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Island History/Info

Sleepers Island History

Sleepers Island, a parcel of land containing approximately 110 acres is located in Belknap County, New Hampshire, lying between the westerly shore of Lake Winnipesaukee and Rattlesnake Island to the northward.

Between 1766 and 1770 a plan of the lake and the islands was made. The islands were divided up and allotted to (15) "proprietors." No further changes were made until December 24, 1781 when the proprietors met in Portsmouth to formally divide the unallotted territory in the Winnipesaukee lakes region. The plan that was submitted at the meeting was called "Draft of the Islands in Winipiseokee Pond, as numbered and coupled in the first plan". The final plan indicates that some of the larger islands had been subdivided and the smaller ones had been grouped together. The objective of the 1781 meeting was to confirm and ascertain the title of previous grantees. According to the final plan, Sleepers Is. (then called Flanders Is. and thought at that time to be 79 acres) was part of Lot #1 and belonged to Tomlinson and March, the original grantees. Also included in Lot #1 was the following: (4) Barn Door Is. at 50 acres, 11 acres, 9 acres and 8 acres; the easterly end of Rattlesnake Is., 40 acres; and Diamond Is., 10 acres.

Some time prior to 1869, Sleepers Is. was purchased by Jonas and George Sleeper. The reference to Flanders Is. is changed to Sleepers Is. On October 22, 1869, Jonas and George Sleeper conveyed the property to Sarah W. Worster for the sum of $10.00 (most likely an heir of the Sleepers) since Sarah conveyed the property to James Littlefield three days later for the sum of $1400.00.

The island went through a foreclosure on June 14, 1877 and the property was transferred to the administrator of the James Littlefield estate and then on to Cyrus Littlefield. Cyrus sold the island to William P. and Edward B. Hale on May 22, 1894. Edward B. Hale sold his interest to William P. Hale on February 3, 1904. William P. Hale took out two mortgages with the Merrimack River Savings Bank for the two purchases in the amounts of $2000.00 and $4500.00. It is possible that some of this money was also used to build the stone house. William P. Hale had taken a trip to Europe and saw the castles on the Rhine. He liked them so much that he constructed the stone house to look like them.

On May 8, 1939, June C. Hale (wife of William P. Hale) sold the island to Ivar Swenson, William having passed away. At the time of this transaction, the property was transferred for the sum of $1.00 and take over payments of the existing mortgage of $3500.00 with the Merrimack River Savings Bank. At this point, reference is made to a boat house, wharf and rights of way to the highway on the main land in Rollins Cove. This property was now included with Sleepers Island.

Ivar Swenson emmigrated from Sweden to the U. S. in 1902. He learned English and studied electrical engineering at Columbia University. After college, he went to work for the General Electric Co. He was given the job of estimating the cost to lay a power cable over to Sleepers Island. This first cable was run over on the ice and the cable sank to the lake bed when the ice melted. The island was not for sale but he fell in love with it. After William Hale passed away, his wife lost interest in going to the island. Ivar Swenson purchased the island in 1939 just after the hurricane had hit the area. There was a tremendous amount of tree damage on the island and a good deal of work was necessary to put the property back into good condition.

A camp had been established on Treasure Is. called "Camp Mishe Mokwa" (the name for "great white bear" in Hiawatha) and it operated as a boys camp between 1913 and 1950. In 1950, the island was sold to the Girl Scouts of America and it operated as a Girl Scout camp for about ten years. During this time, Ivar Swenson engineered a power cable for Treasure Is. After the cable was installed, Ivar was made an honorary Girl Scout!

Ivar's grand daughter, vacationed on the island during the 1950s and early 1960s.  The boat used during this time was a 14 foot Old Town runabout. It was a beautiful boat, all natural wood on the forward deck and the inside. It was powered by a 25 hp Evinrude motor. When not at the island, the boat was kept in the boat house in Rollins Cove. The boat house has been refurbished but still sits on the same foundation adjacent to the cement pier and sandy beach. Ivar would keep a glass in the boat house at the castle and would often take a glass of water from the lake, remarking how wonderful it tasted.

The barn behind the house was a fun place for the children to play. It had horse stalls on the lower level. Also in the lower level was a 1930 Buick Victoria Coupe. The car had been driven over the ice to the island. The car had very low mileage and was in excellent mechanical condition. A rear wheel had been removed and pulley was installed to drive a saw mill. The interior was still in the car but badly mildewed. In the upper level there was a servant's quarters. There was also a working player piano with many music paper rolls. One of the children's favorite songs was an Eskimo love song, "Oogi,Oogi, Wawa"!

Ivar passed away in 1962 and the island passed to his son, John Swenson. The island and all the contents was sold the following year. There was a great concern for forest fires and fire insurance for the property was too costly. The island was sold to a developer who had inquired about purchasing the island a few years before.

Lake Winnipesaukee History

Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest lake in New Hampshire. It is approximately 21 miles (34 km) long (northwest-southeast) and from 1 to 9 miles (1.6 to 14 km) wide (northeast-southwest), covering 69 square miles (179 km2)—71 square miles (184 km2) when Paugus Bay is included—with a maximum depth of 212 feet (65 m).


