Summer vacations on Winnisquam

In The Dragon Lady of Stockbridge, and in a related blog post, I’ve written about how the wealthy of the Gilded Age erected “cottages” of up to one hundred rooms to spend part of their vacation time. It’s made me reflect on my summer vacations, which were quite different. My family was not rich, we had only two weeks for a summer vacation, and we did not spend it in the hills. Instead, we spent many summers on the shores of Lake Winnisquam in a cabin with four rooms. And what a glorious time we had!

Lake Winnisquam is the downriver cousin of the more famous Lake Winnipesaukee, the largest of the lakes in central New Hampshire. To get there, we had to pack up the station wagon, cramming the “wayback” with the luggage.

That is a station wagon back there; they died out in the oil embargo.

That’s a station wagon back there. They became extinct due to the oil embargo.

Then we had to drive three hours up U.S. Route 3. It was a different world up there. There was the lake, of course, and swimming and boating and fishing, and croquet on the lawn. There was chocolate milk in a carton, brought daily by the milkman in his truck. Your heaven pales compared to the pleasure of drinking that chocolate milk! On a cold day, there was a fire in the cast iron stove in the middle of the cabin. And during a thunderstorm, it was a lifetime treat to sit out on the screened-in porch and see lightning strike across the lake.

If we needed things, it was a quick trip to the village, such as it was. The Jumpin’ Jack had the best milk shakes and fried clams. I could get comic books at the general store, something I never did at home, and interesting candy bars that came down from Canada.

We might venture farther. There were many wonders in the nearby White Mountains. There were children’s amusement parks such as Story Land and Six Gun City. There was the “ski mobile,” a unique ski lift on Mount Cranmore that was just as good as an amusement park ride. There was Ruggles Mine, which I could never see because I was afraid to step onto the ladder you used to climb down into the pit. To this day, I’ve never gone down into the mine.

You WILL NOT laugh at me!

You WILL NOT laugh at me!

And then there was Laconia, the only real city in the area, and the Weirs. Weirs Beach was the port of the good ship Mount Washington, if you wanted a tour of the lake. But we kids had our eyes on the other side of the boulevard. That’s where the arcades were: pinball machines, “driving” game machines, coin-operated machines that would let you grab a prize with the claw, skee ball, and the like. It was all kind of seedy and run-down in those days, but we kids didn’t care. Toss in soda and a hot dog, and it was an afternoon of unique entertainment. There was even a nearby drive-in, which was good for at least one movie night a year.

Did I forget to mention the famous motorcycle riot?

Did I forget to mention the famous motorcycle riot?

But I was an introspective kid, a bookworm, and even all the activities at Winnisquam couldn’t keep me from reading and dreaming. There was the little wooden bridge over the stream at the edge of the property, and visible but unknown lands just beyond, places that could hold anything I imagined. One year I was reading Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave, and through sheer force of imagination conjured up Merlin on the banks of the stream, strange gods in the woods, adventures just beyond.

Did I want to free Merlin, or be bewitched myself by Vivien?

Did I want to free Merlin, or be bewitched myself by Vivien?

I read J. Frank Dobie’s Coronado’s Children, and dreamed of finding buried treasure through following the signs and markers he described. When I was fourteen, we saw The Godfather at the drive-in, and I tried to make sense of rooting for criminals and contemplated the awful possibility of having sex with a bridesmaid.

As we three kids became teenagers, my parents asked us if we were tired of going to Winnisquam, if the place was too boring. It never was. And we kept going for as long as we vacationed together as a family.

We make places our own by spending time in them, by doing things, by having experiences that are forever associated with that particular place. So when Rebecca pines for her beloved Berkshires, I say to her, “I know what you mean, daughter of my mind. For I have a summer place I’ve never quite left, even when I am not there.”

Gail, Colin and me in front of our cabin

Gail, Colin and me in front of our cabin


About Brian Bixby

I enjoy history because it helps me understand people. I'm writing fiction for much the same reason.
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19 Responses to Summer vacations on Winnisquam

  1. danagpeleg1 says:

    Beautiful! I can relate too. My most cherished time was vacations at my maternal grandparents’ and aunt’s. I still miss them…

  2. I Love all the pictures you added. And that car, ugh, I want it!

    • Brian Bixby says:

      My recollection is that the car is a 1960 model light blue Rambler station wagon. I was too young to note the model details. I do know its successor was a 1964 gold Rambler Classic 660 station wagon, which we had until around 1970 or 1971.

