Roadside America: Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire

Over a hundred years ago, my great-great Uncle Bob built a small cabin to relax overlooking New Hampshire‘s Lake Winnipesaukee, about two hours from Boston. Little did he know that the Lakes Region would later become a point of pilgrimage for thousands of bikers and gamers each year, as it hosts the annual Laconia Motorcycle week in June and arcade enthusiasts year round to the American Classic Arcade Museum. Like many other generations before me, I spent many summers playing skee-ball, building sandcastles, and angling for more money to spend on penny candy. Now that I’m old enough to have honeymooned at Uncle Bob’s old cabin and taken my own daughter there, I still love the old-school feel of the place and hope nothing changes by the time my grandchildren run out of batteries on their iPhone 25s and want some old-fashioned fun. Here are some favorite destinations that have been around for generations past and hopefully, more to come.

Old Country Store
(Moultonborough) – This store was ancient even when Uncle Bob was a tyke (possibly the oldest in the country), and still offers a range of penny candy, pickles from a barrel, and loads of maple and pine treats. You’ll also find kitchen utensils you didn’t even know existed, a map room (mostly New Hampshire/New England) and more moose-themed items than is probably necessary. Be sure to sit on the porch with the cigar store Indian, check out the museum upstairs, and spend a dime or two on the old player piano.

Funspot (Laconia) – Open 60 years this year, Funspot is the largest arcade in the world. It gained real fame when it was featured in the documentary “The King of Kong” for the annual video game tournament at the aforementioned arcade museum. In addition to video games, there’s bowling, bingo, and mini-golf. If you are not a parent or a kid at heart, you can chill out at the tavern with free Wi-Fi too.

Weirs Beach – The Weirs Beach website says they’ve been a place for family fun since the 1950s, but the history goes back much earlier. Weirs is at its peak in summer, where you can ride the waterslides, drive bumper cars, or just hang out on the beach. There’s even a variety of nightlife in season, with fireworks, live bands, and a host of bars.

Corner House Inn (Sandwich) – One of the few independent restaurants open year round, the Corner House dates back over 150 years. You can’t rent a room anymore (they need all the room for hungry diners), but you can enjoy the fire and food for dinner daily. Check out the site for special events, such as storytelling dinners in fall and Friday night music in the pub.

Ames Farm Inn (Gilford) – Open since 1890, the Ames Farm Inn is currently operated by the fourth and fifth generation of family. Choose from cozy rooms or lakeside cabins to stay, or stop for a country breakfast or early lunch in summer.

Castle in the Clouds (Moultonborough) – As a kid, I was a wee bit disappointed that there was no princess at the Castle in the Clouds, but I still enjoyed the nature walks, the views of the lake, and exploring the old mansion dating back to 1914. You can also go horseback riding and meet Zeus, the largest horse in the world. It’s open May to October, with some additional special events in fall for the holidays.

Half Moon Motel and Cottages (Weirs Beach) – Though my ancestor was once an owner of the grand old New Weirs Hotel, I don’t get any discount to stay at the Half Moon Motel and Cottages, built up from the 1930s tea room built on the former hotel grounds and family-owned since the 1950s. With probably the best location in the Lakes Region, every cottage and motel room has views of Lake Winnipesaukee and the mountains, and free Wi-Fi too.

E.M. Health (Center Harbor)- While you may not usually see a supermarket in a travel story, it’s even more rare to see a family-owned store not only survive six decades but thrive. As a kid, my family’s first stop would be at E.M. Heath for groceries, and it’s since expanded to include a hardware store, photo desk and other services, and it’s still true to its slogan: “Dealer in most everything.”

[Photo credit: timsackton via Flickr]

Budget cuts may axe Washington historic sites

Washington, washington, Tacoma, tacomaAs the Great Recession drags on, more and more state programs are feeling the pinch. This includes many sites of historic interest. In the latest budget announced by Washington Governor Chris Gregiore, the state’s three Historical Society museums will all have to close.