The lake contains at least 253 islands, half of which are less than a quarter-acre in size, and is indented by several peninsulas, yielding a total shoreline of approximately 288 miles (463 km). The driving distance around the lake is 63 miles (101 km). It is 504 feet (154 m) above sea level. Winnipesaukee is the third-largest lake in New England after Lake Champlain and Moosehead Lake.

Outflow is regulated by the Lakeport Dam (in Lakeport, New Hampshire) on the Winnipesaukee River.



Lake Winnipesaukee has been a tourist destination for more than a century, especially for residents escaping the summer heat of Boston and New York City. The Native American name Winnipesaukee means either "smile of the Great Spirit" or "beautiful water in a high place." At the outlet of the Winnipesaukee River, the Winnipesaukee Indians, a subtribe of the Pennacook, lived and fished at a village called Acquadocton. Today, the site is called The Weirs, named for the weirs colonists discovered when first exploring the region.


Winnipesaukee is a glacial lake but an unusual one, since the last glaciation actually reversed the flow of its waters. Draining the central portion of New Hampshire, it once flowed southeast, leaving via what is now Alton Bay toward the Atlantic Ocean. When glacial debris blocked this path, flow was redirected westward through Paugus Bay into the Winnipesaukee River. The latter flows west from the lake and joins the Pemigewasset River in Franklin to form the Merrimack River, which flows south to Massachusetts and into the Atlantic.


Center Harbor witnessed the first intercollegiate sporting event in the United States, as Harvard defeated Yale by two lenghts in the first Harvard-Yale Regatta on August 3, 1852. The outcome was repeated 100 years later when hte schools celebrated the centennial of the race by again competing on Lake Winnipesaukee (Harvard winning by 2.7 seconds).


Lake Winnipesaukee was also where the eponymous Lake Winnipesaukee mystery stone was found.


Cities and towns

The communities that surround the lake, clockwise from the southernmost town, are:

  • Alton, the largest town in te area in the lakes region. Sleepers Island is located in Alton just north of Alton Bay and situated in the broads of the lake.
  • Gilford, home to Gunstock Mountain Resort.
  • Laconia, the main commerical city on the lake (surrounding Pagus Bay). Included in Laconia is Weirs Beach, the largest public bathing area on Winnipesaukee.
  • Meredith, whose harbor lies on the northwestern reach of the lake and is famous for its children's museum.
  • Center Harbor, a small town in Belknap County which serves as the winter home for the MS Mt. Washington.
  • Moultonborough, famous for its Castle in the Clouds, an estate atop a small mountain.
  • Tuftonboro, which contains Melvin Village.
  • Wolfeboro, which bills itself as the "oldest summer resort in America."


There are at least 253 natural islands on Lake Winnipesaukee that are at least 3 feet (0.9 m) above lake level and contain vegetation, about 130 of which are over .25 acres (0.10 ha) in size. 26 of these are 25 acres (10 ha) or larger:

  • Long Island - 1,186 acres (480 ha)
  • Bear Island—780 acres (320 ha)
  • Cow Island - 522 acres (211 ha)
  • Governors Island - 504 acres (204 ha)
  • Rattlesnake Island - 368 acres (149 ha)
  • Welch Island - 187 acres (76 ha)
  • Little Bear Island—143 acres (58 ha)
  • Stonedam Island - 141 acres (57 ha)
  • Timber Island - 136 acres (55 ha)
  • Sleepers Island - 113 acres (46 ha)
  • Mark Island - 102 acres (41 ha)
  • Barndor Island - 88 acres (36 ha)
  • Black Cat Island - 75 acres (30 ha)
  • Pine Island - 522 acres (211 ha)
  • Whortleberry Island - 69 acres (28 ha)
  • Sandy Island - 67 acres (27 ha)
  • Jolly Island - 50 acres (20 ha)
  • Three Mile Island - 47 acres (19 ha)
  • Round Island—43 acres (17 ha)
  • Lockes Island - 42 acres (17 ha)
  • Diamond Island - 37 acres (15 ha)
  • Dow Island - 32 acres (13 ha)
  • Big Beaver Island—30 acres (12 ha)
  • Camp Island - 28 acres (11 ha)
  • Mink Island - 26 acres (11 ha)
  • Birch Island - 25 acres (10 ha)

Five islands are connected toteh mainland by bridges (Black Cat, Governors, Long, Oak, and Worcester), adn another eight (Bear, Birch, Cow, East Bear, Jolly, Loon, Three Mile, and Sandy) are serviced by the U.S. mailboat M/V Sophie C.


Lakes region

Along with the rest of New Hampshire's Lakes Region, which also encompasses Lake Winnisquam, Squam Lake and Newfound Lake, Winnipesaukee has been a vacation community for at least a century, particularly drawing people from the Boston region. The area is home to numerous summer theater troupes and offers a variety of land and water recreational activities. There are numerous hiking trails in and around the surrounding mountains, which include the Ossipee Mountains to the east, the Belknap Range to the west, and Red Hill to the north.