  3. E. J. Barnes says:

    Maybe this is why I always feel that when I’m heading to Manhattan I’m coming home. I was born in a hospital there but whisked away to Bucks County, PA, 3 days later; so that’s not it at all. It’s that my mom would take us kids there several times a year — my aunt was a physician on the East Side — and I remember the American Museum of Natural History (back when Brontosaurus was still considered a thing). And the zoo in Central Park. And the elaborate automata in the window displays at Macy’s and Gimbel’s during the Christmas shopping season. And the news crawls in Times Square. And cannoli at Ferrara’s. And the sights and smells of the Chinatown markets. And the passenger ships docked along the Hudson. I didn’t actually live there until I was 19 and had a summer job down on 42nd St as a copyeditor — I was the perfect age at which to explore a city on one’s own. This is how someplace so dirty and noisy can become magical.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      The exotic and the routine — I love it! And you point out how one’s age can affect how one thinks of a place. My thoughts about Manhattan are much different, but then I didn’t spend any significant time there until I was in grad school . . . a notoriously depressing experience!

  4. suzy beal says:

    A lovely story of time and place. The added photos give us the necessary humor, although I didn’t laugh. Thank you for sharing that delightful piece of history.

    My family never took a vacation. We were seven kids and our folks never owned a car that would hold all nine of us at the same time. It took two cars to go to the drive-in or to the beach. Mom always said, “Camping, who needs to go camping, we live in the woods.”

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Nine? Yes, that’s too many even for a station wagon, unless five of you are very, very young.

      I’ll still talk to people who DID laugh. 🙂

      For those who don’t know it, Suzy’s blog is about helping people write their personal histories, so she takes a professional interest in these matters. I’m using her workbook to write up my mother’s life growing up in a foreign country, so far successfully. Suzy’s blog is at

  5. L. Palmer says:

    I want chocolate milk delivered to my door in a carton! That does sound amazing.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      At home, we had to settle for powered chocolate mixed into our drinks, which never tasted as good.

      Oddly enough, there was a milk delivery truck in our neighborhood at home, but we never bought from it. We did buy from the fish truck, and from the Cushman’s pastry truck that worked our home neighborhood.

  6. Tourism Oxford says:

    Great photos! I love the second one.

  7. crimsonprose says:

    Idyllic, the special places of our childhood. And yet more special for being only two weeks! My summers were spent in a time-forgotten Norfolk village. My great-aunt drove into the village in a horse and trap, water was fetched from the well. Such memories, you’ll realise, I have used for Neve. Yes, even the candle to bed. I went back there a couple of summers ago to find the old house demolished, though nothing stood in its stead; what I remember as a river had become a weed-choked wending stream. Is it just in our memories we remember things as being BIG, or is it that everything shrinks with time?

  8. Brian Bixby says:

    You may not realize, CP, that your photo-illustrated e-mail of your neighborhood was an influence on my writing this piece as I have. Now you know. Thank you.
    And I think it’s more our memories, though some things do shrink. The last time I was there at Winnisquam, the small stream was all but gone, and I couldn’t believe how small the beach was. On the other hand, I remember the general store being small, and it still is!

  9. Gail Bixby says:

    I am Brian’s sister. My Mom and I still venture up to Lake Winnisquam for a day every year, usually in May before the condo owners arrive. Yes, sadly, the cottages are now condos. I turn down the driveway as if it were my own, park at bottom of the hill, get out and walk down the few stairs to the narrow strip of sand at water’s edge. Fond memories of many happy years flood back. It’s almost a renewal of the soul. Although three of the four cottages now have additions, I still see those cottages of the 60’s and 70’s while I reflect back on a simpler and more innocent place in time.

  10. Holly says:

    Beautifully done and I found it very amusing and funny:))
    like the pictures 🙂

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