The State Capital Museum in the Lord Mansion in Olympia, and museums in Tacoma and Spokane, would all be affected. The governor has earmarked $2.4 million to maintain the sites and their archives, but it would cost twice as much to keep them open, The News Tribune reports.

The Lord Mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places and in addition to having a museum, it hosts many public events. The Washington State Historical Society Museum in Tacoma gets an average of 100,000 visitors a year.

To be fair to Governor Gregiore, she’s facing a serious problem. If she keeps the museums open, that means $2.4 million less for other programs, and then some non-travel-related blog would be complaining about her budget. But museums and historical societies are important parts of the community, not just for old-timers who want to reminisce and tourists interested in history, but newcomers who want some background on their surroundings. I’ve moved way too many times, and one thing I always do to get grounded is study the history of my new home.

I also do Civil War research, and that means I’ve seen the inner workings of many historical societies. One place you’ll often find me is the State Historical Society of Missouri. Once or twice a week my studies are interrupted by a crowd of schoolkids coming into the library to see the treasures of the archives. Some researchers grumble about this, but I’m always happy to see them come in. One object that always arouses interest is a long, thin map of the Mississippi River that unrolls like a scroll. Steamboat pilots used it to navigate the perilous waters of the river more than a century ago. The students are fascinated by it, not just because of its odd appearance but because of what it symbolizes. More than once I’ve overheard kids talking about what it would have been like to use the map to avoid sandbars, sunken logs, and dangerous currents just like Mark Twain did.

This historical society, like so many others, has had its share of budget cuts. They recently had to stop a theatrical series and a traveling lecture tour. Both were popular, but the society simply can’t afford them.

It would be a shame if they had to cut the tours. Missouri schoolkids wouldn’t get their imaginations fired by that map anymore.

[Photo courtesy Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons]

Photo of the Day (8.22.10)

Photography isn’t just about clicking a shot based on what’s in your viewfinder. Elements like lighting, framing and timing all matter when you’re hoping to capture that perfect shot. Just take a look at Flickr user andykee’s image of these four lake houses in Delaware for proof. Andy turned what could have otherwise been a ho-hum shot at the beach into a photo loaded with atmosphere. The muted gray colors, blurry reflections and ample space at the top and bottom suggest the structures are floating on air – mysterious ghost houses shrouded in mystery and intrigue.

Have any great shots from your recent travels? Why not share them with us by adding them to the Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

San Jose’s Winchester Mystery House

This past weekend I found myself in San Jose, California. As far as Bay Area tourism is concerned, San Jose has always been the red-headed stepchild to more well-known destinations like San Francisco, the Napa Valley and Berkeley. However, during my stay I discovered a great reason to make the hour-long drive down to San Jose from San Francisco – the Winchester Mystery House.

This sprawling, ornate Victorian mansion sits just a short distance from the city’s downtown. Spanning a property of over 4 acres, the mansion contains more than 160 rooms, 40 bedrooms, 2 ballrooms and 3 elevators. But it’s not just pretty to look at – the Winchester Mansion boasts a mysterious history thanks to its late resident Sarah Winchester, heiress of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.

Sarah’s husband William Wirt Winchester amassed great wealth through the sale of his company’s most famous product – the Winchester rifle. The gun was responsible for many deaths in the late 1800’s, which weighed heavily upon Sarah. She was convinced she was being haunted by the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles. In an effort to confuse these spirits, Mrs. Winchester began construction on a massive estate near San Jose. From 1884 until her death in 1922, the house underwent 38 years of continuous, non-stop construction, taking on a confusing and labyrinth-like floor plan. Stairways were built that led to nowhere and many doors open onto blank walls. All of this a tribute to the madness and persistence of its reclusive owner, Sarah Winchester.

The next time you’re in the Bay Area, why not swing by San Jose for a visit? For what you paid for that bottle of Napa Cabernet you’ll get to experience a real piece of Americana and a house that truly has to be seen to be believed.