N.H. Boat Museum buys lot on Wolfeboro's Back Bay, plans to build permanent home there

WOLFEBORO — Founded in 1991, the New Hampshire Boat Museum has seen many changes in its two decades of existence. First located in Meredith, the museum spent some time in Weirs Beach, then found a more permanent home in Wolfeboro, located in a building that was initially constructed as the dance hall for the Allen A Resort. This fall, the museum announced its biggest news since that move, and potentially the beginning of the greatest chapter yet in its history: the purchase of a 4-acre parcel of land on Lake Winnipesaukee's Back Bay, which the organization hopes to soon use to construct a new, waterfront museum.
The property, at 57 Bay Street in Wolfeboro, was sold for $1.25 million. Executive director Lisa Simpson Lutts said the purchase was made possible by an anonymous supporter. She added that the organization hopes to construct and occupy a museum on the property within four years.
As Simpson Lutts explained, the real estate acquisition is the first step toward addressing a problem for the organization, one discovered through a recent effort to see how the museum was viewed from the outside. "We went out to our constituents, members in the community, we did interviews," she said. "Overwhelmingly, we heard we needed to be right on the water. This Back Bay property was just perfect for us."
Securing the waterfront property is a significant first step toward an ultimate goal of a Lake Winnipesaukee presence. Simpson Lutts wasn't able to discuss how much the organization will need to raise to construct a new museum on the property, as plans have yet to be developed for the structure. However, she said the intention is for the building to feature a gallery for a permanent exhibit, a space for a changing exhibit, a museum store, an education room and a function space which will be available for rent for private functions. And, of course, docks to display some of the museum's many historic boats, as well as to allow the boating public to visit the museum.
"We expect that the building is not only going to transform us, as a museum, it is also going to transform Wolfeboro," said Simpson Lutts.
With the change in venue, she said the museum will adopt an expanded mission. Currently, the museum tells the story of freshwater boating beginning in the 19th Century. Simpson Lutts said the scope of history held by the museum should reach further back, to explore the boating traditions and technologies of North Americans prior to settlement by European colonists. To that point, she noted that next year's exhibit will feature canoeing, to coincide with the 40th running of the Annual Smith River Canoe Race.
She would also like the museum's relevance to expand geographically.
"We're thought of as a Wolfeboro, Lakes Region entity," she said, although the museum's goal is to curate the history of freshwater activities throughout the state. "We're telling the story of all of New Hampshire, not just Wolfeboro, not just Winnipesaukee. There are not many boat museums like us in the country."
Once the new structure is ready for the museum, Simpson Lutts said she expects the organization to retain its current building and real estate to use for storage and as a sheltered site for its many programs, such as its popular boat building classes. Other programs the museum is known for include the Alton Bay Boat Show, the Vintage Boat Regatta, various lectures, a community sailing program on Lake Wentworth, educational youth programs, the "Back Bay Skippers" model sailboat program, and a shared sailboat program coordinated in conjunction with the Wolfeboro Parks and Recreation Department.

Lisa Simpson Lutts, executive director of the New Hampshire Boat Museum, walks land on Lake Winnipesaukee's Back Bay where her organization hopes to soon build a new, waterfront museum. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)