When was the Golden Era of Weirs Beach?
An imposing statue in the middle of town…ornate fountains everywhere…orchestral music floating in the air…ladies and gentlemen (and children) frequently dressed in formal attire…luxurious accommodations…exquisite cuisine…are we talking about London or Paris? No, Weirs Beach! That’s right, at one time, all of the above could be found right here in Weirs Beach!
Detail from the grand staircase at the New Hotel Weirs — seemingly lined with gold…
From the late-1890’s to the mid-1920’s, the center of Weirs Beach was dominated by one of the grandest hotels in New England ever constructed, the New Hotel Weirs. A stay at the 230-room (and 50-bathroom) Hotel during this time could be associated with a certain amount of sophistication, wealth, and status. Certainly the Hotel catered to an affluent East Coast clientele from Boston and New York, (it had sales offices in both cities), and perhaps attracted customers with a certain panache and savoir-faire from even further afield.
The Golden Era of Weirs Beach did not coincide with the similarly-named “Gilded Age” in the United States. In the US, the Gilded Age ran from 1878-1895, between the Reconstruction Era (1865-1877) and the Progressive Era (1896-1916). However, the Gilded Age did coincide with the development of Weirs Beach from a minor railroad stop into a major tourist destination.
Strollers on Lakeside Avenue approaching the New Hotel Weirs in 1905
“The four story yellow edifice was set back from the road on a terrace. Its spacious lawn was studded with trees, sculptured hedges and flower beds. Verandas furnished with white wicker furniture surrounded the first two floors. Its red roof, with American flags flying from its two turrets, gave a patriotic touch. The cozy gazebo, to the left of the entrance, lent an accent of welcome. It was a tranquil scene of affluence, streched out in all its dignity.”- Betty Hoey Leahy, who visited in the early 1920’s
Guest rooms offered “perfect sanitary arrangements”, were “fully equipped with electrical appliances”, and were “connected by telephone and telegraph…to all points”. The fine dining room’s cuisine was “excellent and up-to-date”; the water was “pure..coming directly from mountain springs”. For relaxation, guests could perambulate on the hotel’s spacious verandas, with daytime views of “unsurpassed magnificence”; in the evening the verandas were “brilliantly illuminated by hundreds of electric lights”. For entertainment, the hotel featured a “fine billiard room”, and in the music room, an “excellent orchestra” furnished “daily concerts”.
When first built in 1880 (from parts of the disassembled Diamond Island House hauled over the ice), the sign over the front door of the Hotel read “Hotel Weirs”. Even when called Hotel Sanborn in 1893, the sign was still there. In the late 1890’s, after considerable expansion, the word “New” was added both to the sign(s) over the front door(s), as well as to the name.
The Hotel was expanded in 3 phases. The left turret was the original Hotel. In 1896, the central section between the two turrets was added. In 1899, the right turret, and the rooms to the right of the right turret, were added all at the same time. In the winter of 1905-1906, the rooms to the left of the left turret were added, completing the Hotel.
So popular was the Hotel, it was the main focus of numerous postcards from the time. In fact, no other subject was deemed as noteworthy, judging from the numerous views of the Hotel from every conceivable angle. For a grand tour of this golden age, click below to see an extensive gallery of colorful New Hotel Weirs postcards. For a verbal description of its architecture, click here.
Click here for the entire New Hotel Weirs Postcard Gallery; or, click below to see individual postcards from the Gallery.
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Note: The images have been placed roughly in chronological order*, beginning in the late 1890’s and continuing through the 1910’s. They are all extra-large images, approximately 150k-250k in size, and best viewed with a 19″ monitor or larger.* To put them in chronological order the webmaster has used obvious clues. The far left wing of the hotel was the last part of the hotel to be expanded when it was extended to New Hampshire Avenue, and in some of the postcards above, one can see the roof of the left wing to be in a different color from the rest of the Hotel roof. Logically, images with telephone poles and wires came after those images where they are lacking (or perhaps, they were not deftly retouched by artists to remove the unsightly poles, like other postcards were).
The New Hotel Weirs’ elegant standard of service would not have been possible without modern utilities, which came to town as follows:
• Winnipesaukee Bell Telephone Company – 1881
• Citizens Telephone Company – 1897
The amusing graphic above, on the right and wrong way to talk on the phone, was in the 1905 Citizens Telephone Company directory. Because of the limited capacity of the 1905 system, callers were urged to limit their calls to five minutes. Phone boxes with magneto cranks, and later battery switches, required operator assistance, and were still used in many small towns until the mid-1950s, when rotary, self-dial phones became nearly universal. In Laconia, it was not until March 29, 1959, that the entire local phone system changed over from operator assistance to rotary dial. In the early 1970s, touch-tone phone service was introduced. Rotary dial phones became obsolete about 20 years later.
