A History of Power Boat Racing

on Lake Winnipesaukee

 By Mark Howard

Owner/driver - Scotty


1652 - 1920's

Early Lakes Region Boating

The very first boating around Lake Winnipesaukee was accomplished by, of course, local Indian tribes. The largest being the Aquedoctans (part of the Iroquois) followed by their rivals, the Chocoruas. The first recorded white settler boating was the 1652 survey ordered by the Massachusetts’ governor, John Endicott. The governor wanted to firmly establish his boundaries and the best way to accomplish this was to find the source of the Merrimack River. In conducting the exploration, the survey party encountered the Aquedoctans who lived at what we now call the Weirs. The surveyors chiseled their initials, and those of Governor Endicott, in a large rock and returned to Massachusetts confident their mission was complete.


Early steam boating started with the “Belknap” launched in June of 1833. Slowly, steam boats replaced the horse powered boats so that by 1880, the lake was in its steamboat heyday. This period lasted almost 20 years and was spurred by the intense railroad rivalry that existed between the Concord and Montreal railroad and the Cocheco railroad (which was part of the Boston and Maine railroad network). Early passenger and freight steamers were heavily subsidized, and in some cases owned, by the different railroads. Gradually, as the railroads consolidated and the “freshness” of the area wore off, private boating and vacationers declined. The decline was gradual but very real, and was both measured and commented on by local communities, area newspapers and the state capitol.


Although difficult to imagine today, the lakes region of the mid 1920’s was an isolated area that remained in a slow, steady decline. New Hampshire’s total population in 1920 was 440,000 with only 36,000 recorded in both Carroll & Belknap Counties. Travel in and out of the area was primarily by train as most roads were simple one or two lanes and unimproved. Travel during the winter months was very difficult and attempted only by the hearty. Only the western portion of the lake, specifically Weirs, Lakeport, Laconia, and Alton Bay, had any sort of substantial buildup. The eastern shore of the lake, from Meredith clockwise around to Alton, had no connecting paved road. Travel around the east side of the lake was accomplished over rough dirt roads. Electricity had not yet been run to smaller communities like Mirror Lake. Rail service was available into Wolfeboro four times a day, but was both slow and laborious, requiring layovers and/or train changes in both Rochester and Sanbornville. People who lived in Concord, Manchester or Nashua had no direct route they could take to the eastern shore of Lake Winnipesaukee and instead were required to take the railroad east to Rochester or even Portsmouth before they could head north into Wolfeboro. Route #28 from Alton to Wolfeboro wouldn’t be paved until late 1929.


The Lakes Region’s long, slow decline in travelers and vacationers concerned local business people. One way to help entice people into the area was organized boat racing. Boat race organizers were hoping the scheduled races would draw people into the region but knew great efforts would have to be made to insure easy travel in and out of the area.


Click here for the next Chapter - the 1920's


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