Sunapee - How Sweet it is!
Wayne D. King
Leave your shadow here
on the long memory of rock
that you might number among
the friends of the planet:
we are one
in summer woods
overflowing with wings,
in the fires kindled by orange lily
struck against fern flint,
one with the music of wind
played on icy birch bones,
and the promise pollen spells
across the watery mirrors of our future.
NH Poet Laureate 1999-2004
Written for the 50th Anniversary of Sunapee State Park
Sunapee . . . a lake, a mountain, a town, a region . . . a state of mind.
Sunapee . . . somehow even the sound of it suggests something different . . . something a little mysterious, something exotic, something happy. Take a few days to wander the region and you’ll be even more convinced that there is something very special about Sunapee. It’s a mix of history, dedicated people, quaint communities and an environmental ethic that seeks to balance private rights and public good.
Sunapee, where past meets the present and the future somehow promises to remember.
In part the romance of Sunapee harkens back a hundred years when the rich and sometimes famous would arrive by train at one of the many stops along the lake - with steamer trunks loaded to accommodate an extended visit at one of the many grand hotels that once dotted the region, or one of the unique inns.
While the grand Hotels are all gone some of the unique inns survive today. The spirits of these icons still instill an added aura of charm to places like the Rosewood Inn in Bradford where Jack London, Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplain and the Gish Sisters - Lillian & Dorothy - found respite. Those same spirits can be felt as you ply the lake aboard the region’s most popular restaurant venue the MV Kearsarge a replica steamship that offers evening dinner cruises in the grand tradition of yore. Even the chance to watch the Kearsarge from the shore is a magical experience. As the light glimmers from the two enclosed decks where diners mill to the upper open deck where the romantics linger, one can somehow imagine what the evening felt like to those early visitors to this beautiful place.
Looking out onto the Harbor, restored to its grandeur only recently is another grand inn the Knowlton House
A sense of history here comes in many forms. Sitting outside in Sunapee Harbor on a sunny day if you close your eyes you can almost see a young, innocent David Scott arriving at his dishwashing job at the Anchorage by boat and fellow dishwasher Joe Perry sticking his head out the window of the kitchen and having that first casual conversation that ultimately led to the formation of the internationally acclaimed rock band Aerosmith. Today, if you are lucky you may even run into Steve Tyler paying a visit to some of his old haunts.
From the quiet coves of Georges Mills to the hustle and bustle of New London a town where the quaint central section of town belies the flurry of activity taking place all around from the Flying Goose Brew Pub to New London’s own Peter Christians Tavern that has been providing great food and camaraderie to locals and visitors for more than 30 years.
Inside of many of the towns of the Sunapee Region you will find small townships with quaint villages. Georges Mills in Sunapee; Elkins in New London; Potter Place in Andover. These small slices of Americana are well worth a visit and we suggest that you park and walk them for the most interesting experience.
The centerpiece of the region is Lake Sunapee and on Sunapee there is no more popular place than the beautiful, often serene and sometimes frantic village of Sunapee Harbor. Sunapee Harbor in many ways symbolizes both the promise of this special place as well as its greatest challenges.
Walking around on a sunny day now, one would get the impression that this has always been a shining star . . . a focal point of the region . . . but that has not always been the case.
For well over 100 years the nexus between a strong manufacturing base and a tourism industry built around grand hotels and grand money made Sunapee Harbor an economic powerhouse but the 1970’s and 1980’s witnessed Sunapee Harbor and the entire region seek into a deep despair. The mills had closed, the Grand Hotels were gone, even the other private residences and businesses surrounding the Harbor had begun to deteriorate and reflect the economic malaise that had settled over the region.
Had it not been for the foresight and activism of a core group of people, including Richard Webb and businessman and former US Senate candidate John Rauh, Sunapee would have likely continued to deteriorate until some monolithic corporation gobbled up everything in a frenzy of depressed real estate sales and created a condominium development or theme park, destroying forever this quaint and historic spot. But as good luck would have it this core group of people came up with a concept to preserve the character of the Harbor by selling shares in a corporation whose mission was the protection and revitalization of Sunapee Harbor. Restriction on the amount that any one individual could own guaranteed that the focus would continue to remain on the vision originally expressed.
Eventually “Sunapee Harbor Riverwalk, Inc.” sold sufficient shares to purchase more than one million dollars of foreclosed property from local banks and ultimately, to pay off all their debt. In conjunction with this the group found new tenants willing to make strategic investments and to re-establish a core of businesses in the Harbor.
Today the efforts of the community have paid off and Sunapee Harbor has been restored to its rightful place of honor in the region. Sunapee Harbor now reflects the great promise of the region. A promise that has its roots in great historic traditions of community activism and the deep and abiding affection of the people for this place they call home.
But just as this success finds its roots in the affection of people, the greatest challenges that face Sunapee Harbor and Lake Sunapee also lie in this affection. In short, the challenge facing not only this community, but all those that are within the region known as Sunapee is the same. Will its popularity and the affection of both residents and visitors alike be its undoing? Will we love Sunapee to death?
Fortunately, there is a long and proud tradition of environmental activism in the region. The Lake Sunapee Protective Associate is over 100 years old, one of the oldest environmental organizations in the country in fact. It keeps a careful watch over the region and plays its hand in a careful and constructive manner. Its reputation has been earned by being a part of not only the protection of the land and its waters but the responsible concern for the economic quality of life as well. In short it has become so interwoven into the fabric of community life here that there is very little difference between the position of the association and the general public sentiment when it comes to most issues.
From Warner to Newport, from Springfield to Goshen beautiful scenery, quaint villages, clean air and water paint the landscape that is Sunapee - made more colorful and more interesting by a diverse community of people who love their home and show an unflagging optimism for its future and determination to keep building it.
Sunapee . . . how sweet it is.