• Laconia Electric Light Company – 1884
• Laconia and Lake Village Waterworks – 1885
In July, 1919, the Central New Hampshire Telephone Company was formed to merge the separate telephone systems of the Citizens Telephone and the Winnipesaukee Telephone companies into one system, eliminating duplicate lines and phones. In August, 1926, the Laconia Gas & Electric Company joined with 3 utility companies from Manchester, Nashua and Keene to form PSNH (Public Service of New Hampshire). On December 31, 1955, the City of Laconia took over the Laconia Waterworks, and on January 4, 1956, purchased the Weirs Water Company from George W. Tarlson. It was not until the summer of 1971 that a new kind of utility, cable television service, reached Weirs Beach, when Community TV wired up the village.
Ownership/management of the New Hotel Weirs changed frequently over the years.
W.H. Sanborn, 1880-1892
Charles E. Sleeper, 1893-1894
Dr. J. Alonzo Greene, 1895 -1901
Merritt & Brown 1902
Dr. J. Alonzo Greene 1903-1904
E.C. Hibbard, 1905-1907
Drs. F.A. & J.A. Greene 1908
J.G. Venetos, 1910
Dr. J. Alonzo Greene 1911 (w John J. Leahy as manager)
Lucas & Lancaster, 1912-1913
Lancaster & Lane 1914-1921
Frank H. Greene/Lancaster & Lane Hotel Co., late 1922 -1924
During its 44 years of existence, the New Hotel Weirs was owned for the longest period of time by Dr. J. Alonzo Greene. It was under his ownership that the hotel was greatly expanded to become the grandest hotel in Weirs Beach. Dr. Greene was a fascinating character who served as Mayor of Laconia from 1901-1903. For a biography of Dr. Greene, click here.
The New Hotel Weirs was not the only large hotel in Weirs Beach at this time, although it was certainly the grandest and best known. Just across the way stood the imposing, 4-story Lakeside House, with 118 rooms. And further down Lakeside Avenue, even the more compact Story’s Tavern still offered about 70 rooms. Other notable hotels of the time included the Winnecoette, the Endicott, the Aquedoktan, and the Lakeview. Of all the hotels mentioned, only the Lakeview is still in the business of accommodating travelers today.
The Lakeside House became the Lakeside Hotel in the 1940’s, and then the Winnipesaukee Marketplace in 1986 when the 1890 and 1899 additions behind the original 1880 4-story central building were torn down to make way for “Fanueil Hall North”. Of course, it didn’t work out that way. Purchased by the Ames family in 1991, the building housed on its first floor the Patio Garden Restaurant, Stageview Subshop, and J.B. Scoops Ice Cream until 2020, when it was sold to new owners. There remain about 20 vacant rooms in the upper 3 stories of the building.
Strollers on Lakeside Avenue departing the Lakeside House in 1913
For more colorful images of the Lakeside House, click here to see the entire Lakeside House Gallery; or, click below to see individual postcards from the Gallery.
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Built around 1886, Story’s Tavern changed its name many times over the years, first becoming a Tavern instead of a Hotel in the late 1890’s, then taking on the name of (owner Alice) Cawley’s in 1922, and finally taking on the name of the “Weirs Hotel” in the 1940’s. By the 1980’s it had fallen into disrepair and was called “That Olde House”; the unoccupied building burned down on September 27, 1991. Now the location of the Beachview parking lot.
Strollers on Lakeside Avenue passing by Story’s Tavern in 1910
Perhaps to capitalize on the enduring fame of the New Hotel Weirs, Story’s Tavern was renamed the “Weirs Hotel” in the 1940’s. (The cabins mentioned in the ad were located directly behind the hotel; they did not burn down in 1991 and still exist.)
The end of the Golden Era at Weirs Beach came swiftly. On November 9, 1924, a great fire destroyed the New Hotel Weirs, as well as numerous other Weirs Beach structures. In 1925, the Laconia Street Railway, which for years had brought a steady stream of customers to Weirs Beach from the burgeoning nearby “City on the Lakes”, ceased operations. And in 1929, before the grand hotel could be rebuilt, the stock market collapsed, bringing on the Great Depression. Weirs Beach was never the same again.
In the early 1930’s businessman Bob Wagner built the Half Moon Tea Room – restaurant, snack bar, bowling alley, and cabins – on the spot of the former Hotel. The modern era of Weirs Beach had begun.