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Travel | Fall Comes to the Lake Country of New Hampshire

Travel | Fall Comes to the Lake Country of New Hampshire
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Now heading southeast into Tamworth center, I stopped for a bite at what must be one of the last general stores with a lunch counter. The folks at The Other Store will mix you a gallon of paint, make you a spare set of keys, or scoop you a bowl of corn chowder, which you can enjoy while perched on a red Naugahyde stool. I had mine on the deck out back, where a brook burbled past and leaves fluttered down onto my table.Swinging southwest on Route 25 back toward the lakes, I found that loons have not only a presence on Squam and Winnipesaukee; they have a center. The Loon Preservation Committee’s Loon Center, on the shore of a narrow northern arm of Winnipesaukee in Moultonborough, is the place to learn all about the birds–and where I found out that the loons I’d heard at the Manor on Squam would soon be heading to points south along the Atlantic seaboard as the fall colors faded.

“The adults migrate at the end of October,” a young docent named Anna told me, “and the chicks leave a month later.” Anna also had the inside story on the loons of On Golden Pond. “When they did the filming, there were no loons on Squam,” she said, “so they brought some in from another New Hampshire lake.” Not that those were enough: At the Center, there’s a dummy loon, with a movable head, that appeared in the movie. But since five chicks hatched on Squam in 2011, Hollywood might not need this “loonbot” if there’s ever a remake.

The loon’s-eye view of Winnipesaukee is water-level–but the most spectacular vistas belong to the eagle’s realm, and one man made them his own. He was Thomas Plant, a Boston footwear manufacturer and shoe-machinery tycoon. He first visited the Lakes Region sometime around 1907 and eventually built a stone mansion on a baronial swath of 6,300 acres, from the mountaintop right down to Winnipesaukee’s shores. He named it Lucknow. It cost a million dollars, a tremendous sum at the time.

Lucknow eventually became a tourist attraction called Castle in the Clouds, maintained along with some 5,380 acres and 28 miles of trails by the Castle Preservation Society and the Lakes Region Conservation Trust. The Tiffany glass, the well-stocked library, the big billiard table, the guest room Teddy Roosevelt slept in–it’s all still there, along with the finest views from any house in New Hampshire.

I took the shuttle up to the Castle one day before the morning haze had burned off. My small group was met by a doughty old docent, one of those adamantine New England women whose stock seems to have arrived not with the Pilgrims but with the glaciers. As she was about to go into her recital of the home’s history, she overheard a woman with a Southern accent complaining that the haze was dulling the autumn colors and the panorama of the lake.

“Well,” the docent replied, looking the dissatisfied visitor in the eye, “hazy or not, it’s better than the view from my house. And I’m sure it’s better than the view from yours.”

Hugging Winnipesaukee’s eastern shore along Route 109 southeast through Tuftonboro, I did a double-take as I passed a 1947 Chevy parked alongside a pair of antique gas pumps. Figuring I’d driven into a time warp where I could fill up on regular for 29.9 cents a gallon, I pulled over and knocked on the office door. Two older gentlemen were sitting next to one of the garage bays as they sipped their afternoon coffee. I asked what a place like this was doing here, and why there was another just like it next door. “We’re hobby shops,” one of the fellows told me. There are four of them there in Melvin Village; only one does commercial work. “It just happened that way,” he explained. “We all work on our own cars; at last count, there were 75 antique automobiles registered in town.”

Wolfeboro, a few minutes’ drive down 109 from Melvin Village (maybe a half hour, if you’re babying your ’47 Chevy), bills itself as “America’s Oldest Summer Resort,” a nod to provincial governor John Wentworth, who built a vacation retreat–and a road from Portsmouth to reach it–in what was then a wilderness township in 1769. The place burned in 1820, but its overgrown foundations, christened the Governor Wentworth Historic Site, are still visible near the shores of Lake Wentworth. (The enormous key to the mansion is in the collection of Wolfeboro’s Libby Museum, which also houses curiosities ranging from a moose skeleton to a mummy’s hands.)

Given today’s amenities, Governor Wentworth might have favored the town as a fall resort as well. With its shops and eateries, it’s plenty lively in autumn, when calm days on Winnipesaukee still bring out sailboats and antique mahogany runabouts. The vintage-runabout motif (remember the Chris-Craft Norman Thayer owned in On Golden Pond?) is carried out nicely at Garwoods, a restaurant named for another of the companies that made those handsome boats; the bar is a ringer for one of its polished, pinstriped decks.

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