Steamship Mount Washington and its successor

The paddlesteamer Mount Washington, named after the highest of New Hampshire's White Mountains, was launched in spring 1872 to carry mail, goods, and passengers on Lake Winnipesaukee, under the flag of the Boston and Maine Railroad. With a hull length of 178 feet (54 m) and a beam of 49 feet (15 m) she appeared as a typical representative of the North American sidewheelers around the second half of the century and was the largest steamer on the lake at that time. The huge paddle wheels were driven by a single-cylinder steam engine of 450 hp (340 kW) at approximately 26 rpm. The power was transferred from the vertical single cylinder to the wheel shaft by the walking beam, high above the upper deck, oscillating in the frequency of the paddle wheels. Known as "The Mount", her kitchen and restaurant service became famous.

On December 23, 1939, a nearby railroad station caught fire from an overheated stove. The fire soon spread to the ship, tied at the dock, and destroyed it. Efforts to cut the Mount loose were to no avail as it was a time of extremely low water and the hull was stuck fast in the mud of the lake bottom. Soon after, a local company was formed to build a new ship. Since Europe was already at war, obtaining steel was impossible. Instead, they purchased an old sidewheel vessel on Lake Champlain: the Chateaugay, a 203-foot (62 m), iron-hulled sidewheeler that was being used as a club house for the Burlington yacht club. It was cut into sections and transported to Lake Winnipesaukee on rail cars. A new twin-screw vessel was designed for the hull being welded back together at Lakeport. Powered by two steam engines taken from another ocean-going yacht, the new MS Mount Washington made her maiden voyage on August 15, 1940.

Two years after her launch, the new Mount's engines were removed for use in a navy vessel during World War II. After the war, the Mount Washington returned to the water. The ship was a success in the post-war tourist boom.

In 1982, the Mount was cut open and extended with an additional 20-foot (6.1 m) hull section to add larger lounge and food service facilities. Still popular, it makes one or two round trips on the lake per day during the summer season, as well as numerous dinner dance cruises in the evenings.


US mailboat M/V Sophie C

The M/V Sophie C is the oldest, and one of only two currently operating, floating United States Postal Service post offices. Floating post office service was started on Lake Winnipesaukee in 1892, and currently delivers mail daily to eight of the lake's islands between June and September. As a floating post office, the Sophie C delivers mail Monday-Saturday, sells postage, and collects and postmarks outgoing mail. The Sophie C also operates as a sightseeing boat, carrying up to 125 people on its two cruises a day as it delivers mail and sells ice cream and snacks to residents of the islands it serves.


In popular culture and the arts

  • Thornton Wilder's 1938 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Our Town, refs to Lake Winnipesaukee at teh beginning of Act III.
  • In a Three Stooges 1940 short "No Census, No Feeling," the Stooges are census takers, and Curly answers a query about his birthplace with "Lake Winnipesaukee." When Moe asks him to spell it, he switches course, and says "Make that Lake Erie. I've got an uncle there."
  • Some boating scences from teh 1981 Academy Award-winning film On Golden Pond were shot on the lake, though the main scenes were from nearby Squam Lake.
  • In 1982, composer Alan Hovhaness, who spent much of his childhood in New Hampshire, composed Lake Winnipesaukee, Op. 363, a sextet for flute, oboe, cello, two percussion, and piano.
  • The 1991 movie comedy What About Bob? was set at Lake Winnipesaukee, although the actual filming was done at Smith Moutain Lake in Virginia.
  • The 2006 comdey Click has a flashback depicting Adam Sandler as a kid playing on a beach on Lake Winnipesaukee.
  • A 2008 episode of Law & Order features a defendant remembering trips to a cottage at Lake Winipesaukee.

Lake weather and climate

Average summertime on or next to the water brings days around 80 F (26 C), with overnight lows around 65 F (18 C). Less than one-half mile (800 m) away from the water, days can be warmer and nights cooler by several degrees. Summer's most extreme temperatures away from the water may be as high as 100 F (38 C) and as low as 50 F (10 C). A typical winter day brings a maximum of 28 F (−2 C) with overnight minimum around 15 F (−9 C). Typical wintertime extremes are 50 F (10 C) and −20 F (−30 C) but even greater extremes have been recorded nearby.


The water temperature typically reaches the upper 70s F (around 25 C) in late July and cools into the 60s (around 18 C) in September. Several days of hot, humid weather at the height of summer can bring the water temperature well above 80 F (26 C). It normally freezes during the last week of December. Ice thickness during a typical winter can be in excess of 18 inches (460 mm) in many parts of the lake.



Lake Winnipesaukee is known for its annual Ice-Out Contest, in which people try to guess the earliest date that the Mount Washington  can safely leave her port in Center Harbor and motor to four other ports (Weirs Beach, Alton Bay, Wolfeboro, and Meredith). Since records began in 1851, ice-out has happened as early as March 24 and as late as May 12, although 90 percent of the time it is declared during April. This official ruling is made by David Emerson of Emerson Aviation.

Lake Winnipesaukee history from Wiki

Winnipesaukee Historical Society

Lake Winnipesaukee site

Private Island homes for rent