service to the Lake Winnipesaukee ports of Wolfeboro and Center Harbor (but NOT to Alton Bay!), until her last excursion on September 14, 1893.
After several years of being out of active service, the Lady of the Lake became a floating hotel for workers building Kimball’s Castle from 1897-1899, anchoring off of Belknap Point, where she had been towed (her engines had been removed at the shipyard in Lakeport). She was purposely sunk in Smith Cove in Glendale in 1899. Now she is Lake Winnipesaukee’s most famous dive wreck.
Who was the Lady of the Lake? Not as well known is the origins of her name. She was Ellen Douglas, the immortal Scotch lassie with the paddle in her hand, from Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake, first published in 1810.
Click here to enlarge this postcard of the original Mount Washington, and to see additional postcards showing the Mount picking up hoards of passengers and their mounds of luggage at the Weirs wharf and other wharves around the Lake.
The original Mount Washington, owned by the competing Boston and Maine railroad, was built and launched from Alton Bay on May 30, 1872, where she began service on July 4. She was longer, faster, and more luxurious than the Lady of the Lake. And for 67 years, she carried thousands of passengers every summer on her decks.
The Mount’s original home port was Alton Bay, where she had replaced the B&M’s original steamer, the Chocorua. From there, the Mount offered service to Wolfeboro, Center Harbor, and occasionally, Meredith – but NOT to Weirs Beach! (The B&M’s northern terminus was in Alton Bay. Here is an 1884 B&M system map showing the line to Alton Bay. In 1863, the B&M had leased the Dover & Winnipiseogee RR, which had been created on June 1, 1862, from the Cocheco RR, which had reached Alton Bay in September, 1851. In June, 1892, the B&M purchased the line.)
For a period of about 40 years, there was an intense rivalry between the competing railroads that serviced Weirs Beach and Alton Bay, and their competing steamships. Neither steamship was allowed to dock in her rival’s home port. During the first half of this period of competition, the Lady was the better, faster boat than her rival, the Chocorua. But during the second half of the competitive period, the Mount was clearly the superior vessel. It was not until 1894, following the retirement of the Lady of the Lake, that the Mount moved her home port to Weirs Beach, and that one vessel began servicing all FOUR major ports on the Lake – not only Wolfeboro and Center Harbor, but BOTH Alton Bay AND Weirs Beach.
Not only were railroads and steamships in competition, but so was the name of the Lake! The railroads that serviced Weirs Beach had always named the Lake “Winnipesaukee” (often mis-spelled “Winnepesaukee”), but the railroads that serviced Alton Bay had always named the Lake “Winnipiseogee” (often mis-spelled “Winnepiseogee”). It was not until 1933, by an act of the NH legislature, that the name of the Lake was formalized – and in this case, the Weirs Beach spelling of the name won out! (The meaning of the name of the Lake is a controversy that has never been resolved.)
The Lady of the Lake and the Mount Washington at Center Harbor, circa 1885.
Click here to enlarge the photo and to see some bonus photos.
In 1939, on December 22, during a fire that also destroyed the Weirs Beach railroad station and wharf, the original Mount Washington burned and sank. It was the end of the steamship era on Lake Winnipesaukee.
Above is a 1900 map of Lake Winnipesaukee, showing the route of the Mount Washington. The map was bound into the first edition of the Boston and Maine Railroad’s “Resorts and Tours”, a guidebook to “summer excursions to the White Mountains, Mount Desert, Montreal and Quebec, Winnipesaukee, Memphremagog, Rangeley and Moosehead Lakes, and the New England Beaches”.
Below is a reprint from Eastman’s White Mountain Guide. The 9th edition was published in 1869.
This lake lies in the two counties of Caroll and Belknap, and is very irregular in form. At the west end it is divided into three large bays; at the north is a fourth; and at the east end there are three others.
• Its general course is from northwest to southeast, and from one extreme end to the other the distance is not far from twenty-five miles. The width varies from one to seven miles.
• The waters of the lake descend four hundred and seventy-two feet in finding their way to the Atlantic. A rapid river of the same name with that of the lake, over which the railroad passes at Sanborton Bridge, serves as its outlet to the Merrimac.
• The waters of Lake Winnepiseogee are remarkably clear, so that at the depth of many feet the fish can be distinctly seen playing among the rocks.
•Lake Winnepiseogee is a mountain lake, yet it lacks almost all those wild, rough features of mountain scenery which usually characterize inland waters in mountainous regions.
• The mountains rise on all sides; but the shore, seen from the distance, is comparatively smooth and level; and the islands, far from being precipitous and rocky, are covered with verdure, and seem to float like fairy barks upon the broad lake-mirror.
• There are two steamers that ply upon the lake; two points at which may be approached from the south, and two points of departure for the mountains. The steamers are the Lady of the Lake and the Chocorua.
• The former plies between the Weirs, Centre Harbor and Wolfborough, and connects at Weirs with the Boston, Concord, and Montreal Railroad. •The latter plies between Alton Bay, Wolfborough, Centre Harbor, and Meredith Village, and connects at Alton Bay with the Boston and Maine, and Cochecho Railroads.
• The Lady of the Lake is a charming little steamer, and is in charge of Capt. W. A. Sanborn.
• The steamer Chocorua, but recently newly built, a pleasant and commodious boat, moving with great rapidity and steadiness, is under the command of Capt. A. Wiggin, who is thoroughly acquainted with the lake, having been long connected with the lake steamers.